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Cutca Valley Trail

23 April 1994 (Agua Tibia Wilderness)

By: Alan Coles

Leaders: Alan Coles, Charlie Knapke

The Vail Fire of 1989 that burned over most the northern portion of the Agua Tibia Wilderness resulted in significant trail damage. All of the trails were affected but the most troublesome was one of my favorites: the Cutca Valley Trail. Because of its isolation and relative lack of use, the features that have always made it appealing to me and others, it quickly became impassable due to rapid brush growth. The Forest Service is overwhelmed with the need to maintain trails in the area but has only a small budget to do it. The choice was clear, either we had to work on it or the trail would be lost for years, perhaps forever.

I contacted Norm Noyes, the recreation ranger for the area, and planned 2 trips in spring. I had hoped to do a car camp with transportation to the trailhead each day. About a week before our April trip I contacted him again and learned that:

  • The road was not passable into Cutca Valley.
  • The Forest Service could not provide transportation each day but would drop us off one day and pick us up the next.
  • The lower portion of the trail was not flagged, hence we could only work from the top down.

This made it necessary to do a backpack and we would have to hike in from the Crosley Ranch, 6 mi. and 2000' of gain to camp carrying our gear and tools. We also learned that a major storm was expected to arrive Saturday night.

Seven people showed up at the parking lot of Dripping Springs Campground at 8 am. Besides the 2 leaders only 1 other person, Barbara Reber, was from the Angeles Chapter. The other 4 were from San Diego, Gail Hanna, Bert Ton, John Case and Sarah Ball. Without Gail's help, there would have been only 3 of us. The day was clear, sunny and warm when Norm showed up in the green USFS van. We quickly loaded our packs and took off up the road to the private land just east of the wilderness passing through 2 locked gates. We drove to the 3rd gate at the west end of the Crosley Ranch and unloaded our gear where we were met by the caretaker with his enormous dog. He introduced himself to Norm who replied that they had met previously. The caretaker responded, "Oh, I didn't recognize you when you're not all beat and torn up." Norm gets to spend a lot of his time thrashing though brush.

After a lengthy explanation on the use of the 2 way radio which was for our emergency use, we took off up the trail. Our plan was to be picked up at 4 p.m. on Sunday if no rain, or 9 am if it did rain.

It was warm going up the steep trail but an occasional cool breeze kept us moving. Flowers were blooming profusely in every direction. It took nearly 3 hours to reach the flat spot at the top of the Cutca Trail just below Eagle Crag. One look and it become obvious that this was going to be a Major Task.

After lunch we got out the clippers and saws and began cutting thick ceanothus and manzanitas which have grown rapidly in the middle of the trail. Logs and branches had to be cut and removed. It was hard work but very rewarding when one could easily see the difference after 5 hours when we called it quits. We had managed to clear about 3/4 of a mile, almost down to the canyon bottom.

We collected water from a small spring just below the saddle and returned to set up camp. A community salad with many nice items was enjoyed before everyone gathered into their tents and out of the cold wind. Meanwhile, the clouds continued to blow over the ridge in the glow of a full moon.

The rain began around 2 am and showers continued on and off the rest of the night.

Hail occasionally pelted the tents. By 6 am the rain stopped and heads began to pop out of the tents. Of the 6 tents, 3 were dry, 3 were soaked. Generally the ones without rain flies were wet.

We packed up and left 1 hour later returning to the meeting point at 9:30. Norm was there with another ranger in a 4x4 truck. The van could not get up the muddy road, so we loaded the packs into the truck and then proceeded to walk with Norm down the road. Hail pelted us a few times before the truck returned to carry us the rest of the way out.

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