The Dog Stories of Sierra Madre Search and Rescue

Sierra Madre Search and Rescue’s (SMSR) motto is “anywhere in the wilderness that someone needs help.” And by anyone we mean human, dog, donkey, mule, horse or bear. Yes, we’ve rescued them all, but the dogs we have rescued have a special place in our hearts.

Since the team started keeping records, in 2003, there have been 41 dog rescues. The Team has helped dogs that have been out with their lost owners, stranded in steep terrain, dangerously overheated, or simply exhausted.

Overheated Dogs

In the last couple of years SMSR has seen multiple overheated dogs on the Mount Wilson Trail. This trail has very little access to water or shade and is a dangerous place for a dog on a warm day. In these cases, rescuers responded with extra water, frozen water bottles and ice packs to begin cooling the dogs immediately and then transported the dogs off the mountain. 

When considering taking your dog for a hike, remember that short snout breeds like pugs and Boston terriers are not great hikers. They are especially prone to exhaustion and overheating. If temperatures will be reaching 75℉ carefully consider how dark your dog’s coat is and how much shade is on the trail. If temperatures will reach 80℉ it is best for your dog to stay home. When your dog does join you for a hike be sure you carry plenty of water for both of you. 

Lost Dogs

Two dogs SMSR helped this summer spent an unexpected night out with their owner and a friend when the group got lost on a hike to Cooper Canyon Falls. A SMSR team was thrilled to find the group alive and well the next day, and hiked the women back to the trailhead giving the exhausted pups a ride for most of the hike out.

In 2019 one dog helped lead rescuers to their missing owner. On July 12 Sheryl Powell and her dog went missing from the Grandview Campground near the Bristlecone Pine Forest. Teams from across California joined in the search and on day 4 of the search the dog was found, alive and well. This find caused search assignments to be shifted to the area, and later in the day Mrs. Powell was located alive and well by a SMSR crew. 

Stranded Dogs

Another dog helped lead SMSR to a new team member. In 2014 Bandit was out hiking with his owner, Michael Owens, when Bandit got stranded on a narrow ledge off trail. Our friends with the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, sent rescuers down on ropes to retrieve Bandit and hoist him back up to the trail. This was Owens’ introduction to what mountain rescuers do, and shortly after Owens joined SMSR.  

Behind every search, and each rescue that SMSR responds to there is a story to be told. But the ones that involve dogs are especially memorable to our teammates. Although we are always ready to help any dog that needs it, we’d rather you be prepared when you are hiking with your dog so that we don’t have to. 

Know that dogs build physical fitness just like you. If your dog only takes walks around the block, they’re not ready for a 14 mile trip to Mt. Wilson. Be cautious about putting them in a situation where they will overheat. Know that your dog will be safest on a leash.

Since 1951, the all-volunteer Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team has responded to calls for help in the local mountains and beyond.  SMSR also provides a range of wilderness safety programs. The Team never charges for any of these services, and is funded entirely by charitable donations. For more information, to donate, or to arrange a wilderness safety demonstration for your school or group, visit www.smsr.org

Sierra Madre Search and Rescue searches for Maria Tice

The Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team (SMSR) has been assisting San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team (SDMRT) in the search for Maria Loida Tice. This 60 year old woman is missing after heading out on a hike to Iron Mountain with a Meetup group on Saturday February 13th. She was last seen by other hikers around noon as she was nearing the summit and still hiking towards the top.

Iron Mountain is considered one of the most strenuous hikes in Southern California. The trailhead at Heaton Flats starts at an elevation of 2,000 feet and the trail climbs about 7 miles up to the peak at just over 8,000 feet. The trail is rough and rugged. A few years ago this peak was rarely hiked, but it has recently become more popular. It is part of a worrying trend that the Search and Rescue team is seeing. Social media sites are pushing people to attempt hikes they never would have heard of before, and that are often beyond their capabilities. 

Members of the Meetup group Tice was hiking with summited before her and saw her on their descent. She still wanted to continue to the summit. Tice was not reported missing until Wednesday February 17th by concerned coworkers. Members of the SDMRT and SMSR responded immediately and raced to get searchers inserted by helicopter onto the peak before sunset. Searchers then worked through the night on the mountain. 

On Thursday February 18th searchers were called in from around Los Angeles county. On the weekend the call for help extended throughout southern California with teams from Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and San Bernardino counties responding. Dozens of searchers, dog teams and multiple airships have participated in the search. The terrain is vast and grueling. Search assignments have been starting first thing in the morning and sometimes aren’t completed until the early hours of the next day.   

Unfortunately this is not the first search SMSR has been a part of involving a Meetup Group or other hiking group. Below are some tips you can follow to keep yourself and others safe when participating in a hiking group. Following these simple steps could save someone’s life:

Do not depend on someone else in the group to take care of you.

  • Carry the 10 essentials
  • Carry a map that you have looked at to get an idea of the area you are hiking
  • Tell someone who is not on the trip where you are and when to expect you back  

Take steps to look out for your fellow hikers. If the group leader isn’t doing it, you can.

  • When you meet in the parking lot create a list of everyone’s:
    • Name
    • Cell phone number
    • Emergency contact
    • License plate
  • Have a knowledgeable hiker who knows the route lead
  • Put a strong hiker in the back (a sweep). The sweep never passes a group member.
  • Group up at trail junctions or any possible points of confusion
  • Be sure everyone makes it off of the mountain.

If a group member decides to separate from the group for any reason be sure they get off of the mountain safely. Check for their car in the parking lot when you return (you have their license plate number on your list) or call them later in the evening (you have their number on your list.) If they don’t make it off of the mountain call 911. This simple act could save a life. 

SMSR is grateful to the people they have found on social media who were hiking the mountain the day Tice went missing. They have provided valuable information to help in this search. 

Anyone with information on Tice’s whereabouts is urged to call the sheriff’s department’s missing persons unit at 323-890-5500.

Since 1951, the all-volunteer Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team has responded to calls for help in the local mountains and beyond.  SMSR also provides a range of free wilderness safety education programs. For more information on the Team, to donate, or to arrange a wilderness safety demonstration for your school or group, visit www.smsr.org. 

Missing Hiker Found Alive and Well After 7 Days

On Saturday June 22nd, 73 year old Eugene Jo went hiking out of the Three Points trailhead in the San Gabriel Mountains with 6 other hikers. Around 3:00 pm Jo became separated from the group. He was found 1 week later on Saturday June 29th after a massive search effort by search and rescue teams from across California. 

The Montrose Search and Rescue Team received a report of a missing hiker around 7:00 pm on Saturday June 22nd. As they began their search, the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team and the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team were called to assist. Field teams searched the area through the night, watching the sunrise on their assignments.

On Sunday, fresh searchers from 7 of Los Angeles County’s search and rescue teams deployed, and search assignments expanded. In the daylight they searched the trails in the Mt Waterman area, as well as off trail areas near where Jo’s hiking group had lunch. On Monday June 24th teams throughout California were called to join the search.

In the end, 25 teams responded from 10 counties including teams as far away as Marin and San Diego counties. Approximately 3,200 acres were searched by 327 searchers alongside LA Search Dogs, Special Enforcement Bureau’s Unmanned Aircraft System, LA Sheriff’s Department and LA County Fire Department helicopters.

On Saturday June 29th over 75 searchers deployed into the field. That morning Jo was located deep in Devil’s Canyon by a field team from the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team. Jo was extracted by Air Rescue 5 and taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital where he was released later the same day.  

Jo’s family said that he would not give up. They were correct. Jo drank stream water, ate plants and tried to signal helicopters with his red vest. He was deep in thick brush in a huge search area though so he wasn’t located until a ground team got close to him and heard his response to their voices. 

The Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team (SMSR) fielded 23 team members who logged over 650 hours between time spent in the field and assisting the Montrose Search and Rescue Team with overhead management of the operation. In large scale searches Incident Management Teams play a critical role. Throughout the day, personnel in the command post manage radio communication with field teams, interview the friends and family, interact with the media, debrief search teams, and processes GPS track logs. Based on information from each days’ search assignments and new information, the Planning Section works through the night to determine where teams will search the next day. 

As for the reactions when Jo was located, one SMSR team member reported, “I was elated when the radio call came in,” and another member shared that, “there were smiles, hugs, and tears of joy.” For now team members have returned home to wash off the dirt, tend to their bruises, and catch up on some much needed sleep. For SMSR it was a week spent in the service of their motto, “Anywhere in the wilderness someone needs help. . .”