Hikers hoping to reach the upper portion of the second waterfall in Eaton Canyon will soon no longer be able to make the climb, to the outcry of avid canyoneers.
Angeles National Forest officials are closing that area of the nature reserve north of Pasadena within the next few weeks due to safety concerns, agency spokesman Nathan Judy said. This marks the first time any part of the Angeles National Forest has been closed to the public.
The canyon is characterized by steep cliffs and crumbling rocks. In 2012, over 60 rescues were conducted in the area. Five people have died there since 2011, including a 17-year-old girl last March. Numerous other missing or injured hikers have been airlifted out in the past few years.
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Judy said forest officials have been trying to warn hikers of the area’s dangers since 2011 by putting up signs and releasing a PSA video. But the accidents haven’t stopped.
“We continue to get people dying, falling off the cliff, having to be rescued, all at the cost of the taxpayers,” Judy said. “We’re closing a small portion of the upper waterfalls, to close off the area where people have been dying.”
Officials blame social media for the frequent accidents. Judy said hikers’ online videos using GoPro cameras encourage others to venture into the dangerous area. The forest service does not have a designated trail in the upper portion of the second waterfall, so visitors often try to create their own.
The U.S. Forest Service made the decision to close the area after meeting with the L.A. County Fire Department, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the Pasadena Fire Department and other local officials. Hikers who enter the closed area could be fined up to $5,000 or get up to six months in jail.
But avid canyoneers are fighting the trail closure, saying experienced hikers should still be allowed into the area for sport and conservation purposes.
“On the one hand we’re interested in helping decrease the accidents of casual hikers but also we want to maintain access for technical canyoneers,” said Sonny Lawrence, a member of the Coalition of American Canyoneers board of directors.
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Lawrence said the Coalition has tried to contact the forest service since hearing rumors of the canyon closure and has only recently received a response. He called Eaton Canyon “one of the finest of the technical canyons in the San Gabriel Valley” and said an alternative to the closure is to require a permit for skilled canyoneers to enter.
“The process of getting a permit alerts the person of dangers that hopefully they’ll make good decisions of going into the canyon,” Lawrence said.
Judy said the Coalition has been invited to share its concerns, but the area’s closure is definite.
“We’re hoping this stems the tide of all the accidents and deaths,” he said.