LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK – Calif. As reported by the Red Bluff Daily News, last week a 9-year-old boy was killed and his 13-year-old sister was seriously injured when rocks began falling upon them while they hiked with their family up the Lassen Peak Trail. This is an easy to moderate 2.5 mile foot trail which switchbacks up to the peak of Mt. Lassen. It is utilized by as many as 25,000 to 30,000 visitors a year. The trail has been closed following this tragic incident.
This weekend, in a letter to the Editor of the Redding Record Searchlight, Karen Couwenhoven of Antelope, California, wrote that she had hiked the peak trail on July 23, 2009 and found that it to be "in the worst shape [she had] ever seen it in and was extremely dangerous." After her descent from the top with her 5-year-old daughter, she made a specific effort to contact the rangers at the national park and advise them that people had been cutting the switchbacks creating "a lot of very unsteady rocks." She was advised by the officials that they would look into it, but questioned if they ever did. He words were a harbinger of the disaster to come.
This author is a long time hiker in the mountains of northern and central California. I have always had a great deal of respect for the rangers and forest service personnel that work in the national parks as they consistently have impressed me as persons who genuinely care about the dangers of the wilderness, and are conscientious about safety. If Ms. Couwenhoven’s warnings were not heeded or investigated, this would be out of step with the agency’s usual approach. For the sake of the safety of future visitors, I am hopeful that the agency will be forthcoming in what steps were taken to assure the safety of visitors once the warning light was lit, and that they will make whatever changes are necessary to avoid future tragedies of this kind.
Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the young lad. Our best wishes for the swift and full recovery of his sister.