Critically Missing in Strawberry Meadows

Many people who follow the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team or other SAR teams on social media are familiar with what we do and our messages on how to be safe in the mountains and avoid ever needing our services. What many are not familiar with is how a SAR operation evolves. The often demanding physical and mental effort in challenging conditions involving many individuals, SAR teams and other agencies that usually lead to a successful outcome are notable and worth sharing.

At 10:28pm Sunday night, the pager went off. Montrose Search and Rescue was requesting help to search for an autistic, deaf, missing person in the Strawberry Meadows area. Along with children, individuals with disabilities are considered as “critical” subjects where time is of the essence – particularly if weather or location present notable risks. Ten members of SMSR stopped getting ready for bed and shifted to getting ready to head out into the night in sub-freezing temperatures to support the search effort.

The missing person, who was separated from his group, had been missing since just before noon. Like many hikers out for the day, our missing person was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, simple sneakers, and was not carrying any supplies. His friends and other hikers made every effort to locate him, but his disappearance wasn’t reported to SAR until late evening. As weather conditions were deteriorating, SAR teams knew time was of the essence to prevent hypothermia, dehydration, or risk of injury.

Utilizing information gathered from the friends of the missing person combined with detailed knowledge of the area, senior members of the responding SAR teams acting as the “operations leader/incident commander” (in this case, since it was in their area, Montrose SAR personnel filled this role) determined the best course of action. Rescuers from Montrose, Altadena, LASD ESD, and Sierra Madre were deployed from various trailheads to maximize our ability to quickly locate our missing hiker. Covering areas in which a missing person is likely to be found is one of the reasons SAR operations require large numbers of trained personnel. A helicopter from Los Angeles County Fire joined the search for almost an hour but, due to the low clouds and fog, they were not able to locate our missing hiker. 

One team, who was alerted by their search dog, stopped, and heard moaning sounds emanating from hundreds of feet below the trail. A rescuer from Montrose SAR went over the side into the canyon and confirmed that we had located our missing subject and while he had only minor injuries, extensive work would be required to rescue him. It was now just before 1 a.m. on Monday morning.  

Rescuers had been in the field now for nearly 3 hours and the weather remained poor with fog limiting visibility and a constant drizzle ensuring that everyone was wet. The missing hiker had been found approx. 3.3 miles from the nearest road and now that the “search” part of the search-and-rescue operation was done, crews on other search assignments shifted their focus to rescue.  SMSR was requested to bring the equipment necessary for the technical rescue of a subject over 500’ off the trail and in a canyon. Carrying multiple 150’ coils of rope, a rescue litter and wheel, and equipment to set-up rope rescue systems the teams also gathered extra clothing and additional medical equipment that would be necessary to care for the hiker during what would be several more hours on the mountain.  The SMSR field crews, composed of 3 women and 4 men (many are surprised by the diversity in SAR) traveled through the mist, over snow and ice, and downed trees to aid in the rescue. 

Members of these crews rappelled down to the missing hiker and joined the rescuer already with him to assess his injuries and provide him with warm clothing, gloves, and a hat. By putting rope hand lines in place, they were able to help him climb 300’ before the terrain became too steep and choked with downed trees to continue. With the possibility of a long technical rescue and with on scene crews having been in the field for an extended time, additional resources from other LASD SAR teams were requested. With the arrival of additional rescuers and more resources from the San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team enroute to augment existing personnel, systems were built to lower a rescuer on a rope rescue “system” in order to initiate what we call a  “stranded hiker” rescue. 

Due to the unique circumstances associated with a deaf and autistic individual, two rescuers, one above to help with face-to-face communication, and one below to help guide him worked in conjunction with the rope rescue equipment being managed by the personnel on the trail to get our hiker out of the canyon. Although he was worn out and suffering from a deep cut over one eye and several lacerations on both legs, the hiker was quite brave and determined to help us help him get to safety. It was now just after 7 a.m. Crews had now been in the field for over 10 hours.

Based on trail conditions observed during the search, crews knew the trails for a possible ground evacuation contained too many hazards for a “wheel out” utilizing a rescue litter and wheel. Various evacuation options were considered and rescue leaders felt that, if a small break in the weather were to be present, a helicopter-based rescue would be the best option. A request was made to the Los Angeles County Fire Department for assistance and LACoFD’s ‘Copter 22 flew in to assess the possibility of a hoist. The weather turned out to be quite marginal, but we got lucky with a moment of clearing. With a hoist rescue not being possible, crews quickly got our hiker ready for transport and assisted him to an area where the helicopter could land on one wheel. Members helped our hiker climb into the Helicopter, and he was off to a trauma center. This is the video we shared earlier that shows about 90 seconds of what had transpired up to that point. It was now just about 8 a.m. and rescuers had been in the field for 11 hours. 

While  our subject was safely transported and out of the mountains, rescuers still needed to safely get off the mountain. Rescuers gathered all their equipment and began the hike out. Thankfully, the fresh rescuers from San Dimas met us along the trail to help the fatigued crew carry the gear out. Crews reached the command post at Red Box at approximately 9:30 a.m. and just over 12 hours since beginning the operation. We are glad to have been trained and equipped to support this SAR effort and hope this write-up gives you a sense for how SAR is a “team” activity that involves a lot of effort on the part of many individuals and agencies.  

SMSR wants to remind everyone that even though the weather in local towns is warm and sunny, extreme conditions continue to exist  above 3500’. Please be prepared for these conditions – including being equipped to spend an unexpected night out, never hesitate to turn back when hazards arise, and do not delay on calling for assistance.

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.

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

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 

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. . .”