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Here we go again - More snow rescues

Two hikers were rescued from Mt. Baldy on Wednesday

Injured hikers rescued from avalanche on Mt. Baldy

Oh wow it was Ellen and Sally! (From the Wednesday rescue) Glad they are ok.


Glad to hear Ellen and Sally are OK!

I was on Baldy today and ran into the ill-fated group of three this morning at the ski hut, plus another guy hiking solo. The three were all young guys, acting super psyched for going up the bowl. I volunteered that I was concerned about avalanche danger after the big storm that ended Monday, pointed out a small avalanche tail in the middle of the bowl, and said I was going to traverse and climb up on the left side so as to minimize the hazard. The solo guy came with me, but the group of three were set on doing the bowl. As we headed across the bottom of the bowl, I could tell that my ice ax was hitting a layer of ice under the powder, and this reinforced my impression that there could be avalanche danger, so I focused on getting across quickly.

Never saw the group of three on the summit, which I figured meant that they got bogged down in steep, deep powder. The other solo guy headed off to exit via Devil's Backbone.

But when I started back down the south end of the bowl, I saw what looked like people on the snow about 1/3 of the way from the bottom, at the edge of a second, new avalanche track. I yelled "are you OK?" and waved, but I don't think they heard or saw me. They were pretty far off, and I wasn't even certain that they were people until I watched for a while and saw one of them move.

Helicopters showed up as I continued down, and they said on their loudspeakers that they were preparing a hoist. So I decided I didn't really have much to contribute to any rescue effort, and I just crossed quickly over to the hut. There I ran into one of the three guys. He said they had been near the top of the bowl when they felt something give way. They slid 2/3 of the way down the bowl before coming to rest. He had gone down to the hut to try to get a 911 message out, because apparently there is wifi at the hut (!), but that didn't work. It looks like what actually worked for them was sending an SOS text through a Garmin GPS they had. Luckily all three of them ended up not buried, but his buddy had a broken arm, was disoriented and didn't know where he was, and kept complaining of being cold. He was in no shape to downclimb, hence the need for some kind of rescue.

For anyone thinking of going up anytime soon, I would just suggest caution. The weather is looking ugly for Friday anyway. There is a massive boot track/trail up to the ski hut, but from there on it's a lot of deep powder, and snowshoes were very helpful.

If you're reading this and you're new to this kinda stuff, you should wait until conditions improve. Give it a while. Let the cake bake for a bit.

Rescue on Register Ridge


I wrote an account of our climb and rescue for educational purposes:

I am very embarrassed and humbled but also grateful to be alive and not injured. As I note in the rescue report, I have never encountered these sketchy conditions on Register. We specifically avoided the bowl due to avalanche risk.

For those who've posted on this forum, thanks for your civil tone.



I read the San Jac and Summit Post forum replies...

Crampons would have made some difference? I am no longer eager, so I stay off Baldy in full conditions, but if I were still getting after it, probably would carry both. Micros for most of the time and crampons when necessary.

I think we also start to lose sight of the fact that as we get older, our skill- set is not improving? Used to be able to reach deep and pull myself out of any situation. At age 20/ 30/ 40 no way I would not have carried on to the summit and down Ski Hut trail. At near 60...   well...  I think I would have chose a slightly more sedate objective on that particular day...

Howdy Sewellymon  Smile

Please re-read my report and all of the responses. We used Black Diamond strap on crampons and ice-axes.

I have NEVER seen such crappy snow/rime ice conditions. If I had fallen, I doubt that I could have self-arrested.

Appreciate the comment regarding age  Wink

Miles of smiles,

Thnx Ellen.

Ya, yikes.

One day after you'd done C2C late November, we hiked down off trail toward Sid David and stumbled onto that spooky shuttered CCC camp. We thought it was illicit pot-growers...

I ponder risk management and age. My particular vice these days has been mt biking. Last year I kept things very PG by mostly fire-roading on a hardtail. This year- upgraded (again) to a full bling suspension bike worthy of anything I can throw at it. The riding on and near Mt Wilson involves a lot of cliff-hanging. So the deal is ride at 1000% correctness when the exposure is real, or get off and push.

My only advice to you? Get a DeLorme so you can text message, too.

Due to the icy conditions, we did not want to down climb -- we'd also planned on coming down the less steep Ski Hut trail.

Some rules I try to follow are:

1. Don't climb up something I can't climb down. Probably why serious ice climbing doesn't appeal to me much.

2. Set a definite turnaround time, to ensure escape from danger before dark. This is the rule I stick to almost 100% of the time, no matter the conditions or prior plans.

3. Plan for retreat. Most hikers only plan for success. This is a real mistake, especially when engaged in daredevil activity.

Occasionally I've broken these rules, when doing so was not actually life-threatening. But doing so often got me in some kind of trouble where my emergency kit or skills came in handy.

Ellen, what do you think of these rules? Are they applicable to your situation?

My take is that Ellen and Sally are two very experienced and capable people who ran into very unusual and unexpected conditions.  Not like the three young men who went up the bowl when they were warned about the avalanche danger.  I believe in rules, but they don't cover every situation.  And there are many fine climbs where you don't expect to come down the same way, because going down is generally more difficult than going up.  I have other comments on the Mt. San Jacinto Board.

And I would add that few people have the courage to post a report after they have been rescued.  And it was far more informative than the typical media and SAR reports.

ideas about risk

One idea to keep in mind about risk is that it's proportional to how much you do of the risky activity. Taking that into account, it may not be as surprising that Ellen has run into serious trouble a couple of times -- she's out there in the mountains a *lot*. On the other hand, when I met the three young guys, they really seemed inexperienced, so I'm guessing that they haven't got a lot of winter forays under their belt. Their risk *should* have been small because of their small number of accumulated trips.

Another thing to consider is a psychological effect that IIRC I first saw described in a book called Deep Survival. When you've done something a lot, your brain tends to think of it as normal, and you tend not to take into account the fact that something is different this time. I think one of the examples in the book was someone who had gone whitewater rafting on a certain river hundreds of times, and then went out one day during a huge, intense storm and got in serious trouble, because his brain thought of this as a routine outing, even though an impartial observer would have probably noticed that the water looked super fierce that day. Possibly this kind of thing was a psychological factor for Ellen and Sally that day.

Ellen wrote:
I have NEVER seen such crappy snow/rime ice conditions.

I wasn't there. I don't climb ice. I hike through snow very rarely. I do not mean this as criticism, but I do want to learn (even teach others to learn critical thinking perhaps) by asking this question(s)...

How soon did you notice (or should you have noticed) that you were in conditions you had never seen before? If you had noticed earlier, would you have stopped ascending?

Much admiration for your abilities, adventerous spirit and most of all your willingness to openingly talk about this.


death in Azusa Canyon

Re: ideas about risk

bcrowell wrote:
One idea to keep in mind about risk is that it's proportional to how much you do of the risky activity. Taking that into account, it may not be as surprising that Ellen has run into serious trouble a couple of times -- she's out there in the mountains a *lot*...

Another thing to consider is a psychological effect that IIRC I first saw described in a book called Deep Survival. When you've done something a lot, your brain tends to think of it as normal, and you tend not to take into account the fact that something is different this time.

Usually you get better at a risky activity the more you practice it and condition for it. You learn skills and exercises that propel you to the next level, or you realize the limit of your abilities and learn when to stop and turn around.

Also, we should distinguish between errors and accidents. If a falling rock knocks you down a slope, or even if you temporarily lose your balance and take a tumble, that's very different than if you climb up something that you can't climb down, or you push yourself to exhaustion with no plan for self-extraction. If we can't admit our errors, we are doomed to repeat them in the future.

Our level of experience is meaningless when it is not matched with equivalent levels of awareness and foresight. Planning should take note of past experience, present awareness, and possible future consequences. It is not enough to say that we have experience and therefore belong on the mountain. We must also exhibit an appreciation for relevant factors and present conditions, as well as consider the potential consequences of our behavior. If we know that we can't climb down an icy ridge, then we shouldn't go up it in the first place, because merely failing to get up it means calling in the helicopter. Here experience should dictate either first learning how to downclimb such ice, or instead climbing an easier mountain.

This is a public forum. Many people probably come here in part to learn from more experienced hikers and climbers. I know that's why I originally came here. So it's important that we make an effort to identify causes of problems like this one. Not to be disrespectful to the parties involved, but to help the parties interested in learning how to be safe and responsible in the mountains. Forum Index -> News & Conditions
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