Forest Service Says Eaton Canyon Upper Falls Must Be Closed, but Canyoneers Want Access

Years of warning inexperienced hikers to avoid the dangerous trek to the second waterfall in Eaton Canyon has not worked, and after dozens of rescues and several deaths, the scenic area was set to be closed, authorities said Friday.

A sign warns hikers of the dangers of the upper falls in Eaton Canyon on June 27, 2014. The Forest Service was expected to close access to the upper falls. (Credit: KTLA)

A sign warns hikers of the dangers of the upper falls in Eaton Canyon on June 27, 2014. The Forest Service was expected to close access to the upper falls. (Credit: KTLA)

But canyoneers with the expert skills to safely descend the canyon — considered among the finest in Southern California — hoped that Forest Service officials would respond to their bid for continued access.

Eaton Canyon’s lower falls are a popular destination easily reached along a trail from a Pasadena nature center (map), but the alluring second waterfall can only be reached over unofficial trails on treacherous terrain.

It’s that second area the U.S. Forest Service plans to shut down in upper Eaton Canyon.

“We’ve tried for years to advise people not to go in the area,” Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy said. “That hasn’t worked, so now we’re having to close that small area.”

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A search-and-rescue effort saved two hikers lost in Eaton Canyon on Feb. 6, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Air rescue crew chief Sgt. Phil Barth of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said his team has been on many rescue operations, including efforts to help hikers who died.

“We’re always up there, plucking people off the side of the cliff,” Barth said. “Mount Hood is dangerous, and Mount Rainier, but if you fall 100 feet from here, it’s just as dangerous. You’re not going to make it.”

An area called “Knife Ridge” on the path to the second falls is composed of shale that just “falls away” under hikers’ feet, Varth said.

The lower waterfall at Eaton Canyon is a popular destination. (Credit: Al Pavangkanan/flickr via Creative Commons)

The lower waterfall at Eaton Canyon is a popular destination. (Credit: Al Pavangkanan/flickr via Creative Commons)

But for experienced canyoneers, who use ropes, helmets and other equipment to ensure their safety, that terrain can be crossed without injury. They argue their access should be preserved.

As leaked information about the planned closure — still not officially announced by the Forest Service — spread this month, the nonprofit Coalition of the American Canyoneers urged its members to contact their local representatives to seek continued accress to upper Eaton Canyon.

Coalition board member Sonny Lawrence of Redlands, who has descended Eaton Canyon several times, said the organization hopes to meet with the Forest Service to talk about a possible permitting system that would limit access to experts.

“We appreciate that inexperienced hikers are having serious accidents and deaths. We want to try to brainstorm how to help with that, and at the same time maintain access for technical canyoneers who are experienced,” Lawrence said.

It was not clear if the Forest Service was considering a permit system — or any exceptions to the closure.

The timing of the closure has not been announced, nor have the penalties for violating it.

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