By Mary O’KEEFE
Officials and emergency responders held a press conference on Tuesday at the base of the Eaton Canyon Park and Nature Center to make a plea for hikers to be cautious.
“There are a large number of people who come here every day, mostly taking designated trails and hiking safely,” said Director Russ Guiney, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. “However an increasing number of people are listening to inaccurate information that they get from friends or even social media sites and they are attempting to access the second waterfall.”
A trail leads to the first waterfall, about a mile in, but the second, which can be seen on some hiking websites, is dangerous to access.
“The agencies you see represented here have responded to 60 rescues in the [Eaton] Canyon area over the last 12 months,” said Asst. Chief Bill Niccum, Los Angeles County Fire Department.
He added that 35 of those rescues had victims who had suffered injuries, with 20 who had to be rescued with helicopter assistance. There were two deaths.
The officials blamed some of the off-trail hiking to social media sites that show how beautiful the second waterfall is, but not the treacherous walk to get there.
“This is steep, rugged terrain [that hikers] put themselves at risk and search and rescue [responders],” Niccum said.
The one thing that officials wanted to make clear was the second waterfall is not a place anyone should be hiking to, whether they are “experienced” or not.
“It is not worth your life,” added Capt. Bob Taylor, Pasadena Fire Department.
Parks and recreation estimates that about 487,000 people hike the Eaton Canyon area each year. The numbers appear to be increasing, perhaps because of the Station Fire and closed trails in the Angeles National Forest.
When a call for assistance comes into the Altadena Sheriff’s Station, the next call is normally to the Altadena Mountain Reserve team. They, like Montrose Search and Rescue, are comprised of volunteers that are available 24/7 and get paid $1 per year.
When asked if there was anything the rescued hikers in the area had in common, Carl Pedroza, mountain reserve operations officer, said, “They are always in the wrong place.”
He added that most of the time, the lost hikers are certain they are in one area but once found discover they were way off their path.
“They think they can take a short cut, then when they don’t [recognize] the area they just keep going,” he added.
Pedroza, who has been on many rescues in Eaton Canyon and is an experienced search and rescue team member, would not hike to the second waterfall.
“It is extremely hard [to hike]. The whole mountain is decomposing granite,” he said.
And, he added, the terrain is in constant change as the rains flow through the area.
It is not enough to be aware of the rugged terrain once hikers venture off the trails, but there are also rattlesnakes to be aware of.
“We found a rattlesnake in the parking lot just before the press conference,” said Bob Dollins, docent for the Nature Center.
Dollins knows and hikes the area. He advised those who plan to hike the area to first visit the Nature Center for information on the trails.
He spoke of meeting a family – father, mother and two small children – heading down the trails in late afternoon.
“I asked them if they had a flashlight, they said no,” he said. “They were just coming from church and decided to hike.”
The overall message was for anyone who would like to visit Eaton Canyon to do so. Everyone is welcomed but come prepared, know the surrounding area and do not for any reason go to the second waterfall.
Dollins put it simply: “Plan the hike and hike the plan.”