Forest visitors get stuck on ice

From a vantage point in La Cañada Flintridge, Mt. Wilson looks clear of snow, but what one can't see is the snow that covers the north face of the peak. It is this winter blanket that has kept the Montrose Search and Rescue Team members busy the last two weekends.

“March 2 was an extremely busy day,” said Mike Leum, a longtime rescue team member. The team was first activated at noon on a call concerning a 20-year-old mountain biker with a broken leg.

The cyclist was on the road near Red Box and Switzer Falls when he fell from his bike and injured his leg.

The team responded at first with assistance from Los Angeles County Sheriff's Air Five helicopter, but the wind was too strong for the chopper.

“We had to carry him out,” Leum said.

Later that afternoon the team received a rescue call for another mountain biker in his mid-20s.

“We were notified that a man had slipped and broken his ankle on the north side of Mt. Wilson, on the other side of the radio towers,” Leum said.

The biking partner of the injured man had made it to an area where his cellphone could get reception. As he was waiting for the rescue, seven hikers, two men and five women, came upon him.

“We came around the corner and found this guy in basketball shorts and a T-shirt,” said hiker Tracy Andreen of Los Angeles.

Andreen said that she and her six fellow hikers were just beginning to put more layers of clothing on because of the weather. They were hiking on DeVore Trail to the top of Mount Wilson.

“It was a shock to see this guy dressed like that sitting there,” she said.

The man told her that his friend had fallen from his mountain bike up the path and needed help. Andreen's brother Keith walked the path and found the injured biker in a tree. He helped him back to the path and they waited for the rescue. Los Angeles County Air Five helicopter was the first on the scene. Air Five rescue members cabled both the injured man and his friend into the helicopter and told the seven hikers that they should not go any further because of the weather, but they continued to follow the path to the top of Mt. Wilson.

“We went forward because we didn't see any ice and we didn't think it would take much longer [to reach the top],” Andreen said.

The seven were experienced hikers and are training for a Mount Whitney climb in June. Although they were prepared for the hike they had originally planned, their schedule was altered by the injured biker.

“We couldn't just leave him there,” Andreen said.

Not long after they began walking the path they realized it was getting a lot colder and the ice was increasing.

“We were prepared, we had walked through the snow, but we weren't prepared for the ice,” Andreen said.

About two feet of snow and ice covered the area. Team members Robert Sheedy, Jason Johnson and Leum had to use ice equipment and crawl across the “rock-hard ice,” Leum said.

The team was notified by Air Five that the hikers needed help.

“So we kept going. This [stranded] group had also started from the back of the mountain and were not prepared for climbing in the ice,” Leum said.

Andreen said that by the time they saw the Montrose Search and Rescue team members they were relieved, although they were only about a half a mile from the top Mt. Wilson so the emotion was mixed with a little regret.

“We were so close,” she said.

“We spent the rest of the night walking them out,” Leum said. “We had to put harnesses on them and guide them across the ice.”

The hikers were not prepared for the environment they encountered.

“People look up at Mt. Wilson from La Cañada and it looks bone dry. What they don't realize is the north facing side of the mountain doesn't get much sun,” Leum said.

Andreen said that the being rescued was a surreal experience but she was glad to see them.

“We listened to what they had to say and followed their [instructions],” she said. “We cannot say enough good things about these guys. They were professional and we had a delightful chat the five hours it took as we hiked out of the area,” Andreen said.

The up side of the rescue was the information Andreen and the other hikers received from the team members about ice and snow.

“Who would ever think I would own a ice ax, but I do now,” Andreen said.

The snow caught four Burbank men, also in their early 20s, off guard Sunday, March 9, when they realized they were trapped and had to call for a rescue.

The men were in a Jeep and were out for a day of four-wheeling on the Santa Clara divide road, which travels from Angeles Crest Highway to the Golden State (5) and Antelope Valley (14) Freeways junction.

“These guys started at Bear Divide just off Little Tujunga Road and went eastbound by Millcreek Summit,” Leum said.

They started their journey in a dry section of the Angeles National Forest but by the time they traveled up the road they ended up in two feet of snow, with no chains or other winter equipment.

“One of the men called 911 and we were notified,” Leum said.

The team had a problem because the stranded motorist's cellphone's battery had died and they had no way of contacting or tracking the stranded four.

“We requested the Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter to fly over and look for them,” Leum said.

The road was slick and snowy; the team got stuck in the snow on the way up the road, but because they were prepared, were able to dig themselves out and continue.

“We [rescued] all four guys,” Leum said. “They didn't have one jacket among them.”

All team members have practicing snow and ice rescue; they put their training to good use these past two weeks. This weekend the members are traveling to the Mammoth Lakes area, where they will continue their ice training by climbing a frozen waterfall.


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