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Hikers are warned of treacherous conditions in Eaton Canyon

Two hikers have died — one Saturday, another July 31 — near the waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest's Eaton Canyon, where the rocks are slippery and the cliffs are steep.

August 08, 2011|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
  • Brian Selva, 21, of Montebello floats in the pool below the waterfall in Eaton Canyon. Two people have died recently attempting to climb the steep cliffs near the waterfall in Angeles National Forest.
Brian Selva, 21, of Montebello floats in the pool below the waterfall in… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Heavy crowds and treacherous terrain have proved a dangerous combination this summer in the popular Eaton Canyon section of Angeles National Forest.

Two hikers have plunged to their deaths recently, and authorities are warning visitors to be wary of climbing near the waterfalls.

The area is popular with novice hikers, families with small children and dog walkers because of its gentle trails and refreshing mountain streams.

"If they stay on the canyon bottom, it's just boulder hopping. You've got to be careful that you don't twist an ankle," Charles Ballard, a volunteer with the Altadena mountain rescue team, said Sunday. "But if you get off the canyon bottom and try to go around the first falls, that is extremely dangerous."

From there, it's a steep, slippery climb up a sheer mountain face.

"It's narrow, it's loose and it's treacherous," Ballard said.

Early Saturday, a 23-year-old Montclair man fell from a cliff near one of the falls and later died, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said. A female companion tried to help him but got stuck and was airlifted out by a rescue crew. She had minor injuries.

On July 31, a man lost his footing and fell 35 feet to the rocky canyon bottom. He was taken to a hospital but died a short time later of his injuries. Another man broke his legs when he fell Thursday.

People underestimate the terrain, said Diana Ford, a 51-year-old Altadena resident who is out every day with her dog, a Labrador named Monte.

"It looks safe, and they take it for granted," she said. "There's a rescue here at least three times a week, especially in the summer.... You criss-cross the river several times, so it's wet. And if you aren't careful, you will slip."

Ballard said his team typically conducts 30 to 40 rescues annually, but already has done 48 this year. The foothills above Pasadena and Altadena have drawn large numbers of people since the Station Fire two years ago closed popular trails and scarred large parts of the Angeles National Forest, he said. And the waterfalls are swollen after a wet winter, making them even more attractive than usual.

On Sunday, cars spilled out of the parking lot outside the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, and hikers jammed the 1.5-mile trail leading to the first of the falls. In some places, people had to wait in line to scramble across slippery boulders where the trail crosses streams.

Alice Atamian, 53, of Glendale sat on a boulder, cooling her feet in the water. She was on her first hike with her two teenage daughters and another relative and was regretting her choice of footwear — a pair of leather sandals more suited to city streets. It's pretty, she said of the trail, but "it's for skinny people. "

The pool beneath the first waterfall was full of people splashing and posing for snapshots.

Brian Selva, a 21-year-old student from Montebello, stretched out and floated on his back.

"It just felt so good," he said, beaming. He wasn't worried about the recent accidents because he planned to stick to the trail.

"There's rocks everywhere. It's really slippery, but as long as you're careful, you should be OK," he said.

A few minutes later, 29-year-old Luis Munos of Corona scrambled and slid down the side of the waterfall. He said he is an experienced climber and wanted to see the view from the top. But the rest of his family waited below, eating sandwiches and keeping an eye on the children.

"It's pretty dangerous up there," said Elizabeth Mora of Pasadena, a 25-year-old member of the group. "There's a few sections that require you to climb with a rope.... It's not for kids."

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rick Rojas contributed to this story.

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