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Mt. Baldy, rescues and more rescues: 06-Feb-2016

With our terrible drought, I haven't been mountaineering in years. I also haven't hiked much. The last time I was on Baldy was about a year ago. My friend and I decided to check out Baldy yesterday. It turned out to be a crazy day to come back.

We got started on the trail at around 8am. There were a lot of cars at Manker, mostly all hikers. There is virtually no snow in Manker so the snow players mostly came and left, except for the hardy few who will slide down anything, even dirt and gravel. At the trail head, someone stapled laminated signs to trees warning people of icy conditions and crampons/ice axe is recommended. My friend mentioned to me that someone died on Baldy just a few days ago. Whoa.

The snow doesn't start till about half way to the Ski Hut. At that time it was somewhat icy snow, so we put on our spikes. Some people chose to keep going with bare shoes. For us it was easier to walk with traction and not have to walk so gingerly over slippery icy.

At the Ski Hut, I couldn't believe how many people were there. It was so crowded, it looked like summer. It was also a younger crowd instead of the grizzled old mountaineers I normally see up there. I did notice more people had proper equipment. Not a lot of helmets, but a lot of ice axes and crampons.

My friend and I didn't intend to summit or climb the bowl. We went to the base of the bowl to practice self arrest and glissade techniques. A lot of people climbed the bowl and they all took different routes. The bowl is in condition and is climbable. I found the snow conditions to be pretty good. A 2-3" soft top layer on top, a harder 1" crust below, then a softer base underneath. I climbed half way up the bowl and did two glissades down. Both times the snow felt good for glissading. It was firm enough to maintain speed but soft enough to easily brake with the spike on my ice axe. Most of the rockfall was in the center section (Procrastination Chute). The rocky chutes to the left of center did not see as much rockfall.

At around 11am, an LA County SAR helicopter arrived and started orbiting the bowl. We looked around and saw some people waving their jackets at the helicopter. It circled again and the guy hanging out the side waved his arm to tell us to clear the area. The chopper came in and and did a one skid landing to drop off one of the flight crew.

He went over to the people. Apparently, what happened was a guy fell while on the west ridge of the bowl. He ended up near a group of mountain guides who were teaching a mountaineering course. The victim had a lot of lacerations on his face. He's also a doctor so he thought he had internal injuries. The flight crew guy said they will have to call in another chopper, a Blackhawk, to hoist the victim out on a backboard, then take him to USC.

About a half hour later, the Blackhawk arrived and did an impressive one wheel landing on a rock. He set down with the right wheel on a rock, the tailwheel on the snow and the left wheel hovering in the air. He held the chopper perfectly still for several minutes. Wow!

They packaged up the victim on the backboard and hoisted him out. These chopper pilots are so good. He held it in a perfectly still hover for several minutes. They flew away, circled some more, then came back to the Ski Hut. Apparently a female fell and hurt or broke her ribs. They hoisted her out too.

We descended safely and made it back to the trailhead at about 2pm. Someone in a safety vest came up to us and asked, "I'm with the Forest Service. I noticed you are carrying gear. Did you go to the Devils Backbone today?" We said no. He thanked us, got in his car and drove off.

Later we learned there were 12 rescues that day, four of them with injuries, one fatality in Ice House Canyon and the rest were stranded near the top due to icy conditions.

They closed the mountain today. It will remain closed until at least Tuesday. I think that's a first?! They said the conditions were too icy. It was kinda icy, but in IMO, conditions were pretty normal. I think the accidents and rescues might be due to inexperience. The people who got stranded at the top got up there too late. If you go that late, you have to be ready for it to refreeze as the sun goes down.

I also saw a lot of people climb the bowl with their ice axe still on their packs. They used their trekking poles instead. One group went up like this on the same slope where the guy just fell. They even asked me what happened to that guy and I explained it to them! I don't think this is a good idea. You really should have that ice axe in your hand, ready for a self arrest. But I guess everyone is free to make their own decisions.

Notice all the trekking poles:

Victim is seated:

Hoist operation:

Great pictures Tim.  The picture you shared with all the hikers using trekking poles illustrates perfectly one of the problems we have when we get more serious winter conditions.  Trekking poles are simply not appropriate when things get steep and the consequences of a unarrested fall are serious.  In even moderately icy conditions they are probably close to useless.

The right equipment and the ability to use it is vital. Keep the trekking poles for low angle terrain.

Interesting that the LACoFD crew didn't pull the injured hiker out with 'copter 18, but it might have been a power issue.  The Firehawk ('copter 15 (N15LA)) has quite a bit more power.  I'm a bit curious why they didn't load from the one wheel or one skid position unless they were worried about the slick conditions. The rotor is uncomfortably close to the ground on that side and it takes quite a few people to load a patient that is back boarded.

Awesome report and pics. Thanks! I see those pilots frequently practicing landings up there.

whatmeworry wrote:

The right equipment and the ability to use it is vital. Keep the trekking poles for low angle terrain.

Thats what the nanny state would have people believe.
In actuality, equipment is designed for a specific purpose and does not guarantee anything as far as conquering MtBaldy or whatever these people are trying to do.

If someone wants to stay on the side of caution, its not about bringing crampons and ice axes. Its about not going where they will be lost.
Ya dont go up a steep off-trail climb if you are lost. You go as far as it is safe from your car and then turn around and call it a day. Its about adaptation, not domination....if your agenda is safety.

The closures.....aka the declaration of incompetence. I say put it in writing or shut up. As far as it being unprecedented, this was a land grab and to me they have no legitimacy....none. I never believed them either when they said they wouldnt interfere with Baldy or the 3Ts. And of course one of the first things they did was to hire rangers to check permits on the Icehouse trail.

AW wrote:
I never believed them either when they said they wouldnt interfere with Baldy or the 3Ts. And of course one of the first things they did was to hire rangers to check permits on the Icehouse trail.

Permits have been required on the Icehouse Canyon trail for as long as I can remember. Yes, enforcement has been lax to the point of being non-existent. Nevertheless, it has always been a legal requirement to have one.

I think part what is being called "nanny state" activity is actually a defense against lawsuits. A famous example are the lightning rods and signage installed on the Mt. Whitney hut after successful suits over lightning caused deaths there.

I imagine checking permits was more so that everyone out there that day was registered, so they can better keep track of who might be missing. Because I believe the permits are for limiting the number of visitors to the designated wilderness areas in order to preserve vulnerable natural elements, and it's not like it was going to be overcrowded on that day. That's why usually they only check them on popular summer weekends, because there may actually be more people than are allowed (for the preservation of natural wilderness).

A coworker told me a friend of his was one of the injured evacuated.

Nearing the top his crampons didn't grip the rock hard ice, nor did his ice axe help much, he slid about 600ft.

worst of it is several broken ribs, one of which had to be removed because it poked a hole in his lung

No helmet though I suppose at the speed he was going it wouldn't matter much if his head hit a rock or a tree.


Indefinite trail closures sought

.....The Angeles National Forest supervisor Jeffrey Vail is expected to sign an order Tuesday, Feb. 9, that would authorize rangers to cite anyone trespassing on the Icehouse Canyon Trail on the border of San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. The trail leads to three other trail systems.

Trespassers face a $5,000 fine and a six-month jail sentence, said Nathan Judy, fire information officer for the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel National Monument. Monday, yellow tape and an electronic message sign at the trail head warned hikers to stay out. ....

.....Judy was asked whether those persistent cold conditions could have been forecast, and hikers been warned about the potential for iced-over trails. Judy referred that question to the Angeles National Forest office, where no one could be found Monday to provide that answer....

So now any trail in the mountains that is subject to ice is too dangerous?
Why is the PCT any different from the Baldy area? Or Baden-Powell? Or Pine Mountain? Has Iron Mountain been verified as safe? Mount Wilson? Mount Waterman?......and dare we mention Mountain High....leader in medical aid incidents.

Only open any of them when its dry from now on or admit liability. I guess they will consider a mountaineers permit with 96 hours advance notice? LOL. Forum Index -> San Gabriels
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