Distance: 10.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3279'
Elevation Gain: 2121'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.69
Round trip time: 5 hours
Recommended water: 104 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Wild Horse Peak is in the Agua Tibia Wilderness Area about 10 miles east of Temecula, CA. Researching this hike, I discovered how infrequently it is visited. There were only three entries on Peakbagger.com over the last 11 years, zero on Summitpost.org, and you won't find any casual hikers bragging about it on Yelp. It is on the Lower Peaks list and is one of the few that has no summit use trail or other direct approach. The Wild Horse Trail winds around the peak, leaving the climber to find a way through about a half mile of brush to the top. This poses a route finding challenge and some extra hazards. In other words, fun!
In addition to climbing this peak, I wanted to scout the area for a much longer future hike to Agua Tibia and Eagle Crag. For now, I was focused on getting up to Wild Horse. I arrived at Dripping Springs Campground at 6:20 AM, just after sunrise. Parking is near the road and the trailhead is at the end of the campground. It was 48F, low clouds, and a 20% chance of rain. Thankfully, it didn't rain on me. I started off wearing Glider Gloves, special gloves that pass the electrical current from your hands to a smart phone. They worked great and I was able to operate my phone without removing them. Recommended! Shortly after starting up the Dripping Springs Trail, the Wild Horse Trail forks to the left, following the Arroyo Seco Creek. The creek was completely dry. The trail climbs gently as it follows the creek and canyon.
When I got close to five miles in, I started looking for cairns to see where other people had left the trail and started bushwhacking. I considered following a gully up, which was listed as an alternate route in the Lower Peaks guide, but the first cairn I found looked good enough. I changed gloves to my leather bushwhacking gloves (belay gloves) and started picking my way through the brush. The ridge was loose and steep, making the ascent even slower. There were no other cairns on the way and no hints of a use trail. You just dodge and shove your way through the brush. It thinned out toward the top of the first ridge, but I still had another quarter mile or so to go and made a bad mistake by dropping down into a gully. The brush got over my head and so thick that I often uprooted and dragged some small bushes with me through the bigger ones. I was very glad to have a long shirt and long pants as well as the gloves. I eventually got to another ridge where the going was easier. I highly suggest staying on the ridge. There is plenty of intimate contact with the chaparral no matter how you ascend.
At the summit, I found a register but no benchmark. The register went back to 1999, but there were so few entries that I counted how many parties had made it each year. The average is less than three parties a year, with some years seeing only one. A lonely peak to be sure.
After signing the register and taking a few photos, I finished my snacks and rested a little before heading back down into the jungle. It had warmed up to 65F and was quite pleasant in the sun. I stuck to the ridge on the way down and found the trail just slightly off from where I had started up. The return was uneventful. I didn't see another human all day. Still, it was a fun day and a memorable peak.
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