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Climate and Environment

Hikers Gotta Hike. Back On The Trail After Days Of Rain And Mudslides

Yellow caution tape straddles a mudslide. A small river rushes by in the background.
Eaton Canyon is a popular destination for hikers, but storms can bring mudslides and unpredictability.
(Jackie Orchard
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Eaton Canyon lies just north of Pasadena, at the edge of the Angeles National Forest. On a normal day, it’s dry and crunchy, with the colors of baked clay and sandy-hued foliage, spiky shoots of green popping up from the mountain slopes.

It’s a popular hiking spot, but a week of steady rain has transformed the canyon into an unpredictable rushing river, surrounded by mudslides and warning signs.

Ariel Kostrzewski, a full-time mother of two and lifetime resident of Pasadena, says she has hiked this canyon more times than she can count. “This is like prime lush, beautiful time,” she says.

But it has never felt so, well, wet.

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“Usually when I'm hiking here, there's zero water, especially down here,” Kostrzewski gestures to the canyon below. “You can usually go up there in the rainier months, closer to the waterfall, and you'll see a little trickle of a stream, but this is like torrential stream levels.”

The waterfall to our left, as we peer off the small bridge by Eaton Falls, is loud and rushing.

New Hazards

Kostrzewski says she would normally bring her children for a day hike, but under the current conditions she’s not even sure she should be out here.

“Definitely a lot of mudslides. I was hiking up there on the Altadena Crest Trail and there were like complete walls completely slid down the mountain,” Kostrzewski says. That trail is now partially closed. “It was pretty sketchy up there, lots of loose rocks. I fell a couple of times, kind of cut my hand pretty bad.”

But: She's a regular here at Eaton Canyon. She knows the routes. And hikers, hike.

The same goes for Hilda Guzman, a full-time student at Glendale Community College. She tried to hike Eaton Canyon from the main entrance, not the side entrance by the waterfall where we now stand.

“The entrance is very flooded,” Guzman says. “So you do get wet like up to your thighs. I haven't seen it that way ever, actually.”

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Guzman says she also has never seen the canyon so empty of its usual tourists and adventurers.

“On the weekends it's really popular,” Guzman says. “You can't even find parking. It goes into overflow. During the weeks you get a lot of field trips coming in. But yeah, today it's just local residents.”

Tips For Staying Safe

Guzman says while Eaton Canyon is a beloved trail and usually great for all ages, right now with the heavy rains, families may want to steer clear.

“I love Eaton Canyon,” Guzman says. “But if you're not as experienced, it's not the greatest time to come right now.”

  • Feel the urge to hike? We asked the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation for their recommendations on staying safe during inclement weather. Here are answers from trails section head Michelle O'Connor.

  • Currently closed: As of Jan. 13, the Altadena Crest, Don Wallace, Antonovich, and Rio Hondo River trails are closed due to unsafe conditions.

  • Be aware of your surroundings: "We do not recommend hiking, biking, or riding horses until natural surface trails dry out," O'Connor said. Trail users should be aware of falling debris, such as rocks and trees that could come loose even days after a storm. Prepare for mud and rushing water in creek beds. If you're hiking when rain starts, keep away from low points and stay on the trail and away from edges.

  • Learn about your trail: The department's website and the trails app have details on trail conditions, elevation, and weather.

  • Come prepared: Proper shoes and attire are essential when you might encounter debris and unsteady ground. Let a loved one know when and where you are hiking, avoid known flooded and mudslide areas, and stay on the trail.

County officials say those conditions can last for days after a storm. (As the Sheriff's Department reminds people of in this video about search-and-rescue operations on hiking trails.)

Kostrzewski and Guzman both say they appreciate the rain, and they know California needs it, but the soil around here just isn’t equipped to hold it.

“It's usually a lot more stable, like right here,” Kostrzewski scrapes her foot along a long scar in the trail where water has cut the groove deeper and deeper. “All of these huge divots typically are not here," she says.

“I like it. I think it's great for the plant life and all of that stuff. I like seeing the river rushing. I think it's really refreshing and beautiful,” Kostrzewski says.

She expresses hope that all the volunteers working in the canyon — roping off mudflow areas and placing danger signs by flooded creek beds — are able to stay safe in the coming days.

If you're looking for some views and a shorter walk without getting soaked, the upper trail of Eaton Canyon can be accessed at the Mount Wilson/Pine Crest Gate, but hikers should be advised that there are mudflows and areas of erosion along the trail that may be unsafe.

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