The Pacific Crest Trail suffered from debris flows after the August rains.
Photo by Andrew Smith, natural resource specialist, U.S. Forest Service

Forest Service expects PCT to open in spring

Unlike the 2013 Mountain Fire, this summer’s Cranston Fire did not materially damage the Pacific Crest Trail south of Humber Park.

U.S. Forest Service Natural Resource Specialist Andrew E. Smith said the PCT through-portion, from near Paradise Corners in Garner Valley to Humber Park, should be ready to open before the next PCT through-hike season — spring 2019.

“The Cranston Fire did minimal damage to the PCT,” Smith said. “Probably about 200 yards of the trail were affected by burn over. The ‘good news’ is there was no structural damage to rock walls, steps, drainage or slopes.”

As a result, Smith expects the final repairs to be completed without any delay. Some work still remains from the rain and fire damage in 2013, but it is near completion.

After the Mountain Fire, the Forest Service evaluated the PCT in the burned area and found trail conditions that were unpassable and dangers, such as burned trees, and branches and boulders along the trail.

The Mountain Fire PCT assessment concluded, “The initial review of the PCT found more than 90 percent of the trail within the burned area affected by heavy erosion and gullies, wash outs, rock fall, and structurally compromised retention walls and switch back structures.  Numerous down trees across the trail and hazard trees within striking distance of the trail were observed.” As a result, nearly 15 miles of trail were closed.

The Cranston Fire report made no mention of specific work or repair needed on the PCT. Soils erosion and loss of trail tread were considered “unlikely and minor with very low risk.”

While debris flows and flooding from the Cranston Fire remain threats to lower elevations, Smith said he saw some debris flow, but not sufficient to warrant a closure recommendation, on the trail in the weeks after the fire and during the August monsoonal rains.

“But we’re making progress knocking that out,” he said. “Keep your fingers crossed; we anticipate finishing on time.”

But the May Valley trail system, including bicycles and hiking, did suffer from the Cranston Fire. That repair will continue for awhile, Smith added.

The current San Jacinto Ranger District Forest Closure Order includes the South Ridge Trail, which connects the Saddle to the Saunders Meadows area, passing the Tahquitz Lookout, the May Valley trails and about 4 miles of the PCT. This is to expire on July 31, 2019.

If the PCT repairs are completed, Smith expects the PCT closure to be lifted before next spring.