COLESTIN — Hikers on a summerlong trek along the length of the Pacific Crest Trail saw their 2,650-mile adventure halted indefinitely Friday just inside the Oregon border because of the Hendrix fire burning less than 2 miles from the trail.
The closure of 13.2 miles of the PCT between Observation Gap just barely into Oregon and the Grouse Gap shelter on Mount Ashland was part of a slew of new road and trail closures over public-safety concerns with crews battling the 830-acre fire that ignited from lightning Sunday near Wagner Gap.
The closures come as the largest waves of thru-hikers hit Oregon in their monthslong walk from Mexico to Canada.
“The most substantial numbers of thru-hikers are coming through right now,” said Justin Kooyman, assistant director of trail operations for the Sacramento-based Pacific Crest Trail Association, which helps maintain and manage the trail and its annual hikers. “We call it the bubble.”
Those who don’t want to burst the bubble of missing out on finishing the PCT can take a nearly 20-mile detour on an extensive network of dirt and largely unmarked roads to rejoin the PCT at Grouse Gap along the slope of Mount Ashland, Kooyman said.
That detour was cobbled together with the help of U.S. Forest Service recreation managers, but the PCTA warns hikers not to try it without thorough planning, strong navigational skills with paper maps, at least one partner and leaving a detailed trip plan with someone at home.
Those not so rigid about defining their PCT thru-hike can take the Siskiyou Stage bus out of nearby Seiad Valley, California, to Yreka and thumb a ride back to the trail near Interstate 5’s Siskiyou Summit.
“I’d encourage people not to look at it as cheating,” Kooyman said. “Understandably, Mother Nature is going to throw in some curveballs when you’re walking the PCT.”
A half-dozen hikers bit at that idea Friday when they plunked down $6 for the 63-mile bus ride from Seiad Valley to Yreka, said Melissa Cummins, transportation services manager for Siskiyou Bus, which operates the bus line from Happy Camp to Yreka.
Cummins said they also helped those hikers either hook up with Greyhound for a ride to Ashland or thumb it up I-5 to rejoin the trail.
Siskiyou Bus normally runs on Tuesdays and Fridays, but Cummins said the company would add impromptu rides at regular fares if 10-12 hikers request it.
Kooyman said the PCTA and trail hikers support public-safety closures and necessary detours, which are annual occurrences. They can range from fires to landslides to closed bridges and snowfall during the roughly five months that thru-hikers typically spend on the trail.
“It’s actually pretty rare someone doesn’t have to skip some section of the PCT,” he said. “That’s why we try to encourage folks to go into it with an open mind.”
A similar closure for part of the PCT in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was ordered earlier this month during initial battles with the Klamathon fire that crept from Northern California into Southern Oregon.
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest opted for the closure because the Hendrix fire’s potential for rapid growth and the need to give PCT hikers as much lead time as possible to stay safe amid extremely hot and dry fire conditions, forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer said.
Though Kramer said firefighters did not expect the blaze to reach the trail, Forest Service officials on Friday scrambled to post warnings of the closure at outposts such as Seiad Valley to inform hikers, Kramer said.
The forest also was relying on hikers, most of whom now carry cellphones, to keep up to date on closures via the PCTA’s website, Kramer said.
There were no plans to sweep the closed trail section for hikers who either defied the order or entered the area before it was closed to the public, Kramer said.
Friday’s closure includes Forest Service Road 22 between Wagner Gap and its junction with Forest Road 20, and all of road Nos. 2250, 2230 and 1099 as well as all their associated spurs.
Also closed was the entire Seven Mile Ridge Trail.
Forest Service Road 20 was closed in the initial order, but a revised order to keep it open was planned Friday, Kramer said.