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Dripping Springs Trail (Agua Tibia Mountain)

 

Trail Stats

 

Distance - 15 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss - 3100 ft.

Max Elevation Reached - 4627 ft.

Difficulty Level - Strenuous

Trailhead - Link

 

Description

   

There is considerable disagreement in the statistics of this trail as recorded in the various hike logs/websites/books that one might come accross. In my opinion, this difference can be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, the official trailhead is some distance from the trailhead parking and some hikers, myself included, tend to add this extra distance to their total mileage. Second, the official version of this hike ends at a trail junction, yet most hikers tend to try and go a bit further to additional view points and log more miles. The above stats go beyond the "official trail" and reflect my own experience.

 

The Dripping Springs Trail is located in the Agua Tibia Wilderness section of Cleveland National Forest just a few miles east of Temecula, CA. The trailhead, which is technically in Riverside Co., is located at the rear end of the Dripping Springs Campground. 

 

This is one of the more beautiful hikes in the greater San Diego area. Since the trail is far enough north (Riverside Co. and San Diego Co. line) one can get to see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio peaks fairly up close. And, I don't mean an occassional glimpse or two either ... one can enjoy an unobstructed view of these SoCal behemoths for at least half the distance. Some distance into the hike, Vail Lake also appears to the north, in front of the snow covered peaks.

   

The trail generally heads north to south climbing the northern face of the Palomar Mountain Range. Right at the start, the Arroyo Seco Creek must be crossed. Thereafter, the climb is gradual and the trail narrow. In many places the brush is quite overgrown requiring slow and careful progress. Some seven miles into the hike, the trail reaches the Palomar Magee Trail junction. This technically marks the end of Dripping Springs Trail. However a more rewarding conclusion to this long hike is the view point over Castro Canyon offering endless vistas towards the south. One can hike further yet and attempt to summit Agua Tibia Mt. which is about half a mile from the canyon overlook. Beyond this point the brush poses a formidable challenge to further ascent. It is best to go as far as you can, without pushing it too much, and then retrace your steps back to the trailhead. 

 

Tracks

 

Tracks

Download Google Earth KML - Link   

 

Elevation Profile

 

Roundtrip Elevation Profile

 

Trail Log

 

February 14th, 2009

    

Started from Trailhead - 8:10 am

Reached Agua Tibia Mountain - 12:45 pm

Started back - 12:45 pm

Break for Lunch - 1:30 pm

Resume after Lunch - 2:00 pm

Reached Trailhead - 4:15 pm 

  

Photos - Link, courtsey Sachin. D

     

Notes - I hiked with two friends on Saturday over President's Day weekend. It was also St. Valentines day. It had been raining on and off for the whole week and I was very skeptical about the weather and trail conditions during our hike. Dripping Springs Trail was only my second choice. I was planning on heading to Eagle Crag, but had to drop this plan because of reports of snow as low as 4500 ft. to 5000 ft. I was expecting little snow  enroute to Agua Tibia Mt. I was in for a big surprise!

  

The drive to the trailhead was uneventful. In other words, we did not get lost this time! The weather was wonderful. In the 50s mostly, with clear skies. The Arroyo Seco Creek had a decent flow and we crossed it fairly easily. The trail was clear, at least initially. At about 3400 ft., we saw our first snow patch and were naively excited. That was only the begining. Very soon we were walking in about 2 - 3 inches of snow, all the way to the top. Despite the snow, we were able to easily follow the trail throughout. The GPS did come in handy at a couple of spots.

 

We spotted a very strange set of footprints in the snow. I had bever seen these before. I later learnt that they were just Rabbits! We probabally also spotted Coyote footprints as well. 

 

The trail was narrow throughout. The brush on either side was quite overgrown and was drooping over the trail. Some overgrown stretchs were so narrow that using hiking poles was getting to to be a pain. And then there were the trees ... fallen trees to be precise. Quite a few of them in fact.  We negotiated skillfully, sometimes over, sometimes under! 

 

We hiked up to the Palomar Magee Trail (PMT) junction and continued on to Castro Canyon. Wanting to go on further to the Agua Tibia summit, we continued on the PMT. The brush got progressively thicker as we got closer to our destination. About 0.3 miles (distance) and 150 ft. (elev.) short of the summit, the dense brush had turned in to an impenetrable wall. We decided that turning back was the best thing to do. We met another lone hiker who was also doing this hike for the first time. She too had to turn back, unable to find a suitable bypass. 

  

I later checked on Google Earth, and this particular stretch of thick brush went on for about 90 ft. beyond where we decided to turn. The trail appears to reemerge after that but seems to run into similar problems several times again. I wonder how people hike the Palomar Magee Loop trail described in Jerry Schad's book.

  

We spotted a few snow-free boulders on our way back. They seemed like a great spot for lunch. We ate while enjoying views of snow covered peaks and the Palomar Observatory's dome. We got back to our car well before sunset.

  

    

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