Icy conditions and inadequate gear spell disaster for hikers around Mt. Baldy

Mt. Baldy in the background. Officials closed trails in the Mt. Baldy area on Monday after two people died last week.

Mt. Baldy in the background. Officials closed trails in the Mt. Baldy area on Monday after two people died last week.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Multiple trails in and around Mt. Baldy remained closed on Monday after “unusually icy conditions” resulted in two deaths and numerous helicopter rescues in the span of a week.

Six trails around Mt. Baldy are closed until further notice “for health and safety reasons,” said Sherry Rollman, public affairs officer for Angeles National Forest. They are: Baldy Bowl, Bear Flats, Icehouse Canyon, 3 Ts, Chapman and Devil’s Backbone.

“What’s happening is ... the warm weather is melting the snow and it freezes at night,” Rollman said.

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Icy conditions led to 12 people being airlifted off the mountain over the weekend, while a 47-year-old man died died Saturday after he slipped and fell off the side of Icehouse Saddle near Mt. Baldy.

Dong Xing Liu, who was known as Tony Liu, was the second person to die in the area last week.

On Tuesday, 23-year-old Daniel Nguyen slipped and fell 1,500 feet to his death after struggling to help a friend on the Devil’s Backbone trail. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said it took nearly three hours in ice, snow and wind to retrieve his body.

Above 6,000 feet, Rollman said, the the trails can be icy.


Signs along the trails advise hikers to use certain equipment, such as crampons and ice axes.

It was not immediately clear what type of gear Liu, Nguyen and the rescued hikers were wearing, but officials said at least a handful were not wearing crampons and didn’t have ice axes.

Mt. Baldy Fire Department Capt. Gordon Greene said a few people rescued Saturday afternoon wore shoe chains, which weren’t enough to trek thorugh the ice.

“They were equipped with flashlights and were in the process of preparing to spend the night when the helicopter made the decision to pull them out,” he said. “They did acknowledge that they didn’t make the best decision to continue on when it got that bad.”


Even if the hikers had worn crampons it wouldn’t have helped, he added.

“As far as I know, there wasn’t any equipment that was adequate,” Greene said. “Crampons wouldn’t have helped. The ice was so smooth it was almost like a mirror, and so hard nothing was going to penetrate it enough to make it safe.”

Rollman said officials planned only to close the Icehouse Canyon trail. Now that the other five are at risk of freezing over, she said, “We have no choice but to close” them.


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Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.


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