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Source: U.S. Forest Service

May 10, 2017 (Ramona) -- As temperatures begin to rise, so have the number of heat-related injuries and air rescues at the popular Three Sisters and Cedar Creek trails in Cleveland National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service reports.

Last weekend, as temperatures reached the high 80s, Forest Service personnel and volunteers assisted as many as 50 hikers, most of whom had little or no water.  Several required medical evacuations by air while others were carried out on foot.

San Diego County Sherriff’s Department reported 59 rescue responses in 2017, while Cal Fire reported an additional 11, bringing the tally to 70 between the two popular trails.

Palomar District Recreation Officer Lee Hamm says, “We haven’t quite reached our peak hiking season yet and anticipate rescues will rise considerably now until October.”

Hikers should be prepared for unfavorable conditions. If hitting the trails during the summer months, avoid hiking during the heat of the day and bring at least one gallon of water per person. Wear light colored clothing, good hiking boots, and a hat to block the sun. Even at other times of the year, temperatures can still climb high and it’s always important to stay hydrated. 

Last year, the Cleveland National Forest implemented an emergency closure order, in effect when the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning.

“Public health and safety remains one of our primary concerns. These closures remain the most effective way to reduce heat related injuries and ensure the safety of our public and first responders” says Forest Supervisor Will Metz. These closures are expected to occur frequently throughout the summer, so be sure to check with the Cleveland National Forest before hitting the trail, where permits are also required.

Construction was recently complete on the most challenging stretch of the Three Sisters Trail, providing a safer and more direct route to the falls, while alleviating the boulder-hopping and mountain-climbing that caused as many as seventy-five injuries last year.



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Comment on Three Sisters Rescue Issues

To answer commenter no 1 above, No the signage for the trail is totally inadequate. Nevermind the inevitable member of the public that eventually comes along and destroys signage, even signage that is meant to save lives. In Spite of it all, the slogan from the first Earth Day in the 70ies still remains: " we met the enemy and it is still us" --When the Forest Service says a gallon they mean a gallon, not a pint; that needs to be followed as a gallon. Read this on the label of the container you buy. "Gallon" or 4 quarts or 4 liters-close enough for government work. This is per person not per group! If this seems like a lot of weight use a back pack with a padded back and a substantial waist belt for distributing the load; it makes a huge difference.
The Forest Service created a new trail that is still being finessed. However they need to make it clear that the old trail that was clearly to them as well as to most observers, causing so many issues both for safety and for environmental concerns, is now closed. To date the public keeps removing the sketchy deterrents such as clippings of vegetation, limbs and rocks in the way. The old route, though many want-a-be rope climbers thought it exciting, is the definitive precipitating crisis for creating the new portion of the trail. So far the Forest Service has failed to definitively close the old one. A real sign like "closed to hiking" or "closed for rehab, no hiking" might make things a lot more clear. At least two parties told me they still got confused and took the wrong route. -well maybe.
If you insist on going that way then I think you are on your own for creating risks to yourself and to others not to mention the exorbitant costs of rescues to the public. More on that one, hold that thought... There really should be some serious fines to those who remove the directives to stay on the new trail regardless of their lack of sophistication. Removing these can-- and apparently has-- caused others serious injury. Without question the old route was far more conducive to heat related medical issues. So why has the Forest Service been so slow to make it clear that this route is closed?
Oddly, as it turns out, additionally is the perception of the rescuers to which I can only say follow the money. I was there a month ago on a Friday where two ambulances, a fire truck, sheriff and a large helicopter were present to help a hiker with a sprained ankle. ( the official remedy is to keep your shoe on and walk out, --if you can of course) The helicopter had to circle in high winds to position to connect with the hiker on the ground. Sure. Then one week later I had a helicopter follow me out one evening about three weeks ago claiming someone saw me get out of my car the morning before. This was balony. I didn't leave until 4 pm that day. I'm very familiar with the whole canyon and frequently return after dark, have for years now. Additionally there is nothing all that unusual about someone backpacking somewhere in the forest and staying overnight. The Forest Service no longer requires permits for this locally. Why? I'm not really sure. Not that I'm not glad to know that someone would actually come looking for me, believe me I am; but I was not in any trouble whatsoever, not reported missing nor had I called for any help. I was a tag sick however , not to mention slightly annoyed I couldn't enjoy the quiet of early evening all by myself, from smelling the fumes of the helicopter circling for an hour. To be sure is it very important that someone back in civilization knows when you left, where you are planning to go, and when you plan to be back. Nevertheless, they spent the cost of a large county helicopter for an hour for something that I think even the sheriff meeting me there found really odd. I walked straight up to him at 9 pm and said "gee I don't know who you are looking for but it isn't me, I'm just fine". We talked a few minutes, shared my photos that I took that evening, and had a good laugh about the general weirdness of all things Three Sisters. But the mystery of how someone could have thought I was in trouble was never solved. For one thing how was it that someone was there two days in a row to report such a thing?-- and still think I was the one with issues, seriously? Was this Forest Service? a liason for the Sheriff dept? Makes no sense. Do they have a camera set up at the trailhead looking 24/7 for people hiking that look like trouble? This is possible but I have no idea, and beyond morbid curiosity I really don't care. I'm really tired of thinking about the place but I fear this will go on and on. Three sisters HAS actually brought some back to nature and some for the first time. But if this be you please, get some training or bring someone that has some. In the meantime did someone really call the sheriff thinking that People who drive Prius must be dainty girls and not capable of hiking? That myth is now busted, trust me. The low clearance Prius even made it out there taking some caution on the unpredictable Boulder Creek Road. Only the shadow knows. I don't suggest to anyone to hike at dark unless you totally know what you are doing but for this hike I totally do and it is a good way to avoid the heat and crowds. The crowds by the way have gone from 200 on Saturday and Sunday to 600 since this trail was first on the drawing board. That alone seems to call into mind the US Forest Service term "adaptive management" . This trail scene needs some.

Cindy Buxton
I chair the Forest Committee for Sierra Club San Diego but this was not written with their review or permission.


Don't people understand that some trails are simply not meant for amature hikers who are unprepared for this type of environment and terrain? They need to do some research on these trails Before heading out on a possible deadly trek. I wonder... who pays for their rescue, them, or the taxpayer? I have to assume (since I've never been there) the trail head has signs advising and warning about the dangers.