Remembering Eaton Canyon Hiker (Guest Column)

A friend of hiker John Jutiyasantayanon, who fell to his death in Eaton Canyon in Aug. 6, remembers his life and recounts the search for answers about his death that led her and John's family back to the Eaton Canyon waterfalls.

This is a guest column written by Cathryn De Guzman, a San Gabriel resident and recent Cal Poly Pomona graduate who was a close friend of a hiker who earlier this month.

John Jutiyasantayanon recently graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering and became a nuclear engineer at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. He was full of life and excited to be living on his own.

He had just moved into his first apartment at Laguna Niguel and was thankful to finally be starting his engineering career.

John had a good heart, beautiful smile and amazing spirit. With John’s first paycheck, he wanted to help give a percentage of his salary to his family, in order to help with household expenses.

In addition, after recently choosing to be a Catholic two years ago, and become confirmed, John actively chose to serve Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Montclair as an altar server, where he attended mass every Sunday at 8 a.m.

John was also a passionate photographer and was taught by his high school friend and life-long mentor, Ronnie Chung. Ronnie says, “Photographers are not hired and paid for their photos, but for their eyes and talent for capturing the beauty of people, places and memorable events.” John had a true gift and talent for capturing beauty through his photos and was an enjoyable person and photographer to be around.                 

John appreciated not only beauty and photography but also the gift of life. Although he loved photography and always tried to capture marvelous shots with his camera, John respected his life and the lives of others. He would never put his life or the lives of others in danger. John was always careful and never negligent on warning signs or dangerous habits. He never picked up his cell phone while driving nor did he text while driving, something that most drivers cannot relate to.

Always Prepared

He always came prepared with a first aid kit in his backpack and a Band-Aid in his wallet. John’s personality of being careful and safe is one that all of his family and friends can always recall.

John’s tragic fall on Saturday, Aug. 6, at Eaton Canyon came as a shock to all of his loved ones. We were all in disbelief as we found out he had fallen off a “deer trail” while hiking up to the second waterfall with a female friend.

John would have never chosen to hike a dangerous path if it did not look safe and had warning signs indicating the risks and precautions needed when hiking towards the Razorback Trail.

After many hours spent with the family and friends and trying to understand why this tragic accident happened to John, we (his family and friends) decided to hike the same canyon and trail John hiked, the week following his death.

At the canyon, we were able to find a hiker who was there at the time John fell, and she showed us where John had fallen from and how to enter that trail. Unfortunately, it was too easy for us to find Internet forums on “How to Enter Razorback trail at Eaton Canyon” and “How to Get to Eaton Canyon’s Second Waterfall” through our smart phones and reviews that past hikers post on networking sites such as Yelp.

Many of the reviews are helpful and warn about the dangers of entering the trail, but others make hiking the trail sound like they are entering Disneyland and that the hike and risks are well worth the waterfall at the end.                

The female friend, who accompanied John the day of the incident, stated that she and John climbed to the top of the cliff and walked through a narrow, steep ridge. When John felt it was unsafe, they both turned around to walk back towards the entrance they had climbed.

However, as they were walking back, she says that either John slipped or the ground crumbled under him, causing him to slide off the cliff to his death.

Too Many Rescues

Most people do not understand that although there were many successful hikes to the second waterfall in the past, as indicated through personal stories found on online hiking forums, it does not mean that the next hike will be successful. There have been many airlift rescues this summer alone, where people have gotten stuck on the cliff and needed to be rescued.

Just a week prior to John’s fall, . With the large number of search and rescues Pasadena and Altadena firefighters conduct on a day-to-day basis, it makes one wonder why these “deer trails” have not been closed off yet?

Although the entrance to Razorback Trail is not one that is man-made, the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it is or not. What matters is that this trail is becoming more popular and more dangerous as the rocks and boulders that were once secure are now brittle and weak due to rain and sun.

Many people are misinformed about the dangers of this hike, and with no signs posted around the entrance of the trail, many people will continue to get hurt, or worse, die.

The deaths of John and Erwin were not only a tragedy but also ones that were preventable. I hope that someone of authority with good moral judgment can make the right decision and close off the entrance leading to the second waterfall. Warning signs notifying the public of the trail’s dangers will help those who are unaware and misinformed by other people and sources.

The trail leading to the second waterfall is not intended for human recreation, and people have gotten hurt and died on that trail. Although John and Erwin were taken from us too young and too soon, their deaths should be a reminder of the dangers of this “deer trail” and that government action needs to be taken before another loved one’s family has to bury one of their own, too.

John was a wonderful son, brother and friend. He will be missed greatly, and the memories he has given to his loved ones will be remembered in our hearts forever. Thank you for being one of my best friends, John. May you rest in peace and continue to capture all the happy memories of your family and friends with your camera in Heaven. We love you, now and forever.

Tina August 26, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I'm so glad you let us into your world to share your thoughts about your dear friend, John. He seemed like a great person. Thank you for informing us about the trails. I know many family & friend hikers that this information would definitely be useful. May the Lord bless John and all of you.
Laura Monteros August 26, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Thank you for this. Some readers have already suggested warning signs in the area. Even though there are people who would ignore them, it seems that hikers like John would take them seriously. It's a small, inexpensive way to save lives. I am sorry for the loss of your friend, who was so important to his friends and family, and thus to all of us.
Kelley Wong August 26, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Thank you Cathryn for a beautifully said article about our dear friend John. John will always be remembered and in our hearts forever. Our group will never be the same without him, but he will be with us always. I hope people reading this will understand more about what happened, and I hope the park will take in consideration if putting up simple signs letting bikers know about the risks on the trails and hoe dangerous it is to go off on these deer trails. A simple sign letting people know will reduce the risks of rescues and hope to save lives. I truly miss you John, and will see you soon I love you, now and forever. :) I truly love the friendship we have together and cherish every moment we shared.
socalhiker August 26, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Like many of us, John was awed but the beauty of Eaton Canyon. John was a beautiful human being who respected nature and wanted nothing more than to capture it with his camera and share that image with the world. Unfortunately, It is known that in history, tragedies often spark change. It's imperative that signs be placed along the main trails clearly WARNING hikers of the dangers of well known, yet neglected routes leading to the second waterfall at Eaton Canyon. Of course, there are going to be people who will disregard the warning, but if one person takes notice and diverts, it's well worth the effort. If the argument is that it is expensive to do so, think about the expenses involved in dispatching rescue crews responding to injured hikers who may be been diverted had there been clear signs. Thank you Cathryn. My prayers are with you and all of John's friends. I specially pray for John's Parents, sister, and brother. I hope that you find closure. He will be greatly missed.
Charles D August 27, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Thank you for your well written article and giving me insight into the sequence of events that led to the accident and loss of John Jutiyasantayanon . It is clear to me, John is capable of making responsible decisions had the information been available to him. Attempting to return to safety prior to the accident occurring clearly signifies the need for more information at the trail head. The need for signs, or trail head information clearly needs to be evaluated by whom ever is in charge of this recreational area. I wanted to extend my condolences to his family and friends. Be assured, I will write the US Forest Service, our County Supervisor and anyone else I that can assist and put fort action in preventing future deaths.


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