Following is a report of my recent backpacking traverse of the Agua Tibia Wilderness area with a San Diego Sierra Club group organized by Chapter leader Bert Ton. I have been in the area several times (including one of Bert's earlier marathon treks through this rugged terrain) and I wish to report some recent environmental changes which would affect a peak climb.
Our group of eight left Dripping Springs C. G. via the new Wild Horse trail. It starts adjacent to the old Dripping Springs trailhead and the ascent to Crosley Saddle which is on the abandoned Palomar Magee Truck Trail, is about 10 miles. Since this new route isn't mentioned in the HPS guide for Eagle Crag, I refer you to the new revised edition of Jerry Schad's Afoot and Afield in San Diego County (Wilderness Press) which has a map. The Wild Horse Trail is in pretty good shape (some erosion from spring rains) and afforded nice vistas, wildflowers, water near the Crosley homestead, and 3 rattlesnakes. The trail becomes an old road below Crosley Saddle and the upper portions have some flat areas in trees for possible dry camps.
At Crosley Saddle, we encountered other hikers who had ascended to the divide via Dripping Springs Trail. They reported that this trail is badly overgrown with much deadfall and has not had trail work since the devastating Vail fire of 1989. Our group continued south along the divide toward Eagle Crag and found the route fair to marginal with lots of downed trees. The detour to Eagle Crag Peak is marked with ducks and is short, steep, and brushy. We pushed on a bit farther to the junction with the Cutca Trail - if you could call it a trail! We descended through considerable downed trees and new growth and only occasional blue ribbons kept us on course. We reached water and had a fairly pleasant camp after a long 14 mile day.
Next day, we continued down canyon, encountering much more brush and a devious route with lots of poison oak, mountain lion and deer tracks. Our consensus was that the route was tough enough as a descent and definitely not recommended as an ascent to the divide until much trail work is done. Once we got out of the canyon, the hike across Cutca Valley on the old road was quite pleasant. This area is used very little and has fine camping possibilities (with water). We ascended steeply to the truck trail which goes to Palomar High Point (closed to vehicles) and then had a 5 mile descent to our vehicle at Aguanga.
In summary, if you plan to climb Eagle Crag, I would not recommend either the Dripping Springs or Cutca Trails. Check out the new Wild Horse Trail and consider a backpack with a dry camp about a half mile below Crosley Saddle. The peak is accessible from there as a day hike. You'll find Agua Tibia is now a real wilderness experience!!
Editor's Note: Much of the brush mentioned above is 'Poodle Dog' weed. This plant gives a severe allergic reaction to about 30% of hikers touching it. It gives a rash similar to poison oak.