OC Register:Timber Mountain 1/23/16 accident recountingPlease read on ocregister if reading full story. Posting is just for incident archive.
|With wind blasting and snow an icy crust at 8,000 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains, Rob Wayman shouts to his brother-in-law to head for safer ground, a patch of frozen dirt. Roiling gray clouds threaten snowfall, and Jason Lopez steps carefully. The spikes on his boots that Wayman gave him for Christmas are 3/8-inch long and barely able to grab onto the steep, slippery slope.
The steel tip of Lopez’s trekking pole catches. He twists to grab it but teeters.For a split second, Wayman thinks his brother-in-law will land on his knees. But Lopez hits the ice. He rockets down the mountain toward a vast snow and ice field.Wayman screams, “Put your feet down. Put your ...”Flailing, Lopez disappears over a ridge.
Wayman’s brain can’t take in what just happened. Is he dreaming? Reality hits. He yells, “Jason! Jason!”But the only sound is rushing wind. Wayman’s mind roars. Will he have to tell his sister, Jackie, that her husband didn’t make it?The drop-off below is more than 1,000 feet, nearly the height of the Empire State Building.What started out as a day hike on a brisk Saturday morning has turned into a battle for survival on Timber Mountain, an 8,303-foot peak where gravity reminds mortals why it’s one of the fundamental forces of nature.
But on this day, something unbelievable, something seemingly impossible, happens.
Jason Lopez and the Waymans grew up in Huntington Beach. In high school, Jackie, now 34, and Jason, now 35, became sweethearts. Later, they married. They moved into a house near the 405, just a few blocks from her parents.Jason Lopez is a technician. Jackie Lopez is a caseworker helping challenged children. Her 29-year-old brother is an audio engineer. The money isn’t big, but the love is huge.
With the coaxing of a friend, Jackie caught the hiking bug. Her brother joined the hikes, as did her husband. Gradually, the trio took on tougher routes – climbs, really. They navigated Mount Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone, a narrow ridge where 23-year-old Daniel Nguyen of Garden Grove fell and died this month.For the couple and Wayman, climbing is more about love for the natural world than about claiming peaks. They especially enjoy what they consider a particularly beautiful and relatively easy hike, Timber Mountain.“We’re given these gifts of nature,” Wayman says on a recent afternoon, “and most people don’t use them.”
Mountaineering is a sport of variables. Elevation plays a big role determining what is easy and what is difficult. So does topography. So does weather.Many consider hiking to the top of 5,687-foot Saddleback a safe, albeit rigorous, day hike.Yet during a March storm two years ago near the summit, Andres Marin, a husband and father, froze to death.
Jason Lopez and Rob Wayman hit the trailhead at dawn Jan. 23. After a few hours and hundreds of feet of elevation gain, the dirt trail turns to snow with patches of ice.As they ascend, the snow is up to their knees. They stop for an early lunch at Icehouse Saddle, a place where hikers often take a break.The higher they go, the colder it gets. Wayman tightens his green PrimaLoft jacket. Lopez zips up a blue jacket. About 500 feet from the summit, Lopez glances down a massive slope on his right. He realizes this is no place for error.Then, blackness engulfs him.
Wayman stares into the void where his brother-in-law just disappeared. “Oh-my-God,” Wayman yells, the words running together. “Ohmagod!”
He spots another climber just above. “Call 911! Call 911!”A voice in Wayman’s head prays, “Please don’t take my brother-in-law today.”
Wayman knows the clock is ticking. If the father of his niece and nephew somehow survives, there will be significant blood loss and the danger of hypothermia.The climber above descends. She has a radio, but there’s no reception. Wayman hauls down the mountain, hoping to locate a cellphone signal and find other hikers.“I need you to go with me,” Wayman commands five strangers, startled at his own voice. He explains that his climbing partner likely plunged more than 1,000 feet.
One of the hikers texts the San Bernardino County Communications Center, asking for a rescue helicopter. Several hikers wear full crampons, devices with 1-inch steel teeth that dig into icy terrain. They fan out, hoping to traverse Lopez’s trajectory. Wayman follows a parallel trail just below.A shout cuts through the air. Someone has found a blood trail. Wayman postholes through snow, each leg sinking in deep. His heart whispers, “I hope Jason’s alive.”Wayman spots his brother-in-law in a bush, tucked in a fetal position. Wayman peers at the body. Then he witnesses something amazing.
Movement.Lopez is covered in blood. His backpack and an American flag tied to a strap are awash in red. His head appears smashed in. He’s semi-conscious, moaning in pain and confusion.But he’s alive. There’s hope.As snow starts to fall, the mountaineers gently wrap Lopez in extra jackets to stave off hypothermia. With a location, the chopper arrives, but the team radios they need to refuel.Lopez starts to shiver. He becomes unresponsive. Finally, the chopper hovers overhead. A cable lowers a body basket and a volunteer with Mount Baldy Fire Department. Lopez is tucked in, secured with straps.On the uphaul, a control rope breaks loose. The basket spins wildly.Someone gets the basket under control. Lopez is rushed to a hospital.Jackie Lopez gets a text her brother sent from a stranger’s phone: “Jason had an accident.”She asks for details. Careful with his wording, Wayman replies, “Hurt bad helicoptering out he is stable nothing broken but concussion face laceration.”
Jackie drops off the kids at her parents. She races to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. When she sees her husband, she goes numb. His eyes are swollen shut. His skull and torso are wrapped in bandages. His face is a bloody pulp.That night in the hospital, she cries uncontrollably.
Doctors put Jason Lopez on a ventilator and in a drug-induced coma. Five days later, he emerges not knowing his name, unable to form words.
His skull is fractured from his left eye to the back of his head. The top of his skull is cracked. He suffered a shearing brain injury, caused when the head shakes violently, such as during an auto accident.Yet the fractures in his skull are so narrow, they are expected to heal without surgery. He has a broken wrist, but no other breaks. His internal organs are OK.The next day – one week after he tumbled down a mountain covered in ice chunks – Lopez wiggles his toes. A day later, he speaks.Jackie holds up a photo of their children.Her husband recognizes 11-year-old Gavin and 10-year-old Lily. He sobs.
Less than three weeks after the accident, doctors release Lopez from the hospital.Today, his arm and wrist remain in a cast. He’s slow on his feet. He sometimes speaks haltingly and can get confused. He needs therapy. His left eye is perpetually dilated, his vision blurred. Over time, doctors will determine if the problem is an optic nerve or in the brain.But every day, Lopez improves a little, and a little money trickles in via GoFundMe. On a brain injury scale of 1-8, he started out at 1. Now, Jackie estimates her husband at 6.He greets visitors on the sidewalk in front of his home. And he stands tall in the sunshine.
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|On January 23rd, my brother in-law and I went hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains with the goal of hiking up Timber Mountain. It was a nice day of hiking uphill in the snow, talking about life and joking around. It was the first time Jason got to use his micro spikes I had gotten him and my sister for Christmas.
We finally made it to the top saddle of Ice House Canyon where it branches off into all of the other trails you can take. We decided to take the trail up to Timber Mountain and so we began trekking up the semi-steep terrain with another hiker, Yvonne, who accompanied us up as we followed the GPS lines to the top.
We were walking along icy snow with our micro spikes and ski poles for stability when we were approaching the summit of Timber Mountain.We were about 500-600 feet away from the top when I suggested we move off the icy snow onto a patch of rocky dirt. As I turned my head around to check on Jason, he lost his footing and started to slide on the icy snow. I shouted to Jason as I saw him try to regain control and traction to put his feet down and dig in his spikes. Between the iciness of the snow and the lack of weight on his feet he was unable to stop and continued a fast descent down the snow covered mountainside until he wasn't visible anymore. I quickly started yelling his name and listening to see if I could hear his voice, and each time I heard nothing.
I quickly yelled to Yvonne who was accompanying us up to the peak and she logged GPS coordinates and got her ham radio out. With no luck on the ham radio we quickly walked back down to the saddle where patchy cell phone service would be possible and other hikers were so I could gather a team to set out across the hillside to search for Jason. We luckily made contact with four other hikers at the saddle, three of them, Brian, Anson and Mark, agreed to accompany me down the hillside to search. Brian, being an experienced mountaineer and Anson and Marc well adept at hiking as well were a blessing.
We spread out at different levels to comb the side of the hill. Making our way down and across the mountain about 1,000 or more feet down close the bottom of the hill. Marc made first contact with Jason vocalizing to the rest of us that he had found him by a trail of blood leading to him. As I approached Jason I could see he was hurt bad. The side of his face and clothes soaked in blood and he was semi-conscious moaning in pain and confusion.
Once the other two hikers Brian and Anson made it to us they took out extra jackets they had so we could cover Jason with jackets to prevent hypothermia. Brian an Anson logged GPS coordinates and gave them to Tyler and I so they could hike back up and get phone reception. Luckily Marc had one bar on his phone and was able to reach 911 and confirm a helicopter rescue was on their way to us.