Aviation crews with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department made two rescues last week in the Mt. Baldy area for hikers unprepared for the elements.
At 2:30 p.m. Friday, two L.A. residents in their late 20s were hiking the Devil’s Backbone trail, east of the Mt. Baldy summit, in extremely icy conditions, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Neither was wearing crampons — metal spikes that hikers can attach to their footwear for added traction.
One of the men slipped and slid about 200 feet down an ice chute before hitting a tree. His hiking partner called for help, and Air Rescue 306 soon arrived.
Crew Chief Deputy David Negron hoisted Fire Capt. Jay Hausman about 65 feet down to the injured hiker, and he placed the man in a rescue harness. They took the man to a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
The second hiker then realized he was in the same danger of slipping on the ice. He called again for help. The crew returned and conducted another hoist rescue, taking the second man to a nearby sheriff’s station.
“The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department would like to remind the public about the dangers of hiking in hazardous conditions such as steep, rugged, mountainous terrain covered with snow and ice,” Sgt. Daniel Futscher said in a news release. “Without crampons (a specific type of traction device for ice climbing) and an ice ax, along with the proper training to use this equipment, this type of activity can lead to serious injury or death.”
A few hours later, a crew headed to the Ice House Canyon area of Mt. Baldy to search for a lost 26-year-old Santa Ana man.
Using night vision goggles, the crew found the man a few miles from the trailhead at 8,000 feet elevation in steep, mountainous terrain covered in snow and ice.
As the sun set, the temperature had plummeted to near freezing, and the man had traveled two hours in the snow at night before stopping because of pain in his feet. He was taken to a hospital for hypothermia.
Deputy Doug Brimmer, a pilot on the rescue crew, said the man told rescuers that he had hiked the trail before but, like others that they’ve rescued, didn’t seem to have considered how winter weather would intensify the difficulty of the trek.
“When we get the snow, they love to come up and get the beautiful views, but they don’t come prepared,” Brimmer said. “This guy was hiking by himself in light clothing and tennis shoes with no food, no water and 50% battery life on his cellphone.”
The rescues come about a month after Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, a 52-year-old Irvine resident, went missing after he got separated from his group that was attempting to hike to the Mt. Baldy summit.
A few days into the search, authorities closed the Mt. Baldy trails because rescue crews kept getting diverted to help other hikers in distress.
The search for Mokkapati was shut down after Timothy Staples, a 32-year-old search and rescue volunteer, was found dead in the ice and snow after he got separated from his search partner. Mokkapati remains missing.
County authorities have continued to stress that no one should attempt to climb Mt. Baldy in the winter months without proper equipment, including crampons, snowshoes, trekking poles and ice axes.