Arrived at the Dripping Springs campground parking lot around 11:30 am. The temperature was slightly above 80° with the sky around 80% overcast. No sun to start the day even though it did come and go during the course of the day. These conditions were much better than one week ago when the temperature on the trail was 95° at noon and 90° at 6 pm.
Because most of the Southern California Wilderness areas were closed this weekend due to extremely dry conditions, there were many more people in camp than usual. This included a troop of boy scouts who were on an orienteering trip (not hiking the entire trail).
After signing the trailhead log at 11:45 am we proceeded up the trail. Our goal was to finally hike to the top of the trail and then on to the Fallbrook overlook which is located 0.2 miles past the intersection with the Palomar-McGee trail. We were off to a late start and it looked like we may have to turn back early to arrive at the parking lot before night. The sky remained partly cloudy for the afternoon, so we kept up the pace stopping only briefly every 30-45 minutes and arrived at the trail intersection at 3:45 pm, then on to the overlook at 4:00 pm.
The visibility was limited to 20-25 miles in all directions bellow 3000 feet due to haze. Above that elevation, things improved but only to 80 miles or so. San Jacinto was visible but San Gorgonio was a faint profile on the top of a haze layer. The San Gabriels were not visible.
We intended to spend some time on top looking for future campsites, however the clock was ticking and we had a 7.2 mile descent awaiting. So back on the trail and down we went at a fairly good clip. Although we only stopped once or twice on the way down, darkness eventually caught up with us. Although we tried to go all the way to the trailhead without lights, the last 30-45 minutes were too dark to miss the numerous rocks on the trail. Out come the lights and wouldn't you know one of them is dead. Good thing we had packed extra batteries! We reached the trailhead and signed out at 7:02 pm. Not a bad time for newbies!
The trail is now in excellent condition all the way up to within 200 yards of the Oak Grove on the top. A maintenance crew has been out this past spring and summer clearing the areas to the sides of the treadway to 3-4'. Newer cuts in the trees and chaparral (2-4 months old) were apparent through the top of the last set of switchbacks up to 4200'. The upper part of the trail beyond the 5.5 mile mark has received the most attention recently. Dead brush on the sides of the cleared areas is thick through this area. One tree stump on the side of the trail near the last of the upper switchbacks was broken and jagged indicating a blowdown that had been removed from the trail. From the top of the upper switchbacks to a point 200 yards from the Oak Grove, the trail is clear, albeit narrow. In those last 200 yards small limbs and thorns are hanging across the trail to catch your socks and shins. The trail through the Oak Grove is marked with logs on either side so finding your way back will not be a problem in the near future. The Palomar-McGee truck trail is covered with grass but the trail is still visible between the intersection and the overlook.
The flies were a nuisance above 3800 feet, but not below that elevation. No ticks in tick heaven! A week ago the trail was entirely free from trash, not one piece up to the 4.8 mile point. This week, a smoker was consuming and depositing three cigarettes butts and an orange slice about every mile of the trail above 2000 feet and on up to the 5 mile point. Two people were camping on a ridgetop bald spot near the 5 mile mark. Strange coincidence...