PCT blasted open in the San Jacinto Mountains

The ACE crew poses on the finshed section of trail.

By Sarah Hersee, MobilizeGreen Sub-Regional Volunteer Coordinator/July 12, 2021

Eager faces stare intently at a distant spot along mile 172 of the Pacific Crest Trail. 3, 2, 1….. A plume of dust erupts from the hillside. The sound of the blast reaches the onlookers seconds later. Slowly, the dust begins to settle. Just like that, multiple boulders piling ten feet high and covering a 12 foot by 12 foot section of the Pacific Crest Trail are gone.

This blast is the result of two years of coordination between the Forest Service, Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), American Conservation Experience (ACE), and the Redshank Riders Unit of the Backcountry Horsemen of California. The boulders fell on the trail Memorial Day Weekend 2019 due to a frost heave.  After much consideration, it was apparent that explosives would be necessary for the boulders removal. To clear the path for thru-hikers and day hikers alike, Andy Smith, the recreation officer on the San Jacinto Ranger District, and Anitra Kass, PCTA’s Southern California Regional Representative, began coordinating to clear the boulders from the trail.

Fast forward to Wednesday, June 9, where ten members of an ACE trail crew and PCTA Seasonal Technical Advisor Allegra Torres stand at Devils Slide Trailhead near Idyllwild. Their gear is packed onto a stock train made up of volunteers from both the Backcountry Horsemen of California’s Redshank Riders and San Diego Units. They begin their 4.5 mile ascent to where the crew will camp for a week-long immersion in the backcountry to prep and log out the trail making it easier to get the blasting supplies in place. 

On Monday, the rest of the team is in place to complete the blast. Smith had already joined the ACE crew in the backcountry to help make final preparations. The search for a qualified blaster to complete the project brought Jacob Quinn nearly 500 miles from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit with the necessary explosives and expertise. Under the watchful eye of Quinn, two experienced members of the Backcountry Horseman of California Redshank Riders Unit packed the explosives onto their stock and into the backcountry.

Once the supplies were on site, Quinn got to work setting the necessary charges to remove the boulders from the trail. Everyone got in place – Smith, Kass and the ACE Crew sought safety half a mile north on the PCT where they awaited the blast behind the cover of rocks. Two volunteers with the Forest Service Volunteer Association stood guard along the trail to ensure hikers did not enter the blast area; Chris Scott was located at the Spitler Peak Junction to the South of the blast while Jon King monitored from along the PCT approximately a mile from the blast. Meanwhile, Quinn led the detonation chord away from the blast site and hunkered down with Torres.

  • Before the blast

    A member of the team assesses the boulders blocking the trail.

    A member of the team assesses the boulders blocking the trail.

  • YouTube Video of the blast

    3, 2, 1…. Boom!

    3, 2, 1….. BOOM! A plume of dust erupts from the hillside. Finally the boulder is removed from the 172.5 mile section of the PCT.

    A video of the blast taken by FSVA volunteer John King can be viewed here.

  • After the blast

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    The trail after the blast and retread work by the ACE crew.

Following the blast, the ACE crew worked to restore the tread in the blast area before being packed out by volunteers from the Backcountry Horseman of California the next day.

As the trail presently stands, Kass with the PCTA said, “The rock is gone and the trail is passable. Further work will need to be done. As of now, the trail is not stock appropriate.” For further information on present PCT trail conditions visit the trail conditions page on the PCTA’s website.

Although there is always more work on our trails to be done, the San Bernardino National Forest is incredibly grateful for the hard work of everyone involved in removing this obstacle from the trail. Thank you to all of those that made this project successful!