Woman dies in bluff collapse at Arch Rock

Courtesy NPS
SEASHORE: A pair of hikers fell roughly 70 feet when a section of bluff crumbled on Saturday at the popular destination. The park had posted warning signs just over a day before the collapse.   
03/26/2015

A section of a high bluff at Arch Rock in the Point Reyes National Seashore crumbled on Saturday, killing a San Francisco preschool teacher and seriously injuring her hiking companion. The overlook had developed a wide, 40-foot long fissure last Thursday, seashore spokesman John Dell’Osso said.

Arch Rock, carved from the base of the overlook at the end of Bear Valley Trail, has long been a place where visitors to the seashore hike and picnic. Rubble from the collapsed overlook now buries the rock, Mr. Dell’Osso said, and a 100-yard social trail leading to the overlook has been closed “indefinitely.” On Sunday morning, the seashore set a temporary plastic fence at the start of the social trail, though Mr. Dell’Osso noted that hikers forged through the brambles surrounding the fence. “We do not want people to go beyond that point,” Mr. Dell’Osso said. “That area is still very unstable.”

The seashore does not know how many visitors hiked out to the overlook on Saturday, though one hiker estimated that as many as 20 people visited the overlook that morning. 

Last Thursday, the seashore received reports that the 40-foot long—and in some sections, 20-inch wide—fissure had been found along the overlook. On Friday, the park posted several warning signs, including a bulletin at the entrance to Bear Valley Trail, a large banner 100 feet beyond that, a third sign near the Glen Trail junction and a final sign where the social trail begins. Warnings were also posted on the seashore’s website.

The signs were meant to discourage visitors from approaching the overlook until the park service could decide how to address the fissure, Mr. Dell’Osso said. The social trail was not closed, and 

rangers were not stationed on guard at the trail’s entrance.

“We were keeping an eye on the crack and trying to determine next steps,” he said. “We never got to those next steps because this happened so quickly.”

An Inverness Park resident heading out on Bear Valley Trail Saturday afternoon reported that witnesses had seen a couple picnicking on the overlook just before the rocks gave way—with a sound like that of a wave or an earthquake—and the couple “vanished.” 

On Monday, the Sheriff’s Office announced that 58-year-old Nancy Blum was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Bear Valley ranger station. Ms. Blum taught at Serra Preschool in San Francisco.

“Nancy’s love of life and radiant smile are gifts that we cannot replace,” a statement released by the school on Tuesday read. “The impact she had on children was positive, loving and lasting. She cared deeply for her students and took pride in helping them reach their little milestones.”

The man with whom Ms. Blum had been hiking is now recovering in a hospital, Mr. Dell’Osso said.

Some have wondered why the trail leading to the overlook was not closed when the seashore learned of the fissure. Mr. Dell’Osso noted that “nobody knew what [the fissure] was” and how imminent a danger it posed.

“Coastal bluffs throughout California are made of the same material and are very unstable,” he said. “We don’t know when the next bluff will fall.”

In the wake of the accident, the seashore asked a geo-technician already present for other matters to look into the causes of the collapse and to give recommendations for how to ensure visitor safety on erosion-prone coastal trails in the future. The 4.4-mile Bear Valley Trail remains open.

Ms. Blum’s death follows another incident that occurred at the overlook late last month, when a 24-year-old hiking with a church group fell down the bluff and sustained major injuries. It is unclear whether the hiker fell due to unstable trail conditions.