Sunday, May 3rd 2009 5am, I arrive at Cowles Mountain Trail head at Navajo/Golfcrest, located on the borders of La Mesa and Santee. I spot one other car, a small red Honda looking vehicle, which was not unusual since the trail was closed the day before, and at this hour there’s typically at least a few regulars.
I’m beginning my hike up, and I spot a flashlight, only… it’s not moving. I thought that a little strange and thought maybe the individual was hurt or looking at something, then I see a red flame appear which made me think “huh… standing there smoking after hiking? Weird…”. I kept approaching and to my surprise, 4 white males around in their early 20’s were surrounding another male sitting, who had his tattooed arm stretched out and was being wrapped, while one had a flashlight on the area you’d typically draw blood from (or shoot up). Despite the strange scene, I said “mornin'” (nothing like trying to act like you’re not nervous… but really it’s better to not appear that way), and one of them yelled “oh $#1T!”, then quickly in a normal voice said “morning” when they saw me keep on moving as if I hadn’t seen anything.
I thought about it for a few seconds, and called the police (at about 5:10am) once I was a few stretches up the first hill (not even a quarter of a mile), simply to get these guys off of my trail, especially before women or kids arrived who really should feel safe on this trail. The dispatcher told me that the SD Police were not equipped to go up the trail (despite my saying that it’s not at all that far in, and at the start of the trail) so they would not be arriving right away and that she’d let the park rangers know. She asked me if I saw the narcotics.. I told her “no, I did not, but I smelled Whiskey and they were talking about how to hold the arm and appeared to be shooting him up”, and that was that– “thanks and have a nice day, sir.”
So I’m heading up further and thinking, crap… the police won’t be here anytime soon, and my vehicle is the only one down there. These strung out guys are probably going to try to break into my car. So I double timed it up the mountain (I wanted to finish what I came there to do), and started my way back down the mountain trail quickly.
The first sight of other hikers was at around 6am — one of them was a regular so I asked him if there were still 5 guys down at the bottom shooting up, and he told me that they were still there and that they seemed a little squirrely. I told him what I saw and that the rangers were hopefully here by now, which he thanked me and said he was glad that I had.
So I’m heading down further and pass a regular woman hiker, said hello, then saw a father and his 10’ish year old son walking by and I’m thinking “yeah, these guys had to have left by now…”, but I couldn’t help but notice the nervous looks on these people’s faces as they passed me by and returned their good mornings.
Then sure enough, I’m jogging down and I see 5 of these punk looking guys stretched across the trail, blocking it so I can’t go by, and they are obviously strung out. A bag that appeared to be wrapped in some aluminum foil was sitting a few feet away from one of the guys, and they could barely hold a straight speech. They rolled around out of my way and let me continue to jog by.
I finally made my way down to the bottom (again, not that far, maybe a 2 minute walk) and no SD Police or Ranger to be found, which was almost an hour later. I warned a lady who was starting up that these guys were blocking the trail which she seemed a little alarmed by it and appreciated the tip, then I saw two other guys who appeared to be experienced hikers and asked them if they had seen them yet. They were surprised and said “oh… so that’s why there’s a spent needle in the Urinal in the bathrooms and a burned out can in there…”
They too were disappointed that the police hadn’t even tried to get out here to assist, and sure enough no rangers. They started chuckling and saying if I had offered a trail of donuts they would have come out.
I left before seeing if anything would come about, but seriously, are our Parks and Trails here in San Diego safe? This was an eye opener. These guys did not appear to be “harmless” by any means, and shooting up while drinking whiskey in a park means they were losing control — young college girls are always coming here in small groups or by themselves, and this is a very very popular mountain (hundreds hike it daily). San Diego Police did not respond right away to clean this up, and the San Diego Park Rangers were no where to be found an hour later.
Honestly, I don’t feel safe myself heading up in the dark anymore after this situation. Hopefully they can clean this up soon and get a better response team together. Until then, I would not feel safe at a park thinking the Police or Rangers will be there when you call for them, unless you’re hurt and need medical attention… even then you’d probably be seeing the Fire Department who don’t appear to have any problems ‘hiking’ a few hundred feet.// Jacob