Leaders: Carleton Shay, George Schroedter
Before deciding what to write to those who sent SASEs for this outing I called the ranger at Oak Grove station and was told that the road from Aguanga was closed at the gate three miles uproad, and we would have to hike the extra two miles each way to the trailhead. There had been a landslide further above which blocked access to Palomar High Point. Then I called Alan Coles to see how his Agua Tibia trailwork party had turned out on April 8-9. He explained how, as a trail crew, he got the key to the gate. Thanks to Alan, we were also able to get the key. Our "price" was to do some trailwork, which we readily agreed to do. So not only were we able to save a lot of distance and gain, we were considered by the Forest Service as an official trail crew and even covered by Worker's Compensation in case any of us were hurt. We didn't even have to pay at Dripping Springs because of our status.
We met at 6 am at Dripping Springs, and drove in three 4WDs to the trailhead. What a drive! The first obstacle was Temecula Creek, which was very wide and very full, but passable. Then there were many gullies in the road which we could barely cross. But we got there OK and started hiking at 7:10. The trail is more or less the same as it always has been down to Cottonwood Creek and up to the saddle, where, according to the HPS trail guide it "becomes a road". Several years ago it was a road, and at least for the part of it in Section 17, could be driven. But now? No way. It was overgrown, washed out, narrow, and in Section 16 almost invisible in many places. Only our knowledge of where it should be got us through that part.
The brush (and the ticks adhering thereto) in Section 17 were unbelievable. Most of our clipping was done here, which at least opened a clear but narrow path on the surface of this former road. Alan's work had concentrated in the canyon leading from Cutca Valley to the Palomar Truck Trail. What a job they did! It was like a highway in width through some of the densest brush imaginable. How they ever found the old trail to clear it is beyond me. But we found much overhanging ceanothus in this area, probably pushed over by the latest storm. We did a lot more clipping here.
Another bad section is on the switchbacks below the Palomar Truck Trail, but here the problem is fallen timber. Alan's crews had taken care of most of the timber in the canyon, but the fallen trees above were just too big to cut.
At the PTT, one can turn right and follow the HPS Guide, or turn left and go to the saddle which gives access to a continuous ridge leading NW to Eagle Crag, or do as we did and go straight up the ridge across from the trail we had just ascended. This is the most direct route, and so far is not so overgrown as to be impassable. In fact, there really isn't much brush until the last 0.1 mile just east of the peak, where there is an old route (flagged) through 10-foot high old-growth manzanita. There is still lots of poodle-dog brush too, but you can skirt around most of it.
We were slow because of the terrain, brush, clipping, ticks, etc. We took 5 hours 55 minutes to reach the summit, and 11 hours 20 minutes round trip. But it was worth it for the beauty of the route and the feeling of accomplishment for having helped maintain the trail. As a parting note, this is a route which will probably always need clipping to remain open, one on which the Forest Service supports such efforts, and one on which all future parties should bring clippers.
The hard-working participants were John Connelly, Sue Wyman-Henney, Vic Henney, Fred Johnson, Matt McBride, and Walia Ringeler.