On Friday, The Columbia River Gorge division of the U.S. Forest Service shut down the Wahkeena-Multnomah loop trail at Multnomah Falls after rockslides endangered hikers, who had to be escorted out with hard hats.
The affected trails have were only re-opened five months ago, after getting badly damaged in the Eagle Creek Fire. And Rachel Pawlitz, a spokesperson for the Forest Service, says that the severity of the current rock slides is due to both heavy rain and scorched landscapes.
"The fire burned away a lot of vegetation," Pawlitz says, "which was acting as a net to help hold loose rocks in place."
She says the Columbia River Gorge is an "interesting place geologically," where there is a mix of loose rock and volcanic basalt. That means changes in weather are known to precipitate landslides.
"It's well known that in the spring, when ice from the winter begins to thaw," Pawlitz says, "rocks can crack and break off. With the really late winter weather in March, and now heavy rain, it makes complete sense that this weather is triggering a rock fall."
According to Pawlitz, Forest Service officials were aware of the danger the Multnomah Falls trail posed, but "wanted to find the right balance between not completing closing the trail, because there are many days of good weather where the trail is safe, and being prepared in case we see red flags."
There is no indication yet when the Wahkeena loop trail will be reopened, and maintenance will depend on the length and severity of this rain system. Many trails that have re-opened after the Eagle Creek Fire can still be dangerous during periods of heavy rain and strong winds. Hikers planning a trip to the gorge can go here for trail updates.
"This is a good public service announcement to respect closed areas," Pawlitz cautions. "Remember that if trails are open in this condition to give us patience on the ones that are still closed. Because there's a really good reason why they are completely closed."