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[T3] My Palomar Hill Climb

My Palomar Hill Climb

It was the winter of 73-4 and I was working in southern California for a few 
months. I had a weekend with nothing to do and decided to drive inland and 
visit the Mt. Palomar Observatory which I had heard about all my life. On the 
map it looked like it was only about 60 miles inland from where I was living in 

The weather on the coast was the usual SoCal winter day, grey and chilly, but 
nothing like what I thought of as winter, so I set off with little thought 
about the fact that it would get colder as I got up into the mountains. I was 
driving my first type 3, a dark blue 68 FI squareback.

The first 40 miles were flat, or slightly rolling, but eventually I ended up on 
a 2-lane road that seemed like a gentle roller coaster ride, up & down, up & 
down, thru a nicely wooded area. Getting up into the mountains, the grey had 
turned into light drizzle. I realized it was getting colder when sometimes the 
drizzle turned to snow, then back to rain. Eventually I realized that at the 
peak of the road it would be snowing, while in the valleys it was still 
raining. So on I drove, up into snow, down into rain, up into snow, down into 

Apparently the road was slowly making its way upward, because I eventually left 
the rain behind and it was just snowing, not hard, but just a bit. I'm 
surrounded by forest and trees. All very quiet and no signs at all of any human 
population other than the road, and I appeared to be the only car on this road.

Suddenly I crested another hill and there were scattered cars parked on both 
sides of the road. Now thie seemed really strange because there was no sign 
that there was anything here for anyone to want to stop to see. There were also 
people walking along the road, so I assumed there must be some attraction, but 
there was nothing to be seen back in the woods and no signs for anything. I had 
actually been watching for signs for the last 10-15 miles and had seen nothing.

I figured these people were going somewhere up ahead and I would eventually 
pass whatever brought them all here.

Down another valley and up to another crest. Now there are lots of cars on both 
side of the road and more people walking, but they seem to be walking in both 
directions. There's still no sign of anything that would have attracted them 
here. I'm still confused by this, but I resolve to just drive on, slowly, 
because of all the pedestrian traffic.

Down a valley and back up to the next crest and I find cars stopped in my lane 
in front of me. I stop. I wait. We move slowly forward. More cars pile up 
behind me. The cars are parked solid on both sides of the road by now and there 
is a continuous crowd of foot traffic moving both ways on both sides of the 

At the next crest in the road, I can see that we have about 1/4 mile of almost 
stalled traffic ahead of me and I'm now pinned in. I regret deciding to make 
this trip, but I'm glad that I have plenty of gas and time, so I settle in and 
play the waiting game. Slowly I move forward with the traffic.

Ahead I can see that the road turns to the right and disappears. Cars make that 
corner slowly and disappear, I can also see that there are cars coming from the 
other direction and they often seem to find empty spaces to the sides of the 
road and park. As I get closer, I suddenly realize that each of the cars ahead 
of me that I had watched disappear, reappear a minute or 2 later coming back 
the other way. I can't imagine what I've gottem myself in to, but no one 
appears to be as annoyed as I'm beginning to feel, so I calm down and stick 
with the line. It's still lightly snowing.

Finally, I'm up to the corner and can see what's ahead. After the right turn, 
the road runs level for about 50 feet and then takes a sharp turn upward, going 
straight ahead and medium steep for about 1/2 mile. There are 4-5 cars ahead of 
me. There are NO cars on the inclined part of the road, but there are lots of 
people walking up and down both sides. I watch as the car at the front of our 
line rolls itself onto the start of the incline, stops, revvs the engine a few 
times, pops the clutch and fishtails to no effect. He tries this several times, 
gives up, and turns around. As he gives up his place, each car behind him moves 
forward as the new lead car moves onto the slope and stops in preparation for 
the hill climb attempt.

I stay back at the apex of the corner where I can watch all this. I can't 
believe what I'm seeing. Each person in turn makes exactly the same mistake, 
learning nothing from the failures they just watched. Each one drives onto the 
beginning of the slope and actually applies their brakes and stops. I stay 
back. Behind me, the other drivers are getting pissed. They start to honk. I 

Eventually each of the cars that had been ahead of me tried and gave up, and 
now the road ahead of me was clear. I drove ahead and shifted into 2nd about 
the time I hit the slope, coasting right over the well polished area that 
everyone had prepared there. I can't remember if I ever shifted into 3rd. I was 
worried that things might change suddenly and I didn't want to be going too 
fast with all the foot traffic around. About 100 yards up the hill I took a 
chance and glanced in my rear view mirror to see if anyone had followed my 
lead. The 50 ft lead-in to the slope was now packed with cars which were all 

I drove to the top with absolutely NO difficulty, while the pedestrians around 
me were actually clapping. I heard someone say, "Look, it's got a Wisconsin 
plate." It would have made a great VW ad, if only there had been someone there 
to record it. When I got to the top I expected to be able to drive on to my 
destination, but I found that THIS was it. The only thing at the top was the 
Mt. Palomar Observatory and a huge empty parking lot. There was just one other 
vehicle there, an ancient red pickup, which looked like it had either been 
there for weeks/months, or was owned by someone who knew how to drive on snow 
and ice.

When I left 2 hours later, we were still the only 2 vehicles in the lot.

Jim Adney, jadney@vwtype3.org
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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