For many, the repeated messages about mountain safety may seem excessive but given the current volume and seriousness of recent accidents in our local mountains, local SAR teams would like to reiterate and reinforce key safety considerations.
Venturing into the mountains at this time of year requires not only the proper equipment, but the skills and experience to recognize hazards of all types AND make informed decisions on mitigating those risks. Conditions will be variable and will change over time, often while you are on the mountain. You cannot control any of the objective risks associated with avalanches, weather, or terrain, but you CAN control your decision making and preparedness. Be honest with yourself and your partners in assessing your experience and readiness to address current conditions. If you are feeling uncertain or nervous – that is a warning to which you should listen. It’s important to note SAR teams are trained to perform rescues in various weather and terrain, but the conditions can still pose threats to their safety, causing them to decline an assignment and turn around, which could delay a rescue.
Mountain SAR resources from throughout California are being stretched thin. In January alone, three individuals remain missing and two people are dead on Mt. Baldy and the surrounding peaks. Another hiker remains missing on Cucamonga Peak since the Fall. This week, SoCal teams rescued two hikers from Mt. San Jacinto that involved rope rescue systems and took over 24 hours to complete. In our current conditions, a rescue may take many, many hours even if you’ve triggered an SOS via inReach or similar satellite messenger. Helicopters can be a great resource to assist SAR teams, but they cannot fly in high winds or poor weather. Being appropriately equipped (i.e., carrying the gear necessary to spend the night, in addition to the “Ten Essentials”) to spend significant time on the mountain waiting for ground crews to hike to your location may mean the difference between surviving and dying – even in the case of a “minor” injury. Solo travel will SIGNIFICANTLY increase your risks should something happen. ALL the missing hikers were alone or had separated from their group.
Let a responsible person in town know where you’re going, planned route, and when you plan on returning.
“Walking away is the chance to come back someday.”