Sunday, February 5, 2017

Eagle Peak Preserve Bushwhack

I've been super intrigued with the San Diego River area lately, specifically Eagle Peak Preserve and the surrounding mountains. I'm still working on some anxiety hiking alone in these major cougar corridors, so it was nice that Josh was up for some exploration. After following Eagle Peak road to the end we stopped at the Saddleback trail head to check out Mildred Falls. She was flowing amazingly well and was quite the sight to see.

After talking with a couple who was going to try their luck hiking to Cedar Creek Falls without a permit we headed back up to Eagle Peak Preserve trailhead and started out on the rough and unmaintained trail.

Eagle Peak Preserve is on land that was originally an old mail route to Julian and after that, part of the Marcks Ranch. Marcks was a German native who moved to the area with his family in 1899. He ran cattle, was a beekeeper and became a steward of the area. The trail is actually an old road that was part of his property.

Soon after we started out on the old road we met a junction and veered left. We crested a small hill and I noticed this flat area blanketed in some type of red ground cover. I had just read an article about vernal pools and I believe that this is one of them. My understanding is that vernal pools are an ecosystem that is super important to the diversity of native species of both plants and animals. They are highly endangered in San Diego as their lackluster appearance makes them easy to overlook as anything of value, but the plants and animals that depend on their seasonal water are greatly affected when this habitat is lost. I messaged the San Diego River Park Foundation for confirmation that this is a true vernal pool and I'll keep you posted on what they say. It's always kind of cool to happen upon something you just read about!

The copious amounts of tracks, bones and scat really illustrated the diversity of the species that call this place home.

It was surprisingly warm out and I was feeling it in my stomach as we climbed higher on the trail. Josh spotted a nice grove of oaks in the distance and we hiked to them for a break in the shade. When we arrived I noticed there was a little bed flattened out under the tree that looked like a place I'd sleep if I was a big healthy mountain lion. 

After our shady break we pushed on up the trail until we met with a use trail carved by cattle up to a grassy saddle. We dropped it into low gear and trucked up the hillside using the hoof tracks as steps while stopping frequently to take pictures as an excuse to catch our breath.

Once at the top I was ready for break #2 and we lay under another shady oak tree and enjoyed the cool breeze. It's awesome when you can find a solitary place in San Diego and just enjoy the peace and quiet of your surroundings.

We checked out our map and decided to see if we could bag all the peaks on this big ridgeline. We had been loosely following Hiking San Diego County's blog post  and once we found the peak they ascended, all bets were off. I felt like I had worked hard to gain that elevation in the hot day and since it was cooling off, I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as I could. 

We headed up thru the sharp chaparral and goofed around while taking photos of everything, including each other, while hitting every high point we could just for the hell of it.

The views up top were truly beautiful. This is a lovely and remote area.

At the end of the ridgeline we found the highest, high point and a big pile of rocks. We didn't find a register book nor benchmark but the pile of rocks was cool enough anyway. We were hoping that one of these peaks would turn out to be Son 1 and/or Son 2, two peaks that are illustrated on the trailhead map, but it turns out this ridge is actually part of Cleveland Natl. Forest as opposed to Eagle Peak Preserve. When I got home I found none of the peaks we hit were either of the Sons but it doesn't matter, we still had fun and now we have a reason to return and continue to explore.

The day was rapidly retreating, so we did the same and decided to go cross country instead of backtracking to the trail. It was very steep and the chaparral got denser and sharper the further we descended off the ridge. I managed to pick up some deer tracks in the mud and was able to follow them thru the brush for the best route off the hillside. Even with the guidance of the deer though, there were a couple of times we got cliffed out and had to backtrack to find a better way.

After our intense cross country jaunt we finally met with the trail and headed back the way we came. Our legs were cut to shreds and every new encounter with the plants was super painful. We made it back to my truck around 4pm and took the long way toward home and dinner before parting ways for hot showers and a thorough tick check.
It was a super fun day!

 On a related note, I encourage you all to check out San Diego River Park Foundation's website and maybe consider flipping them a couple bucks if you can spare it. They are currently working to collect a deposit to purchase a parcel of land that has just gone on the market in the nearby Temescal Creek area. 

The headwaters of the San Diego River are habitat and thoroughfare for all types of important species. As our city grows and the political climate changes (or doesn't, depending on where you get your facts) it is important, now more than ever, to support the protection and preservation of vital resources like the San Diego River Gorge, not only for the amazing landscape but also as one of our vital water sources. These days it's up to us as individuals to come together and ensure the places we love are protected for future generations. Another added bonus is the more land the Foundation procures, the faster we can have a complete River Trail to thru hike!

But I digress...
Here is a topo of our wacky route. Thanks for reading! On to the next!


  1. Hey Mandie, can you answer this question? My son is trying to do a solo overnight on the PCT somewhere between Indian Flats, Warner Springs, and Barrel Springs. He's trying to find out if he needs any sort of permit but can't figure out where to apply or what agency would issue it. It's not Cleveland National Forest, the PCT webpage only mentions permit for "short" 500 mile hikes, etc. Any ideas?

    1. Hey Brewella! I'm looking at land management on Caltopo and it looks like the San Filipe Hills all the way to Barrel Springs is BLM so no permits are required. Then it looks to be private land all the way to where it crosses Agua Caliente Creek near Indian Flats road and there it turns into Cleveland Natl. Forest. That being said, even though it's not represented on the caltopo map I'm pretty sure the area around eagle rock is Los Coyotes Reservation as well as that weird obstacle course. Maybe give them a call and ask if they know where he can camp within their boundaries? My experience with Los Coyotes is that they have always been super nice and accommodating to visitors on their land. They are kind of a poor tribe due to their remote location so they might charge a fee but I'm sure it would be reasonable. Wish I could be of more help! I was just out there yesterday and holy crap! It looks like some field in Ireland, everything is crazy green! The wildflowers are going to go off this year, class of 2017 is in for a real treat. I hope you get it all sorted out! Keep me posted!

  2. Hi Mandie, just got back. Trip was great, more on that later, but that whole permit process is just way too convoluted. I finally called the Palomar ranger district and here's what I was told. In spite of what the maps might imply, an overnight hiker on that stretch does need a wilderness permit. There's no ranger office on the way we'd take to Warner Springs that could issue one. The person I spoke with told me to go to the site where hikers can apply online for a wilderness permit which they'll e-mail back to you within 2-3 days. We thought we were cutting it close, but wanted to follow the rules so he applied. The form on the website seemed kind of buggy, inputting information just wouldn't work for some questions, and when you'd hit the "apply" button you never received any kind of confirmation of a successful application (some weird Mac/pc issues?). We talked it over for a while and he decided to just head out. He printed a screen cap of his application just in case, but honestly I felt that all the map reading and online research we'd done to get the question answered earned him a good faith permit. Now here we are four days later and still no word. Oh well.

    He ended up having a fantastic time, and I headed up to Palomar for my own adventure. I picked him up the next morning and we took your advice and headed over to the Santa Ysabel open space. The area was incredibly beautiful (buffalo?!), but I wonder if the person who designed that trail has ever heard of the term "switchback"? Dang, that was a climb.

    1. I'm so glad it worked out Brewella! I agree about the Preserve, holy crap, San Diego County seems to take their trails like their cocktails, straight up! With all of the political brouhaha going on and the Forest Service hiring freeze you probably won't hear back from them for a while. I'm glad you didn't wait though and that he had fun and you too!