Remembering the 1983 Big Sur Slides

“Hell, that’s not a slide … let Ed the mailman fix it.” Walt Trotter at the controls, 1971 (Photo by Sterling Doughty)

It’s interesting to note that the March 1, 1983 slide that cut Big Sur off from the Monterey Peninsula occurred in pretty much the same location as the current slide (between Rocky and Bixby creeks). Only that slide took out a massive 200 yards of highway and was compounded by multiple additional slides between Bixby and the Little Sur. Meanwhile,  some truly massive slides, further to the south, made vehicle travel to Big Sur impossible from either direction.

In spite of nearly constant storms in the days that followed, by March 11, convoys were moving across the multiple slides, allowing Big Sur residents a chance to get to and from town.

Based on what we saw in 1983, we’re guessing that if Don McQueen and his bulldozer were left alone with the current slide access would be restored pretty quickly. ‘Course there wouldn’t be any soil stability studies, so the illusion of absolute safety we require these days couldn’t be achieved. Oh well … only 24 more days ’til April 16.

Jeff Norman’s journal entries covering March 1-11, 1983:

Tuesday 1 March 1983

Rainfall .65”

Ceiling below 2,600’. Gusty winds from south in AM.  Occasional sprinkles, becoming heavier after 9am. Heavy rain and hail at 11am. Static bursts on radio separated by long periods between distant thunder. Radio news at noon says Palo Colorado Rd. closed, and hiway one closed at Rocky Creek. First time in a while that Big Sur cut off to north and south. Electricity off in Big Sur since yesterday. Lightening visible at noon, to west over Partington Ridge. Winds continue thru day, rain picks up after 7:30pm.

Lots of static bursts on radio. Doug Walling reports hiway closed between Hurricane and Little Sur, probably for several days.

Radio reports 3 tornados hit S. Cal. yesterday and earthquakes (3-4 Richt.) yesterday and today in L.A. One tornado damaged L.A. Conv. Center. Must have been a tornado here yesterday. Almost direct hit by lightening at midnight. Brushing teeth and saw flash to east then immediate incredible blast. Then lots of rain and hail. Blast was preceded by period of calm wind and no rain.

Rain and wind thru night. Rainfall at 8am 3-2 is .65”

Wednesday 2 March 1983

Rainfall .75”

Strong south wind, with periodic showers. Ceiling below 2,600’. Little change in weather, with showers becoming heavier in afternoon. Wind dies down after 7pm. Mike Peña reports via CB that 200 yards of hiway north of Bixby slid out, and CHP says it will be 10 days before any traffic can get thru. Say mail will be flown in. Rainfall at 8am 3-3 is .75”

Thursday 3 March 1983

Rainfall 1.08”

Slight breeze from south becoming clear at 8am, thick cumulus on Ridge, ceiling at 3,000’, some blue sky in west. Coast visible from Lopez to Pfeiffer. Then ceiling lowers and slight rain starts at 8:10. Rain on and off all day. Variable winds, mostly from south, occasionally from west and north in afternoon. Rainfall .44” at 5pm. Winds mild. Rain off and on thru night. Rainfall on 3-4 at 8am is 1.08”. A disaster center has been set up at B.S. F.S. with Mary Harrington in charge.

Friday 4 March 1983

Rainfall .11”

Clouds break up in early AM, mostly clear at 8am, with cumulus in west, south, and on top of Coast Ridge. Winds are from NW. Wind becomes south after 2pm. Clearing by sunset, with a little cumulus on Coast Ridge. Totally clear by 10pm, with high thin overcast at 11, totally overcast with lowering ceiling at midnight. Drizzle at 8am, south wind, rainfall .11” on 3-5.

Mike Peña reported via CB Friday night that the Anderson Peak people told him they had recorded a “peak” wind speed of 93 knots (115mph) the day of the big wind on 2-28. Big slides on hiway at McWay and Torre now. Electricity on in Big Sur south to Torre. No Green Pea yet. Helicopter tried to get supplies to Marble Pk. today but too cloudy, will try tomorrow. John has food specifically for them, though they report all is OK.

Saturday 5 March 1983

Rainfall .73”

Steady light drizzle from south, steady south wind, in AM. Drizzles increase and taper thru day. Ceiling lifts at sunset, wind from north, .73” at 8am 3-6.

Sunday 6 March 1983

Rainfall .86”

Clear in AM, except for coastal fog reaching up ridges and high cirrus. Wind from south, clouds thicken all day, with thick cloud mass moving in from west after 4pm. Rain starts at 6:30pm, a steady drizzle all night.

Monday 7 March 1983

Drizzle decreases after dawn, ceasing by 9:30am. .07 by then. Clouds lift in afternoon, then thicken again, wind from south. Slight sprinkle at 3:30pm.

* * *

Thursday 10 March 1983

Rainfall .77”

Clear in early AM, with south wind. Clouds move in with big drops starting at 11am; rain increases, turning into fine drizzle from north all afternoon. Rain stops at sunset, 6:15, clearing thru night. Clear at 3:30am 3-11. Rainfall at 5am 3-11 is .77”.

Friday 11 March 1983

Rainfall .04”

Clear in early AM. Clouds increase and thicken thru day. Clouds cover top of Coast Ridge by sunset. Light rain begins at 9:30pm, decreasing by midnight. I get up at 3:30am, walk down and arrive at convoy at Little Sur at 6:30am. Take off at 6:45 for slow exciting drive thru destruction at Hurricane Pt. Washouts of most of fill sections, huge landslides and gully washes above road on Brazil pastures. Drive home via convoy at 6pm. Leave Krenkel’s at 7:10, arrive afoot here at 8:55.

Further slide related entries from Jeff’s 1983 journal:

Friday 25 March 1983

Rainfall T

Up at 4am, mostly clear, with cumulus in west and north. I leave at 5:45 and drive south due to big slide at new Sycamore Gulch bridge at Selvig’s. Incredible damage between here and Pacific Valley. Then over Nacimiento Grade to Jolon, then to King City via Lockwood – San Lucas Rd., due to slides on Jolon Grade that supposedly will take months to repair. King City to Monterey, then back again. Arrive here at 9:45pm. Clear here mostly, with cumulus. Trace of rain in gauge.

Wednesday 30 March 1983

Warm and beautiful morning. Light NE breeze. Hauled horse manure on lower terrace, split more wood. Talked to Peña about Dolan Creek Br., which has shifted – NW corner has moved 8 and ¾” toward ocean since 3-28, when I started noticing a lot of brown sediment off Dolan Cr. Area. Big slide at Selvig’s trailer will possibly be cleared for one lane by Friday.

Friday 1 April 1983

Clear and warm. Went down hill and learned of new sliding at Selvig’s, which killed Skinner Pierce, operating loader. Arrived at slide at 2pm, Pierce having died when he went down the slide at 12:50.

Saturday 2 April 1983

Went to town, walking over active Selvig Slide at 7am and crossing again at 10pm. Fortunately, it had dried out a lot. Had to carry Mocho over since he messed up leg in dogfight. Weather is clear and windy from north.

Friday 22 April 1983

Slight south breeze at 8am. Ceiling at 3,200’ and lowering. I walk down Tin House Road and arrive at Krenkel Corners at 11:15. Drive over slide at JP Spring, which apparently had slipped 6” last night. Very messy. Judith Verens Springs and some Esalen folk on south side. I drive to town via Jolon. Cloudy and windy from south all day.

Saturday 23 April 1983

Rainfall 1.23”             70.82”

I leave Carmel at 9am, to Greenfield via Arroyo Seco. Slide west of Garland Park in Carmel Valley has blocked road. Traffic drives along river below Carmel Valley Rd. This slide in Big Sur would be nothing, but here is big potatoes. Rain starts in Big Sur at 9am. Heavy rain by 1pm. When I arrive at JP slide, Much rock coming down, so I move car to mouth of McWay Cyn. and walk up Ewoldsen Trail. I arrive here at 4pm. 1.20” in gauge at 6pm. 1.23” at 8am 4-24. Rain mostly stops after 4pm.

Wednesday 27 April 1983

1.84”             73.14”

Heavy rain after 9am. Strong south wind. Ceiling below cabin. .62” by 3pm. Dick Price and Steve Harper walk up to look at campsites for Esalen wilderness trips. Peña reports that CalTrans stuck a bulldozer in mud under Dolan Cr. bridge. Trying to open up trapped water. Bridge has moved 2’ since earlier this month and if it moves 3’ state will close bridge to traffic. Rainfall at 6pm is .94” and at 9pm is 1.25”. 1.84 at 8am 4-28

Friday 29 April 1983

.69             74.35

Mostly clear at 7am, with cumulus on Coast Ridge to north and in west and south to sea. South wind.

Front moves in from West. I ride down at 11:30am, big slide at bottom of Tin House Road, wiping out gate and area below. I remove gate and posts and slither thru mud. Pack grain over JP Slide and ride back up hill during torrential rain. Slide at Tin House Road very active on way back. I won’t ride over it till it dries out. Rain in gauge at 3pm .38. Rain at 8am 4-30 is .69”. Lots of hail in PM.

Monday 2 May 1983

Clear in am, with low cumulus in west. South wind at 8am. I walk down Ewoldsen Trail, drive to slide at Wing Gulch, which will take several more days to clear. Drive back to McWay, then walk above JP slide on County Trail (water line trail). Much slippage on trail with water line broken in many places. Looks like slide is shearing off from trail itself. Walk down redwood gulch south of Krenkel Corners. Walk along hiway to Partington Pt. and turn on radio, and P. Addleman tells me of 6.5 Coalinga Quake. I must have been walking at Krenkel Corners when it happened, but didn’t feel it. Walked over Selvig Slide and drove to town. Beautiful clear day with some cumulus.

Tuesday 3 May 1983

Arrive at Selvig slide at 7pm. Walk up Partington Canyon. Arrive here at 10:30 with Stu Horowitz, on way to Esalen. Patchy cumulus all day, south wind. Then total overcast after midnight.

Approximately 40 GPM in drainage at third switchback coming up Partington Canyon Trail. Waterfall 50 yards upstream flowing fully. I’ve never seen any water in this gully before.

Friday 6 May 1983

Clear in AM, except for cumulus in west at 8am. Light south breeze. Walt Trotter, Jack Sutton and another State Park official, Pat Chamberlain and Beaux Von Protz, and 3 CalTrans engineers show up at 10am to examine possible routes for bulldozers to reach JP slide. One route would go thru Alta Vista. I take up with them and go as far as grassy ridge straight up from Oak Pt. on Tin House Road above Kelly Cyn. They may opt for a route up from Seaview Cyn. to Old County Trail, then straight across above JPBSP spring gulch to slide. I spend afternoon spading garden, splitting wood and cutting chamise below outhouse and cabin. Clear in PM, except for some cumulus. Cirrus patch in west during sunset. South wind all day.

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