Posted 1/13/13 – During the month of December, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue (SMSR) responded to five calls for assistance. December closed out a busy 2012 for SMSR with the Team responding to 105 incidents during the year. During these search and rescue operations SMSR provided assistance to 123 individuals lost or injured in the mountains. Over 5,100 hours of time were logged by Team members while on these calls.
In addition to actual search and rescue calls, Team members logged over 7,900 hours of time in 2012 in support of the Team’s mission. This included 27 public preventative search and rescue (PSAR) events where Team members discuss wilderness safety and preparedness with scout groups, schools, and other community groups. Team members logged over 5,400 hours of training in a broad array of SAR disciplines in order to maintain the high level of proficiency required to safely perform SAR operations. In total, Team members logged over 13,000 hours of official time in support of SMSR work. Many additional hours of unofficial time are spent by individual Team members maintaining their readiness to respond to any need.
Two noteworthy calls from December are described in more detail below.
Injured Hikers, Mount Baldy: The Team responded to Mt. Baldy at 5:30 p.m. as part of a mutual aid request by San Bernardino County’s West Valley SAR team on December 23rd. At over 10,000 feet in elevation, Mt. Baldy often presents hikers with significant winter mountaineering challenges. Snow and ice conditions on the mountain had resulted in two hikers being injured in unrelated accidents. Any accidents on the mountain can easily result in very difficult rescues for SAR teams. Nine members of SMSR joined personnel from several LA County Sheriff SAR teams
including Montrose Search and Rescue and San Dimas Mountain Rescue, along with additional San Bernardino and Kern county SAR teams, the USFS and LA County Fire on what would be a complex multi-hour rescue. One of the injured hikers was stranded at over 9,300 feet on the mountain and was suffering from multiple serious injuries sustained in a fall along the Devil’s Backbone Trail.
Due to weather conditions, rescuers were unable to use a helicopter to effect a hoist rescue and instead lowered the subject over 1,800 feet by rope in a series of high angle lowers to the Sierra Club Ski Hut located near the base of Baldy Bowl and approximately 2.5 miles from the trailhead. This technical rescue operation took several hours and was conducted during the middle of the night in extremely stormy conditions involving high winds, snow, and freezing rain. The second hiker had been injured in a different location and had also been brought to the Ski Hut by rescue crews. The sun rose on Christmas Eve with rescue crews using the Ski Hut to get the injured hikers out of the weather, rewarm them and provide additional medical treatment in preparation for a litter evacuation. Additional personnel from SMSR responded to the incident to provide support for crews on what would be a multi-hour evacuation down over 2.5 miles of trail for the two injured hikers along with 3 additional hikers who, while uninjured, required assistance getting out. The litter evacuation often required the use of an array of rope rescue techniques to safely get the subjects to the trailhead. Once the trailhead was reached the injured hikers were loaded into waiting ambulances and transported to local hospitals for treatment.
The operation was concluded almost exactly 24 hours from when it began with a significant number of the rescuers having worked the rescue continuously from its beginning. Rescuers would be home for Christmas Eve knowing that they had made a difference in the lives of 5 people. The ability of rescuers from multiple teams and agencies to work together in adverse conditions is a testament to the dedication, determination and skills of those involved.
Stranded Hiker, Mt. Wilson Trail/Little Santa Anita Canyon: The Team received a page just before 6 p.m. on December 27th for reports of a hiker stranded near the First Water Trail junction on the Mt. Wilson Trail. The first crews on scene reported that the initial information regarding a hiker at the trail junction was incorrect and that the hiker was stranded near the canyon bottom and up the side of the canyon opposite from the trail. A ‘simple’ rescue quickly became much more complex due to the nighttime rope rescue work that would be required. Rescuers rappelled 300 feet to the canyon bottom and climbed over 100 feet up the cliffs on the east side of the canyon to reach the subject. A quick assessment determined that the hiker was uninjured but would require assistance negotiating the cliffs separating him from the trail. Rescuers established a series of rope rescue systems to lower the hiker to the canyon bottom and a separate rescue system to bring him back up to the trail. The fact that the hiker was able to use his cell phone to call 9-1-1 and use the light from the phone to ‘signal’ rescuers greatly facilitated this rescue.
During the Mt. Wilson Trail rescue noted above, the Team received reports of a hiker missing from a hike to Mt. Wilson. As Team members were freed up from the rescue they began searching along the likely routes of travel a hiker would take to reach Mt. Wilson. Crews who had started searching the trailheads out of Chantry Flat were able to quickly locate the missing hiker who was being assisted by some backpackers who had been camping near Hoegee’s Camp. The subject was evaluated, found to be uninjured and rejoined his hiking companions to return home. The two operations on the 27th were concluded at 10:12 p.m.
The Team extends our appreciation to the other emergency services agencies that we work with including; Sierra Madre Fire Department, Sierra Madre Police Department, LA County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the US Forest Service, and our fellow SAR teams across the state.
Most importantly, we’d like to extend our sincere thanks to the residents of Sierra Madre and those that support the Team and enable us to help those in need.
For more than 60 years the all-volunteer Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team has been responding to calls for help in the local mountains and beyond. Funded entirely by private donations, SMSR provides a range of public programs on wilderness safety in addition to its search and rescue activities. The Team never charges for any of its services. For more information, including how to arrange a wilderness safety demonstration for your school or group, visit www.smsr.org.