Rescue with Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit

On Saturday, January 21st, the Team was paged to assist Altadena Mountain Rescue with four hikers and a dog stuck above the second waterfall in Eaton Canyon. With the help of LACoFD, all were safely rescued.

Upon arriving back at the station, a mutual aid request was sent to teams throughout the state to assist Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit with a rescue for a woman who slipped 150’ on ice earlier that afternoon. Two members of RMRU hiked in late afternoon to provide warm clothing, a sleeping bag, and spent the night hovering over the subject to provide protection from ice blocks that rolled down the slope throughout the night. 

Four members of SMSR arrived at the command post around midnight. After being briefed on the mission, assembling the needed rescue equipment, and traveling to the trailhead, they started their 6 mile approach with three members of San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team and three members of Orange County Mountain Rescue Team around 2AM. Members of the San Diego Mountain Rescue Unit happened to be winter training in the area and sent a few members in the middle of the night to assist from another approach route, but unfortunately were not able to access the scene due to hazardous ice conditions. Sierra Madre, San Dimas, and Orange County hiked throughout the night and arrived on scene by 9:30AM, after traversing an icy slope that required the use of proper snow travel technique with ice axes and crampons. With a combination of wind and sun, blocks of ice were falling from trees and rolling down while the teams were making their way towards the subject. 

High winds prevented helicopter operations, so the teams worked together to build rope systems to raise the subject back onto the trail in a litter and discussed staying another night until winds were favorable for a hoist or performing a series of lowers and raises to avoid moving the litter on an unsafe, icy trail. 

Four members of Winter SAR Ski Patrol arrived on scene to help haul the subject up to the trail. Around 3:30PM, winds had finally calmed and CalFire Copter301 was able to hoist the subject and her husband out. Together, the four teams gathered equipment and made their way back to the trailhead, meanwhile seven SMSR members hiked up the trail to meet with the four crews and carry their gear out. By 7PM, all teams were out of the field.

 Here are a few takeaways from this operation:

  • Hikers commonly mistake microspikes for crampons. Crampons have 10+ large spikes on the bottom and are worn with sturdy boots for crossing or climbing icy, high-angle slopes. Microspikes have small ¼ to ½ inch long spikes and are meant for flat terrain only. A basic set of strap-on crampons will cost around $150 minimum, while microspikes are around $75.
  • A wide, flat trail in the summer becomes a steep, slippery slope in the winter, with dangerous consequences in the event of a fall.
  • Turning around when conditions are unsafe is imperative to returning home safely.
  • Clear blue skies, known as “bluebird” days, do not always mean good snow conditions. 
  • Snow conditions may change throughout the day.  Afternoon snow may be soft enough to walk across, but could turn into hard ice by evening that persists throughout the next morning.  
  • Supportive agencies (i.e., Sheriff’s Department or Fire) can assist with helicopter hoists, but they are dependent on weather conditions and other factors. It is unsafe for helicopters to hoist subjects if there are high winds, so a hoist cannot be guaranteed. 
  • Rescue personnel have the option to decline any assignment that team members do not feel safe proceeding.

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