By Mary O’KEEFE
For the second time in less than two weeks Montrose Search and Rescue members responded to a call concerning bicyclists who found themselves stuck on the old bike path that started at Switzer Falls.
The most recent call-out came on Sunday about 8:22 p.m. Two mountain bikers, Dylan Fenster from West Hollywood and John Emami from Glendale, were reported lost somewhere along the Gabrielino Trail that runs from Switzer’s campground to Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The trail, which had been a popular ride for bicyclists for years, is one of the many victims of the Station Fire.
“After the fire, then the rains, most of the trail is washed out,” said Jerry Hill, MSR operations leader for the call.
The path is covered with debris about two-thirds the way down the trail, leading many bikers to decide to continue forward instead of turning back.
Emami had ridden the trail many times in t
he past but had not been on it since the Station Fire.
“We got to the [fork in the road] by Switzer Falls and could go to the left or right. We went to the right, the high trail that I normally biked, then we got down to the bottom of the basin and [the trail] disappeared,” he said.
The two cyclists decided to hike their way, both thinking the trail would pick up again. They ended up carrying their bikes about 90% of the way once they started hiking.
“What should have been a three hour ride took us seven and a half hours,” Fenster said.
Both men were experienced mountain cyclists, so they were not too concerned about their predicament, however it was getting dark and it had been a long hike carrying the bikes.
“It was so washed out in one section we had to throw our bikes down a 20-foot cliff, climb down and swim out to get our bikes,” Fenster said.
They knew where they were but decided they didn’t want to hike out the rest of the way. Emami was able to get cellphone reception, normally not easy to find in the area, and contact his father to tell him they were spending the night in the forest.
His dad contacted the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Department who sent out MSR.
“The Gabrielino Trail is pretty much gone,” said Mike Leum, MSR member. “Part of the trail that used to be elevated above the river has been washed away.”
He added the Station Fire and flooding took most of the trail and the recent winds snapped treetops off that fell onto other areas of the trail.
“It is about two-thirds down [and] then the 100-foot dam that catches everyone,” he said.
The Paul Little area is where the trail basically ends, near the dam.
Emami and Fenster walked along the creek, which was not easy.
“We were walking on mossy stones along the creek,” Emami said. “I pulled a muscle on my calf climbing up and over every log. … There was no solid ground to step on.”
It took the MSR team members about 40 minutes to reach the bicyclists. By that time Emami had ditched his bike, but Fenster was still carrying his.
The team was able to walk the two bikers and the one bike out of the area.
On Feb. 20 a similar story with luckily the same safe outcome occurred when two other bicyclists were lost in the same area.
Song Won Ju and Eun Sang You, both from Orange County, found themselves in the same “stuck” position when they biked the same path. They had reached the area where the trail just disappeared.
“Because it was still daylight we thought we might be able to find our way,” Ju said in a previous interview with CVW.
However, like Emami and Fenster, the sun went down quickly and they found themselves in the dark. They called 911.
“They had a [Global Positioning System] and we were able to relay their exact location, and they stated they would remain there until rescue arrived,” Leum said.
The two men had also carried their bikes along the creek. MSR members were able to guide the two out of the area.
“I was really grateful to see them,” Ju said. “I asked them if I could save my bike and they were able to bring both bikes with us.”
The issue, according to all four bikers, appears to be the lack of signage in the area that clearly marks the trail as closed.
“I am making a sign and giving it to the [MSR] during their volunteer meeting, at their [recruitment] meeting,” Emami said.
The MSR recruitment meeting is on March 28 at 7:30 p.m.
“There is not a sign there,” Leum said. “[With this trail] if you take the fork to the left it will take you to the bottom of the park of Switzer Falls. If you take the right, that’s the bike trail. That is where they need a sign.”
The U.S. Forest Service District rangers are assessing the trails, said Nathan Judy, U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
“They do put signs up but they are [often] torn down,” he said.
He added that many trails were affected by the Station Fire and flooding and that rangers continue to assess the area for any danger from falling trees and debris.
“There were signs at the [Gabrielino Trail], however it could be they were torn down,” he said. “We can put new ones up and this weekend they could be torn down again.”
The U.S. Forest Service advises those entering the forest to “know before you go.”
The ANF has a website, www.fs.usda.gov, and an “Interactive Zoom Map” that shows closed areas, however the trails that are closed are not easily identifiable.
MSR members spend many hours in the Angeles National Forest. Hill’s advice for those for those hiking, biking or camping in the area is to be prepared.
“Look at the map before you go. Talk to people and tell them where you are going [and when you plan to return],” he said.
Seeing Montrose Search and Rescue members coming toward them was a welcome sight for all four bikers.
All four bikers praised the MSR members for their professionalism and help.
“Those guys were amazing,” Emami said. “You hear a lot about heroes but these [guys] really are heroes.”
Montrose Search and Rescue will be holding their Recruitment Meeting on March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, 4554 Briggs Avenue. The team is a volunteer organization.
Those who are planning a trip to Angeles National Forest can go to the main USFS office at 701 N. Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia, 91006 or a closer regional office at 12371 N. Little Tujunga Canyon Road in San Fernando. Or call (818) 899-1900.
With the help of MSR members the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has made a checklist that can be completed before a hike, which will help in case a search is necessary. Visit http://file.lacounty.gov/lasd/cms1_163961.pdf for the form.