One death, multiple rescues on Pacific Crest Trail heighten calls to stay away during pandemic

"This is not the time to be doing risky things outdoors," the Pacific Crest Trail Association said. "First responders need to focus on COVID-19."
Image: Pacific Crest Trail
A monument marks the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Canada to Mexico, on July 20, 2005 near Campo, Calif.David McNew / Getty Images

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

Calls for hikers to stay off the Pacific Crest Trail amid the coronavirus pandemic are growing louder after one person died and several people had to be rescued in "extremely dangerous conditions."

On March 19, the Pacific Crest Trail Association asked everyone planning to hike or already on the trail, which runs more than 2,600 miles through California, Oregon and Washington, to cancel their trips.

"Now is not the time for a vacation," said a statement from the association. "Unfortunately, not everyone observed this request."

On Saturday, a second statement from the association said that within one 48-hour span, one hiker had died and multiple others had to be rescued along the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles. Conditions on certain parts of the trail were "extremely dangerous," and could get worse, as is normal for the season, the statement said.

"Remember, we have already asked you to stay off the trail due to the worldwide pandemic that is occurring. Please leave the trail. This is not the time to be doing risky things outdoors. First responders need to focus on COVID-19," the statement said.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association does not have the authority to fully close the trail or revoke permits, but reminded hikers that many sections of the trail and facilities were closed. More are closing each day, and the association is not "providing information about what sections of the PCT are closed or open as the situation is rapidly changing."

The association also reminded people that many states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have issued shelter-in-place orders and bans on nonessential travel, and since "long-distance hiking on the PCT is non-essential travel," it is currently illegal.

Communities surrounding the trail are also concerned about hikers coming from elsewhere and "putting their populations at risk," the association said.

"For everyone’s sake, it’s time for you to do your part and cancel or postpone your long-distance trip," the statement said. "When it’s safe, you’ll be welcomed back."

Limited, local nature walks on open parts of the trail are still allowed.

Hundreds of thousands of people each year visit the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses 26 national forests, 7 national parks, 5 state parks and 4 national monuments. It's popularity spiked after Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir, "Wild," and a subsequent movie based on the book documented the author's solo trek on the trail after several devastating life events.