Cedar Creek Falls; Beautiful But Still Deadly!
In the spring of 2013 I landed at Cedar Creek Falls in Ramona California to give the newest member of our unit a ground tour. Cedar Creek Falls still accounts for an inordinate number of rescues performed by our air unit each year. Only 3 weeks before my retirement it claimed the life of another hiker who became overheated and lacked a sufficient supply of water. Yes, there may have been other medical issues - we are not sure, but we do know that a 24 year old male hiker did not make it home to his family that night and ended up in the morgue instead. Sad indeed.
While I have never personally hiked to the falls, (though I have threatened it many times) I think I would be much more inclined to do it in the spring, when the water is actually running and not green. Additionally, the throngs of people that gather on the rocks next to the pool all summer long is not exactly inviting to me.
I am putting on my life saving hat for a moment
I rarely do this on this site, but I am going to get up on my soap box for a brief moment. I don't like seeing people die and when it is completely avoidable it makes the tragedy that much worse.
Look, if you are overweight or out of shape, or if you are not willing to carry a significant amount of water with you, please stick to Iron Mountain, Cowles Mountain, or even Torrey Pines State Beach for your hiking adventures.
I honestly applaud you for getting out and getting some exercise, but death is a high price to pay for not doing a little research. It is far less likely that you will fall victim to heat exhaustion or heat stroke if you go to one of these popular hiking spots.
Secondly, please, please, know where the hell you hiking!
#1 Cedar Creek Falls & Three Sisters Falls are not the same! They are several miles apart. Hint- if you parked in Ramona, or if you drove down miles and miles of Eagle Peak Rd from Julian (which you won't soon forget) , you are at Cedar Creek Falls. If you drove down Boulder Creek Rd to get to the trail head, then you are at Three Sisters Falls.
#2 Devil's Punch Bowl; It is highly, highly unlikely that you are at Devil's Punch Bowl. The place I know as "Devil's Punch Bowl" has no trails leading to it, and in my 8 years in ASTREA I have NEVER seen one single person there. So stop saying you are at Devil's Punch Bowl, your not!
Giving the wrong location to rescuers only serves to delay life saving emergency medical attention!
It does not have to be an extremely hot day to die
I personally have noticed an interesting phenomenon if you can call it that. About 4-5 months prior to the death of the 24 year old man, a young lady suffered an identical fate hiking out of Three Sisters Falls. Neither of these days were what I would consider to be an extremely hot day (100+). They were both days in the high 80's or low 90's. The point is, if you suffer from other health problems, are not in very good physical condition, or you do not take an adequate water supply, you can die from heat injuries on a 90 degree day.
Cedar Creek Falls has claimed lives in other ways as well. One young man accidentally lost his balance and fell from the top of the falls. Another man dove in and likely struck his head on boulders beneath the water. His body was recovered by the Sheriff's dive team the following day.
How Quickly History is Forgotten, by Some
Very quickly after the devastating 2003 wildfires, in which I lost my own home, the San Diego Fire Rescue Department acquired the very first medium lift fire-rescue helicopters in the county, (actually the Sheriff's Department owned and operated one or two military surplus Huey,s in the early 90's but I don't think they were ever used in rescues.)
For a full 30 years prior to San Diego Fire Rescue acquiring their first medium lift helicopter, virtually every rescue in San Diego's back country was performed by Deputies operating either an MD500 series helicopter, or prior to that a Bell 47 piston powered helicopter. There was the rare occasion that the U.S. Coast Guard would assist on an inland rescue if the circumstances warranted it.
Since 2004 San Diego County is now home to 4 medium lift fire-rescue helicopters, operated by public agencies. Two by San Diego Fire Rescue and two by the San Diego Sheriff's Department Aviation Unit. Each day in the county two of those helicopters are outfitted with hoist, making rescue operations safer in most cases.
The Sheriff's Department still routinely conducts rescue operations in the smaller MD500 helicopters, but with the hoist aircraft now available, a considerable number of the rescues are performed by those aircraft and crew.
The San Diego Sheriff's Aviation Unit is slated to take delivery of a third medium lift Bell 205A1++ helicopter, virtually identical to the first two, in late September of 2015. This helicopter was purchased by the County of San Diego as a maintenance spare, so that there are always 2 fire helicopters ready to launch during fire season.