Last November 30 a powerful windstorm tore through a number of areas of the state, and some areas were hit exceptionally hard, including the Reds Meadow Valley of the Inyo National Forest, Devils Postpile National Monument, and many of the trails leading into the surrounding Ansel Adams and John Muir Wildernesses. As we near the beginning of summer many are wondering about camping and trail access, including to the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails in this area. The following is provided as an update from the US Forest Service and the National Park Service of what is known as of the end of May. Currently there is still no public access to Reds Meadow Valley, the Reds Meadow Road remains closed to all traffic including pedestrian and bicycle, and there is no projected opening date for public access at this time.
Currently the Forest Service has suspended campground reservations in Reds Meadow Valley. Wilderness reservations are still being taken for July and later in the summer, but at this time there are no predictions for dates that specific trails will be clear. The temporary freeze on wilderness reservations for trails accessed by Reds Meadow Road will be lifted as soon as the road is open for public access. Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail hikers planning to come out for re-supply through Reds Meadow are encouraged to visit the Inyo National Forest website for updates and trail status.
The trails to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls have been cleared and are passable, and the day use areas at Starkweather and Sotcher Lakes are also clear. It is anticipated that the first campgrounds to open will be Reds Meadow, Devils Postpile and Minaret Falls, followed by Pumice Flat. The last to open will be Soda Springs and Agnew. For up-to-date reports on the campground and trail clean-up progress, including pictures and maps, visit the Inyo National Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/
The Extent of the Damage
The late-arriving winter allowed access down into the Valley and onto the trails for an initial assessment of the damage, with estimates of more than 10,000 trees being uprooted and downed in the Reds Meadow area and trails alone. Surveys showed that all nine wilderness access trails out of the Valley were obstructed to some degree and that at least half of the 45 miles of trail were densely covered with down trees, described by some as looking like a “giant’s game of pick-up sticks.” Roads, campgrounds and picnic areas in the Valley all sustained some level of damage, including 20 picnic tables, 14 bear boxes, 4 fire rings and 4 toilet buildings, of which 2 were seriously damaged.
According to District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge, “Our crews are working as fast as they safely can, and our goal remains to open as much of Reds Meadow Valley and the trails leading out of it as soon as is feasible.” The mild winter and spring have allowed crews and equipment to begin the clean-up work throughout the month of May, and substantial progress is being made in clearing down trees from trails and campgrounds, and repairing damaged roads.
Many trails in a wide area were impacted by the windstorm including the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the John Muir Trail which were both obstructed north and south of Devils Postpile. Other affected trails include Purple Lake, Fish Creek, Mammoth Pass, and the River, High and Shadow Creek Trails near Agnew Meadows. In the Mammoth Lakes Basin, portions of which were also hit hard by the wind event, some trails still have minor obstacles. Other less affected areas of the Forest, including Whitney Portal, and the Paiute Pass trail out of North Lake in the Bishop Creek drainage, have been cleared and there should be no impacts to summer access.
The steady progress being made on clearing the obstructed trails will be accelerated even more in early June with the influx of crews and volunteers from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Student Conservation Association, Back Country Horsemen, AmeriCorps and Friends of the Inyo all adding their skill, expertise and muscle to this massive effort.
Despite the fact that this was a low snow year, approximately 200 inches of snow fell in Reds Meadow Valley, and the ground is still very wet. This has impeded the work of crews and equipment in some areas where there is no access at this time. Even as trail obstructions are cleared, in some areas trail damage is significant and it may be many weeks until some of the trails are passable to all users, particularly to stock.
The work that still needs to be done to clear developed sites and trails is multi-layered. Down trees must be removed. In the many cases where the whole rootwad was unearthed it must be dealt with and the hole left by the unearthed rootwad has to be filled in. It is estimated that there are around 400 rootwads that need to be removed and the holes filled within campgrounds and developed recreation sites in the Valley. Hazard trees (damaged trees with the potential to fall) are being identified and depending upon their location must be taken down. Damaged infrastructure is being repaired.
Public access to Reds Meadow Valley is currently not allowed, including a prohibition on pedestrian and bicycle traffic. This is primarily due to public safety. Portions of some roads and trails are damaged to the point that even once they are cleared of down trees, they still pose a hazard to the public until they can be repaired. There is a lot of heavy equipment working in the Valley and on the road, and crews are working on the trails. The crews and equipment operators are working in hazardous areas where knowing the location of every person is essential to maintaining safety, for themselves and anyone else in the area. Visitors wandering around do not facilitate workers being able to do their jobs safely and efficiently. The public’s cooperation in this endeavor is greatly appreciated.
For more information please contact the Mammoth Welcome Center at 760-924-5500, call the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office at 760-873-2483 and visit the Inyo National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/inyo. –FS