Jerry Hill spent the past 34 years helping total strangers in Angeles National Forest with the people who became his family.
The retiring Montrose Search and Rescue Team member, a resident of La Crescenta, just spent his first Saturday in years away from the tough San Gabriel Mountains.
“I said on Saturday, ‘What am I going to do this weekend? It’s kind of like retiring from your family,’” said Hill.
Hill started volunteering when he was 27 and has longtime friends from the team. He even introduced his sister Pattie to fellow teammate Ken Thompson, a volunteer from 1974 to 1994.
“We did a lot of things together. Rescues, training, parties, it’s kind of like a club. You get to know them. You trust these people with your life sometimes. It’s a great group. We worked hard but we had a lot of fun doing it most of the time,” said Hill, who was recognized by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for his years of volunteer work.
He has responded to hundreds of emergency calls in the Los Angeles area. Some of the toughest rescues, he recalls, happened in Devil’s Canyon.
“There used to be months of snow up at Mount Waterman. You can ski out the backside and come to the road. If you take the wrong ridge, if it’s foggy or bad weather, you’ll go out the backside and you’ll end up in Devil’s Canyon,” Hill said.
“That’s a one- to two-day hike — if you can make it out,” he said.
Often rescues happen because people are unprepared, Hill explains.
“There are some people who think they are going out for a little hike, wearing their flip-flops or bedroom slippers, and they get lost. They don’t know where they’re going and they don’t check where they are going,” he said.
The tough terrain of the San Gabriels can seem tame from afar, Hill said.
“There are times that you really feel good about what you did. There are other times you say, ‘Why am I doing this? I don’t need to see this,” he said. “They’re not mine or my own. They’re somebody’s though,” Hill said.
Hill’s next move isn’t an emergency rescue, but a plan he and his wife Marilyn, a speech pathologist at Foothill Special Education Local Plan Area in La Cañada Flintridge, are considering.
“I’m thinking about buying a winery, up in the San Luis Obispo area. It’s one of those dreams,” said Hill, who has two daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren.
The Montrose Search and Rescue Team meets the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, 4554 Briggs Ave., La Crescenta. To learn more, visit www.montrosesar.org.
Follow Nicole Charky on Twitter: @Nicosharki.