It took 17 firefighters, three fire engines and a helicopter to rescue two Pacific Crest Trail hikers March 28 near Mountain Center, California. One day earlier, in the same region, an injured hiker died before rescuers could reach the person.
Twenty-four firefighters were assigned to the incident, according to CalFire.
As the spread of COVID-19 spreads across the world, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, possibly putting hikers and as in the case above, emergency personnel in danger, is not advised.
On March 19 the Pacific Crest Trail Association asked those already on the trail as well as those waiting to begin their hikes, to cancel or postpone their journeys.
Not everyone has observed the request, said Scott Wilkinson, PCTA director of communications and marketing. Because of that, the PCT Association issued a new statement on March 31. “We are flat out telling them to get off the trail, period,” Wilkinson said, adding that the request is for thru-hikers and section hikers who spend days, weeks or months on their journey.
“As of (March 31) we are pulling all of our support info. We are no longer communicating conditions along the trail because nobody should need them. We don’t want to do anything to encourage them.”
The PCT Association cites increasing COVID-19 cases in the West and closure of campgrounds in California’s state parks, national parks and national forests as some of the reasons for the request.
“Under these circumstances, choosing to travel to — and start or continue — a journey on the PCT runs counter to widely-accepted medical, government and scientific recommendations for not only avoiding exposure to the coronavirus, but for limiting the spread of COVID-19,” the PCT Association stated in a formal statement regarding the PCT.
“We also understand that some have traveled to the PCT and have no clear option aside from starting your trek. But these circumstances should not justify putting other lives at risk.”
Wilkinson said the association does not have the authority to close the PCT, public lands or revoke permits. “That is the role of land management agencies such as the Forest Service,” Wilkinson said.
Zachary Behrens, public affairs officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, said the Pacific Crest Trail is open for use, “but we recommend that potential visitors follow state and local guidelines regarding public and personal safety measures. We are asking the public to know before they go by checking in before they head out for the day. Rules and guidance may change between now and then.”
On March 31, the Forest Service issued a statement that PCT long-distance permits are valid only on public lands that are open for travel. Hikers are no longer allowed to complete a thru-hike due to public land and facility closures.
According to the PCT Association, the Forest Service has canceled PCT long-distance permits regardless of direction and starting location. New or pending PCT long-distance permit requests are not being accepted nor approved. With that being said, there were thru-hikers already out on the trail before that decision was made, Wilkinson said.
“My guess is that there are 100 to 300 (northbound) hikers on the trail,” Wilkinson said. There are so many variables, that it is difficult to contact and advise those already on the trail except through PCT community postings, he said.
As of March 27, all Forest Service designated recreation sites including campgrounds, day-use areas and picnic areas are closed throughout California’s 18 national forests. Forest Service trails remain open. PCT hikers are not exempt and must stay out of the recreation sites. California state park campgrounds are also closed.
The Cleveland National Forest is no longer issuing PCT developed camping permits. All section hikers must either start farther north along the trail, past mile 54, or postpone their section hike. Vasquez Rocks Natural Area near Acton is closed. Los Angeles County has a closure order for trails in the area, but it is unclear if the PCT is part of the closure area. The Canada Border Services Agency has temporarily suspended all Canada PCT entry permit applications.
Facilities along many sections of the trail are not open including one of the major Southern California PCT restocking stops, Big Bear Lake. Restaurants are only providing takeout or delivery. Lodges are closed. Campgrounds are closed.
Wilkinson said the association supports limited, local nature walks on the PCT while practicing social distancing of 6 feet. Trailhead closures and community closures must be respected, Wilkinson said.
The PAC Association has advised hikers that long-distance hiking is nonessential travel and as such is illegal in areas that have shelter-in-place orders including California, Oregon and Washington. PCT long-distance permits are valid only on public lands open for travel, the PAC Association statement reads.
For more information on the Pacific Crest Trail Association and its COVID-19 statement, visit pcta.org.