Every year, storms bring damage and destruction to hiking trails across the Pacific Northwest in the form of landslides, washouts, wildfires and blowdown. The PCT, and its connecting trails, are no strangers to annual damage, and it often takes dedicated, hard-working trail maintenance crews to hike in to remote areas—packing in all the tools, supplies and gear needed—to clear and repair damaged sections so we can continue to enjoy hiking one of America’s greatest long-distance hiking routes.
Over the winter of 2015, nature struck on the Eagle Creek Trail, a popular—and spectacularly scenic—alternate route for PCTers heading north to the Columbia River crossing at Cascade Locks. In the spring of 2016, as forest service personnel were able to get up the trail and assess the route’s condition, they found that a large tree had fallen across, and destroyed, the 40-foot truss bridge spanning Tish Creek, just south of Punch Bowl Falls. The location of this crossing is approximately 2 miles south of the Eagle Creek trailhead, and approximately 10 miles north of the PCT junction at Indian Springs, where a steep spur trail is often used by PCT hikers to reach the Eagle Creek Trail.
Forest Service officials have posted an official closure for the trail, and estimate that it will be at least a year for the funding and resources to be available to remove the damaged bridge and replace it with a new one. Stan Hinatsu, recreation officer for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, is advising that hikers do not ignore the barriers and try to cross the damaged bridge or ford the creek, telling The Oregonian, “It’s a dangerous crossing. We do not encourage [or] recommend anybody to cross it.” Day hikers can still access Metlako and Punch Bowl waterfalls on the Eagle Creek Trail, as the closure is just beyond.
This means that, at least for the 2016 hiking season, northbound PCT hikers will be required to stay on the official PCT route to reach Cascade Locks. This route circuits the forested Wahtum Lake, skirts the flanks of Chinidere Mountain and traverses the Benson Plateau before plunging nearly 4,000 feet to the Bridge of the Gods at the Columbia River. While not as lush and scenic as the Eagle Creek alternate, this route affords some big panoramic views over Herman Creek Canyon with peeks of Washington’s southern Cascades peaks, including Mounts St. Helens, Adams and Rainier. Southbounders coming from Washington will have to remain on the PCT and make the grueling climb up to the Benson Plateau.
While there is no work currently scheduled for replacing the bridge at Tish Creek, the Pacific Crest Trail Association is looking for volunteers to help with repair and maintenance on other sections of the PCT. Check their website for more information.