Leaders: Sue Holloway, Gail Hanna
An enthusiastic "rush" of sign-ups when this trip was first listed had me believe we would attack this peak en-masse. I felt GOOD as when I climbed this peak before in June 1996, it was a battle ... a 1st degree brush whack. Now, I wondered as the leader, if I could get "the troops" to charge up the hill first and whack a path for me....
Then, about a week before the scheduled battle, the cancellations started trickling in. Cold temperatures and rain up to the day before the combat caused others to question my decision that we were going to "go for it". Hadn't I heard, there was SNOW down to 4,000'? And, your point is?
Hey, a guy is finishing the HPS list on this trip. Based on that, the dwindling number of troops suddenly swelled again. We will summit Eagle Crag I assured the list-finisher-to-be. Then, at the meeting time and place, six brave souls met Gail and I. The potential list-finisher and his group were not among them.
Hmmmm ... Donner, party of eight .....We drove in to the Cutca Valley Trailhead and I can report that the road is in great shape ... easily passable by 2WD (unlike 6/1996 when I had to beg a friend with a 4WD to drive). After the preliminaries and making sure that everyone was aware that we could be crawling back close to dark, possibly bloodied but definitely successful, we descended down the trail into Cottonwood Canyon. Though it hadn't rained since Thursday night, Friday had been overcast and cold, now Saturday was beautiful. The group was strong and fast and we made good time. The first 5 miles were easy but, expecting much rougher conditions ahead, we took a long break to prepare ourselves. I just love pleasant surprises and, in a nutshell, thanks to the work and dedication of both the Angeles Chapter and the San Diego Chapter, and leaders, Alan Coles, Charlie Knapke and my trusty co-leader, Gail Hanna, this route is in really good shape! There are some fallen trees to climb over but not many; there are some branches to push back but no big deal. We took another long break at the junction of the Magee-Palomar Trail/Road. Was this lunch? Nope, we would have lunch on the summit. YES, much to my/our surprise there was snow at the junction where the road turned north. Yet no one complained as we proceeded with our climb ... on snow immediately and "maybe" to the top. Secretly, I fell in love with these folks; my rule is always "no whining!"
The HPS route in my printed guide just isn't time/distance efficient when doing this peak from this direction and so we went up the first gully. (The Eagle Crag map on the HPS web page shows THE route of choice. Use it!) On snow, we climbed up the gully which was pretty free of brush until just below the saddle. Facing this brush, we all looked around and my troops found a meandering pathway through the manzanita which we all passed through virtually without a scratch. There was one huge downed tree that we climbed over but that was the only glitch. Once at the saddle we were out of the snow; we spotted the summit and, again, following a meandering path, we were on the summit within a few minutes. We admired the beautiful view from the top (we could even see the ocean!) and enjoyed the warm sunshine and cloudless sky. Lunch was good too but I always wonder why everyone else's lunch looks better than mine?
I had promised Gail that, on the way back, we would do some clipping. She also had brought some blue ribbons to tie at prominent locations along the route to, hopefully, assist others in their quest for this peak. It didn't slow us down much though because things were in such good shape. I tried to find another route so we didn't have to climb over the huge tree again. I couldn't though so we just followed our footsteps in the snow all the way back to the gully and down to the road junction. We descended back down to the Cutca Valley junction and, even though we still had 5 miles to go, the group was still strong. Knowing we still had the climb out of Cottonwood Canyon to reach our cars, we took one last break shortly before reaching the creek.
Exactly ten hours after we left our cars, we were back. It was a great day and a terrific hike. Except for Gail and I, no one else in the group had been to the Agua Tibia Wilderness before; all were impressed with how remote it seemed and its beauty. My thanks to my companions .... Edward Earl, Ray Wolfe, Jim Fadera, Gary Jones, Linda Roman and Cliff Jones. I have to say that Eagle Crag is one of my favorite HPS peaks and I plan on returning. Who knows, maybe I'll be invited to go on the no-shows list finish!!