There’s a difference between going on a hike and being a hiker.
Now more than ever, it’s imperative that experienced hikers share their outdoor skills and connection to nature with those who have neither.
One lesson for the novice hiker: Even a small waterfall can prove deadly to the hiker deciding to approach it from the top.
Less than two weeks after three hikers fell to their deaths over Yosemite’s mighty 317-foot Vernal Fall, a man fell to his death over 35-foot Eaton Canyon Falls located in the foothills near Pasadena, California.
After hiking the popular trail through Eaton Canyon Park to the falls with three companions late Sunday afternoon, Erwin Molina, 26, is reported to have lost his footing and fell from the top of the falls to the rocky canyon bottom.
It’s with a mixture of sadness and increased frustration that I must respond yet again to another preventable death by a hiker. (See: The Trailmaster Responds to Yosemite Visitor Deaths on ABC World News)
My heart goes out to the young man’s hiking companions and family, while my head cannot understand the decision-making that took him onto slippery rocks close to the top of a waterfall.
To the shock of Southern California’s hiking community, and less than a week after the hiker’s fatal fall, on Saturday August 6, a second hiker fell to his death from a cliff near Eaton Canyon Falls. A female companion, who tried to assist, got stuck and was airlifted to safety and later to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
Eaton Falls is an easy, family-friendly, three-mile round trip walk from the park’s nature center. It’s been a popular destination for hikers since the 1870s.
Late one August afternoon in 1877, John Muir set out from Pasadena to begin his exploration of the San Gabriel Mountains. The great naturalist was very impressed with Eaton Falls, as he wrote in his book, The Mountains of California: “It is a charming little thing, with a low, sweet voice, singing like a bird, as it pours from a notch in a short ledge, some thirty-five or forty feet into a round mirror-pool.”
A few years back, I led members of the KPCC Hiking Club on a jaunt to Eaton Falls. I thought it perfect for the club’s first outing—an easy trail, a quiet canyon, some interesting native flora, and the reward of visiting a waterfall John Muir called “the finest yet discovered in the San Gabriel Mountains.”
We loved Eaton Falls, took some photos with the falls in the background, but never contemplated climbing to the top of this tiny but powerful natural treasure.
A moderately experienced hiker would know: the so-called trail that extends up and around Eaton Falls is not a trail at all but a very steep ridgeline; it’s easier working your way up a steep, slippery slope than down; even a small waterfall is a powerful force of nature.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff Department reports that there have been way more incidents that usual in the area—seven in seven days, and most involving lost or fallen hikers.
So why are all these hikers getting lost, injured or killed?
The Trailmaster’s simple answer is: Hiking per se is not a dangerous activity but hitting the trail lacking basic outdoor skills and a knowledge of nature and its forces can be dangerous and, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, even deadly.