What to Expect in 2018
Unless you’ve been living under one of Oregon’s lava rocks, you’re likely aware that 2017 was not a great year for Pacific Crest Trail hiking. The season kicked off with record snow levels across most of the Crest. Many spring and early summer hikers (and front-of-the-pack thru-hikers) were required to detour to lower, drier, snow-free trail. Many of those the snowy Crest route wound up becoming rescue victims for getting lost or injured. By midsummer, things began looking up. The trail was melting out, wildflowers were blooming and springs and creeks were flowing plentifully. But that all changed quickly.
Following that record-setting snowy winter, the Northwest was then plunged into a record-setting heatwave summer. Temps spiked across the state and violent thunderstorms spewed lightning into Oregon’s dry, tinderbox forests. Wildfires broke out fast and frequent, from one end of Oregon to the other—as well as across most of the Western U.S. Trail closures and detours began stacking up, so that by late summer—prime PCT hiking time—more than 200 of Oregon’s 455 PCT miles were inaccessible. The bitter icing on this proverbial cake was the human-sparked wildfire in the spectacularly popular, waterfall-laced Eagle Creek Canyon.
By the time the smoke began to clear in late fall, more than 500,000 acres of forest had burned in Oregon. Fire had touched nearly every segment of the PCT thru the state: Cascade–Siskiyou National Forest, Sky Lakes Wilderness, Crater Lake National Park, Three Sisters, Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson wilderness areas, and the Hatfield Wilderness and Columbia River Gorge. In most of these areas, the PCT and surrounding trails remained closed, now at the mercy of winter rain, snow and storms. It will take a lot of work to reopen some of these areas. Here’s some of what you can expect on the PCT in Oregon this year.
Sky Lakes Wilderness
AFEECTED AREA: PCT: Oregon: Sec. 2, miles 30–41; Halfmile: C5–C7, miles 1804–1815
Several miles of the PCT, between the Seven Lakes Basin and the southern boundary of Crater Lake National Park, burned in the High Cascades Complex last summer. Thankfully, this one wasn’t as bad or extensive as some of the other fire-affected areas, and they area did manage to reopen this section before the season ended last year.
Forest managers and the PCTA will be getting into the area as soon as it’s accessible in late spring or early summer to assess the damage and begin repairs. Hikers in this area should expect higher than average amounts of blowdown and trail debris, be aware of additional fire-related hazards, and move thru as quickly as possible.
Crater Lake National Park
AFEECTED AREA: PCT: Oregon: Sec. 2, miles 55–60; Halfmile: C10–C11, miles 1829–1834
Due to heavy winter snow, park officials won’t be able to make a thorough assessment of the PCT until late spring. It is anticipated that there will be significant tread damage, excessive blowdown and plenty of debris in the burned areas. The PCT is scheduled to remain closed between Bybee Creek Camp and the Bald Crater Loop Trail until trail repairs are made and the PCT is deemed safe to travel.
Crater Lake National Park has already started working on securing emergency funding to make repairs to the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 2018. The Crater Lake Trail Crew will continue to work with the Pacific Crest Trail Association to maintain the PCT thru the park to the highest standard possible and hope to have the entire trail open thru the park by the end of summer.
— Jennifer Gifford, Trails Program Supervisor, CLNP
Hikers will still be able to detour onto the Rim Trail to complete a route thru the park. Due to its higher elevation, this route may retain snow into early summer, and may require crossing snowfields and/or walking the park road. Hikers can access the Rim Trail by proceeding up the Dutton Creek Trail to Rim Village, or up the Lightning Spring Trail to Rim Drive. From either of these connectors, hikers can follow the Rim Trail (or the road) north and reconnect with the PCT at Grouse Hill. For more information and park conditions updates, visit CLNP.
Three Sisters Wilderness
AFEECTED AREA: PCT: Oregon: Sec. 4, miles 46–76; Halfmile: E7–E12, miles 1954–1984
Numerous fires broke out across the Three Sisters Wilderness area last summer, encompassing large swaths of both the Willamette and Deschutes national forests, and rendering the PCT inaccessible thru most of the area. This was the largest PCT closure last year, stretching more than 50 miles thru some of Oregon’s most spectacular mountain scenery.
Currently, a trail closure remains in effect from Elk Lake thru McKenzie Pass until July 1, 2018. This will give forest managers and trail crews time to get in and assess the area once the winter snow melts, then start clearing debris and hazards and repairing trail tread. Depending on the extent of damage, this closure could be extended. Hikers should plan to avoid this area until it’s reopened.
Mt. Jefferson Wilderness
AFFECTED AREA: PCT: Oregon: Sec. 5, miles 26–32; Halfmile: F7–F8, miles 2028–2034
The Whitewater Fire on the west side of Mt. Jefferson was one of the first to break out last summer, and one of the longest to burn. It rendered the entire Jefferson Park area inaccessible thru most of the summer—including during last year’s spectacular solar eclipse event. Yet while a significant portion of the PCT burned in the area, there are no closures currently planned for the 2018 season.
Hikers through this area should be extra-vigilant of fire-related hazards. This includes burned and damaged trail tread, overhanging trees and snags, burnt out roots and stumps, and unstable hillsides—in addition to normal winter blowdown and washouts. Willamette National Forest crews will begin working with the PCTA to clear the area as soon it is accessible, likely in early summer. For more information, visit the Willamette NF.
Hikers should be extra careful when crossing this burn area. Do not loiter or camp in the burned area, but proceed through as quickly as possible.
— Brad Peterson, Wilderness & Trails Manager, Willamette NF
Hatfield Wilderness (Columbia Gorge)
AFEECTED/CLOSED AREA: PCT: Oregon: Sec. 6, miles 33–50; Halfmile: G6, miles 2130–2147
Perhaps the most devastating fire of 2017 was the one that torched the entire Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Nearly every trail in the area was affected, some lightly, some catastrophically. At the epicenter of this blaze was Eagle Creek Canyon and the spectacularly scenic Eagle Creek Trail—a popular alternate route for PCT hikers, as well as dayhikers and weekend backpackers. Nearby, both the PCT and Herman Creek Trail were also significantly impacted.
Where possible, the newly-formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team has already begun working on clearing and rehabbing accessible trails. However, many trails will remain in questionable condition until spring or early summer, when forest and trail crews can get in and make thorough assessments. It is currently estimated that the PCT and Herman Creek Trail will remain closed between Wahtum Lake and Cascade Locks until mid-summer; the Eagle Creek Trail is expected to remain closed for the duration of 2018.
Normally, our trail crews don’t work during winter because conditions are constantly creating new damage, but by enlisting the help of volunteers, we’re hoping to accelerate the reopening process.
— Rachel Pawlitz, Public Affairs Officer, CRGNSA
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that by the time thru-hikers reach the area, the PCT and Herman Creek will be reopened. Early-season section-hikers, as well as dayhikers and weekenders, should avoid the area until it reopens. There are no easy alternate routes around this closure. The best suggestion is to exit the PCT at Lolo Pass and find a ride to Cascade Locks. For more information, and a complete list of trail closures, visit CRGNSA.
You can support fire recovery and trail crews in Oregon with a donation to any of these orgs.
Want to pitch in and help repair the PCT and other trails in Oregon? Click on any of the links above and visit their volunteer pages. You don't need any trail-repair experience—they'll teach you all you need to know. It's going to take a lot of work to repair the PCT and other trails following last year's devastating fires, so every pair of helping hand counts!