Huge Landslide in Big Sur Poses New Challenge for Reopening Highway 1

A screen grab from a Monterey County Sheriff’s Office video showing the extent of a massive landslide near the Big Sur community of Gorda. (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook)

A Big Sur mountainside that had been on the move for most of the winter gave way over the weekend in a landslide that locals say is the biggest along the scenic stretch of coast in decades.

The slide occurred at Mud Creek, just south of the community of Gorda and 25 miles up Highway 1 from San Simeon. The episode is the latest in a series of highway-closing slope collapses triggered by the extraordinarily wet winter along the coast.
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Before this weekend, the most disruptive of those incidents involved a mudslide that knocked out a bridge just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and just north of Big Sur Station.

Caltrans says a new bridge will be in place by the end of September.

The area near Mud Creek, the scene of Saturday evening’s massive new landslide, had been troublesome for month. Several different active slides had forced occasional road closures starting in January.

The highway agency says the Saturday slide buried a 1,500-foot section of Highway 1 under 35 to 40 feet of rocks and dirt. The estimated amount of material covering the road: 1 million tons.

Caltrans says that right now, it has no idea how long it will take to deal with the Mud Creek slide.

But the Monterey Herald’s Tommy Wright got some local perspective on where the new slide ranks among famous Big Sur earth movements:

Kirk Gafill, president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce and Nepenthe Restaurant’s owner and general manager, grew up in Big Sur. Gafill, 55, said the only landslide in the area he can remember that was as big as the one at Mud Creek was in 1983 just north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

“That location was closed for 14 months,” he said.

Both Gafill and [Caltrans spokeswoman Susana] Cruz said it would be conjecture to say how long Highway 1 will remain closed this time.

Gafill’s grandparents founded Nepenthe. He said it can be hard to compare the scale of the two events, but the Mud Creek slide was one of the largest in his lifetime along the Big Sur coast.

“If it’s not the biggest, it’s certainly right up there,” he said.

Cruz said the Mud Creek slide is the biggest she can remember since joining Caltrans in 2001. She said a slide near Mud Creek at Duck Pond during the El Niño winter of 1998 caused major damage.

The Mud Creek slide is not the only one currently causing trouble along the coastal highway. Further north, at a point called Paul’s Slide, a massive slide has shut the road repeatedly.

The big slides along Highway 1 have forced Caltrans contractors to stage convoys over twisting, narrow Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to get construction supplies and heavy equipment to the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge site.

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