Frustrated hikers return to potentially dangerous trails

Frustrated hikers return to potentially dangerous trails

  • US News
  • January 15, 2023
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The ominous message was pasted onto an 18-inch orange traffic cone.

“Caution. Flash flood area. Do not enter,” it said.

A sign with a traffic cone reading "Danger: flash flood area;  Do Not Enter"

A sign stands near a creek in Eaton Canyon as recent storms have caused mudslides on local hiking trails.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Pomona resident Maria Avila saw the alert as she reached a creek in Eaton Canyon Natural Area County Park in Pasadena with her parents and brother Thursday afternoon.

After the storms of the last few weeks, what used to be a trickle was now two feet of rushing, almost freezing water.

To continue the trail, which leads to a waterfall, hikers had to wade the 20-foot-wide creek on slippery boulders.

Some turned back for fear of losing their footing. Avila, her parents, and her brother rolled up their pants, took off their shoes and socks, and threw themselves inside.

“I know it’s not the safest time right now, but I didn’t want to turn back because this really is the best time to enjoy the park and nature,” Avila said. “I have the feeling that we’ve already lost a lot of time because of the rain and we don’t want to miss any more.”

The Avilas finally made it to the waterfall.

Linda Corella from San Bernardino navigates local hiking trails through a creek in Eaton Canyon.

Linda Corella of San Bernardino navigates a creek in Eaton Canyon as recent storms have caused mudslides on hiking trails.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

During a lull before another winter rain, nature lovers cooped up at home ventured onto trails lined with freshly sprouting greenery.

But park rangers and outdoor experts warn of dangers posed by the storms, which range from water crossings like the one at Eaton Canyon to slippery trails on steep mountainsides to potentially deadly snow and ice.

Sometimes a trail that initially seems tame becomes progressively hairier – with the temptation to push your way through to reach a peak or other scenic landmark.

“You have a situation where creeks are swelling, you have natural seepage on the trails and rivers are rushing,” said Mike Leum, a longtime volunteer search and rescue supervisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “But you go outside and it’s sunny, and that’s very attractive to city dwellers.”

On Sunday, veteran hiker Crystal Paula Gonzalez fell 500 feet to her death on the icy Baldy Bowl Trail. Gonzalez was a seasoned outdoor person, nicknamed the “hike queen,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

Those braving Mt. Baldy and the surrounding area should avoid traveling alone, bring extra food and clothing, and complete winter mountaineering training, the US Forest Service recommends.

On December 28, Los Angeles resident Jarret Choi fell and died on the Ice House Trail, near where Gonzalez lost her life. It took officers two days to find Choi’s body due to poor visibility, bad weather and ice.

Accidents and near misses aren’t limited to challenging trails like those on Mt. Baldy.

Leum assisted the Montrose Search and Rescue Team in rescuing a troop of Boy Scouts – five boys and three adults – who were trapped between two rising rivers near Big Tujunga Creek on Sunday night. All were unhurt.

“It was going to be a one-day loop, which I think they thought was easy,” said Leum, the sheriff’s department deputy director of reserves, search and rescue and posse programs. “Sometimes it’s better to wait.”

Kelsey Lynn and Madison Powers emphasize a message of “patience” to the LA Hike Club of over 1,000 members.

On January 5, Lynn hiked between rains on the Echo Mountain Trail above Altadena in the Angeles National Forest.

The 34-year-old Echo Park resident was surprised to see “large parts of the trail collapsed” and has not hiked since for safety reasons.

“We think it’s a good idea to give it a few days after the rain so the trails can dry if you’re riding a hard-packed mud trail like a fire road,” said Powers, 35, a Hancock Park resident. “But if you really want to go hiking as soon as it rains, it’s probably safest to go on a paved route.”

Powers and Lynn, who founded the hiking club with another friend, suggest routes like Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon Park and Malibu’s Solstice Canyon Loop.

A couple walks through a mudslide in Eaton Canyon as recent storms have caused damage to local hiking trails.

A couple walks through a mudslide in Eaton Canyon as recent storms have caused damage to local hiking trails.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Some hiking trails, such as Sycamore Canyon and Turnball Canyon, operated by the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority, are routinely closed for 48 hours after heavy rain. Eaton Canyon will close on heavy rain days like Tuesday, while Angeles National Forest, which closed an SUV area, and Paseo Miramar in Pacific Palisades remained open with few notices.

On Thursday, Alberto Salazar and his girlfriend Brittney Huerta set out along the Eaton Falls Trail, which begins in Eaton Canyon and transitions into the Angeles National Forest.

Two days earlier, five inches of rain had flooded this rock-covered path, making it impossible to pass.

Barrier tape lined some of the trees and boulders surrounding a small waterfall near the entrance to the national forest.

For Salazar, 20, of Paramount, this was the first day he and his girlfriend both had time to hike.

To get to the waterfall, about 1.5 miles away, they traversed unstable wooden and stone bridges, with Salazar nearly slipping at one point while carrying his 30-pound gold doodle.

Eventually they reached the 40 foot waterfall.

“For me, it’s about being out here in nature and enjoying that with my girl,” Salazar said. “Why wait? It’s worth a little risk, I guess.”

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