Inyo National Forest closes segments of Rush Creek Trails; Reds Meadow Road remains closed

The U.S. Forest Service issued the following closure Thursday evening:

The Inyo National Forest, through a forest order, is closing segments of the Rush Creek Trail for public safety from June 30 through Sept. 1, 2017.

The wet winter of 2016-2017, with more than 180 percent of average annual precipitation and close to 200 percent of average runoff forecast, has exacerbated safety concerns for dams within the Rush Creek Hydroelectric System (RCHS) on the Inyo National Forest. The extreme water year means water levels will likely exceed seismic safety ratings for a period of more than 25 days in Waugh Reservoir. The RCHS is currently operated by Southern California Edison under a license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The forest order prohibits:

Being within 800 feet of Rush Creek, from its intersection with the Waugh Lake Dam, then east to its intersection with Gem Lake, as shown on the attached map. 36 CFR 261.53(e).

Being on the National Forest System trails listed below and shown on the Rush Creek FO map.

  • Rush Creek Trail from a point 750 feet north of its intersection with Clark Lakes Trail, then west to a point 528 feet west of its intersection with Weber Lake Trail.
  • Clark Lakes Trail from its intersection with Rush Creek trail, then south 1600 feet.
  • Spooky Meadows Trail from its intersection with Rush Creek Trail, then south to its intersection with the Ansel Adams Wilderness Boundary below Spooky Meadow.
  • Weber Lake Trail from its intersection with Rush Creek Trail, then south 1500 feet.

This closure affects access to popular destinations such as Thousand Island Lake, the John Muir Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Visitors who hold a wilderness permit reservation made prior to June 30th for entry at the Rush Creek Trailhead should call the Wilderness Permit Office at (760) 873-2483 to cancel their reservation or reserve an alternate trailhead. The exception is for hikers (both day and overnight) whose destination is Gem Lake or the Alger Lake Trail.

Hikers, including PCT thru-hikers, cannot exit via the Rush Creek Trail and need to make alternate plans for exit and resupply.

Additionally, the Reds Meadow Road remains closed.

Forest engineers are assessing storm damage to the Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile Road and there is no estimated opening date for the road at this time. Crews have only recently been able to get into the Reds Meadow Valley after plowing operations were completed.

The Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile Road remain closed to vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, and work is in progress to make necessary repairs. This road, which accesses prized destinations such as Devils Postpile National Monument, Reds Meadow, and Rainbow Falls Trailhead, has received storm damage after the substantial snowpack from this winter and the subsequent melt-off and flooding.

The forest is requesting an evaluation from a Geotechnical Specialist to assess the road. The concern is a series of longitudinal cracks along the road’s edge as well as holes in the pavement that seem to permit water flow beneath the road. The intent of the assessment is to determine if the cracking has led to instability in the roadbed and determine safe load limits for the road.

The Inyo National Forest, Devils Postpile National Monument and partners continue to conduct necessary repairs to open roads, which includes brushing, culvert and drainage clearance, repairing potholes, and plowing parking areas, as well as getting water and waste water systems operational along the road following a record-breaking year for winter snowpack at 200% of normal. In a typical year the road to the monument does not open until mid to late June.

“We appreciate your patience while we work through the many maintenance issues to re-open the Reds Meadow Road,” said Mono and Mammoth Lakes District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge. “Part of what makes the Reds Meadow Valley so special also presents maintenance and safety concerns that this past winter illustrate. Our primary concern is to safely open this narrow mountain road for our visitor’s enjoyment.”

National Park Service Superintendent Dulen at Devils Postpile National Monument, added: “Trail crews are hard at work repairing the damages on the trail to the base of Rainbow Falls while working safely at the extremely high river levels. With the river levels this year, this work will proceed into the fall. The trail to the base of the falls will remain closed until work is completed.”

Hikers or backpackers should be prepared for winter hiking and camping conditions, with snow and ice on trails. River crossings are high and swift moving. There are several high water areas currently flooding the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. Anyone planning a trip on the PCT through the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin valley should use caution and be prepared to turn back in the event of high water crossings.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.