Trail Gorillas and ACE rebuild the PCT in SoCal after Valentine’s Day storm

Valentine’s Day 2019 brought a winter storm the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Southern California in 100 years. Accordingly dubbed a “once-in-a-century” weather event, high winds and rainfall flooded lakes, washed out roads and scoured parts of the Pacific Crest Trail off hillsides.

In addition to the washouts, hikers have noted the large number of blown-down trees in and around the San Jacinto Mountains. On their way north toward Tahquitz Peak, they christened the newly re-opened 14-mile section of the PCT — burned during the 2013 Mountain Fire — by scrambling over dozens of burned trees that had blown over during the storm.

A trail washout in the Snow Creek drainage. Photo by Debra Nelson.

Winding down the north face of Mount San Jacinto toward Snow Creek, the PCT descends 6,000 feet over 16 miles. These steep sections are highly susceptible to water damage. In several places, water used the trail as a drain as it plummeted to the Coachella Valley, carrying rocks and debris and eradicating switchbacks. When the PCTA and U.S. Forest Service scouted the area in early March to assess the damage, they found numerous landslides and rock-falls up to 30 feet wide that were difficult to pass and potentially hazardous for both hikers and equestrians.

An ACE crew repairs damage to the PCT on the north side of Mount San Jacinto. Photo by Landon Welsh.

Thankfully, fantastic volunteers were up to the challenge! Volunteers Dave Fleischman and “Weathercarrot,” two of the PCTA’s most experienced rock masons in Southern California, tackled some of the larger washed-out sections. (Check out this video of an encounter with a grateful thru-hiker.) Volunteer Don Line and a group of committed Southern California Trail Gorillas worked on the drainage issues below. Thanks to their efforts, the trail was passable just in time for the bulk of this year’s northbound thru-hikers.

The results of the ACE crew’s fine work certainly shows! Photos by Landon Welsh.

Following these work parties, an American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew arrived in early April and spent much of the month completing some of the more technical work required to keep the trail sustainable and safe. Several pre-existing rock walls were sorely in need of attention. Many parts of the trail had become gullied and needed check steps to prevent further erosion. Washouts further from the trailhead needed rock retention walls installed. With help from one of the PCTA’s Trail Crew Technical Advisors and long-time volunteer Michael Lewis, the ACE crew put in more than 1,000 hours of work in April.

More work by the ACE crew in the Snow Creek drainage. Photo by Landon Welsh.

The PCTA is eternally grateful to have such an engaged volunteer community in Southern California. The rapid response from these dedicated volunteers ensured that the trail recovered from the effects of the Valentine’s Day storm and winter’s heavy rain and snow.

The erosion was 6 feet deep in places. Photo by Don Line.

The work continues! Both the Trail Gorillas and ACE Crews have projects coming up over the next couple of months in and around Idyllwild to repair more winter storm damage. We have plenty of open spots for you on these projects and can use every pair of hands we can get. Read about the projects and sign-up on our website. 


Many thanks to our partners at the U.S. Forest Service for helping fund this important work.

Author: Landon Welsh

Landon Coates Welsh is a PCTA Technical Advisor. He spent the last two years working on the PCT leading an American Conservation Experience Corps crew. Landon is an avid traveler and spent last winter in Ladakh, India, helping construct artificial glaciers to combat the effects of climate change in the region. He enjoys playing guitar, exploring the local music scene and, of course, backpacking.