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Eaton Canyon Upper Falls Closure Begins Friday: Forest Service

After dozens of stranded hikers have been rescued — and five have died — on the treacherous route to the upper falls in popular Eaton Canyon, the U.S. Forest Service planned to shut down access to the area beginning Friday.

A sign warns hikers about the closure of the upper falls in Eaton Canyon beginning Aug. 1, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

A sign warns hikers about the closure of the upper falls in Eaton Canyon beginning Aug. 1, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

The closure of an 84-acre area that can be reached via an unmarked, unmaintained trail is motivated by health and safety concerns, according to Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy.

RELATED: Forest Service Closure Notice

Since 2012, search and rescue crews have saved 60 people stuck on the steep rock face that leads to the alluring second falls north of Pasadena (map).

And even on Wednesday evening, a female hiker fell down the side of a steep embankment near the second waterfall, according to the Pasadena Fire Department.

Her fall was stopped only when her leg was caught by a small tree branch, cellphone video showed. Dozens of fire personnel responded; the young woman was airlifted by a Los Angeles County Fire Department rescue helicopter.

It’s a 200- to 300-foot drop from the trail, which is not sanctioned by the Forest Service, Judy said. The path is appropriately dubbed the”Razorback Trail.”

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

An area called “Knife Ridge” on the path to the second falls is composed of shale that just “falls away” under hikers’ feet, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department air rescue crew chief told KTLA in June, when the Forest Service first signaled plans for the closure.

Since 2011, five people have fallen to their deaths, Judy said.

“People just find rock faces and climb up. … They are having to climb onto rocks that are crumbling and breaking off,” Judy said. “There’s no safe way to get up there.”

The Forest Service will be erecting warning signs about the closure Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday and through the weekend, law enforcement officers will be in the canyon telling hikers about the closure order.

One of Eaton Canyon's waterfalls is shown. (Credit: Timothy Tolle/flickr via Creative Commons)

One of Eaton Canyon’s waterfalls is shown. (Credit: Timothy Tolle/flickr via Creative Commons)

They plan to “educate first” then begin issuing citations later, Judy said.

Sheriff’s Department deputies and Forest Service officers will be in area periodically to check for compliance in future, he said.

Violators could face a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail, Judy said.

Experienced canyoneers, who use ropes, helmets and other equipment to ensure their safety, have argued that their access to the canyon should be preserved. The Coalition of American Canyoneers had suggested a permit system as a possible solution that would separate inexperienced hikers from those with technical skills to travel through the canyon safely, but it was not clear if that was being pursued.

The popular trail to the lower falls, which are easily reached from the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, will remain open.