By Jason KUROSU
Even though summer is not officially a month old, the Montrose Search and Rescue volunteers have kept busy as activity has yet to slow down in the Angeles National Forest, as wondrous as it is perilous for motorists and hikers.
During the months of June and July, noteworthy incidents in the Angeles National Forest have included the death of a motorcyclist upon slamming into an SUV, two injured when a car plummeted 50 feet down an embankment, one killed and four injured when a car fell 100 feet over the side of a cliff on the Golden State (5) Freeway heading through the forest, and more than a few hikers required rescue after finding themselves lost, ill or dehydrated. Most recently, two teenage hikers were airlifted out of Devil’s Canyon after becoming lost on Tuesday.
“Last year was a record year,” said Mike Leum, assistant director reserve chief, Montrose Search and Rescue. “The concerning part is whether or not that was an anomaly or the new normal.”
John Camphouse, reserve captain for the Montrose Search & Rescue Team said that the number of incidents is not necessarily atypical, though the month of May was somewhat high with 17 incidents.
“We usually handle around seven or eight calls a month,” said Camphouse.
Leum said that social media has changed the dynamics of how people venture into the Angeles National Forest and how search and rescue operations are carried out, referring to the social media and technological expansion as a “double-edged sword,” allowing for a quicker response from emergency personnel while also giving people the impression that they will always have a lifeline to the outside world if they are in trouble.
“It’s made our job easier in some respects,” said Camphouse. “But on the flip side, there are a lot of people who rely on their phones and don’t plan for what happens when there isn’t service or the batteries die.”
Leum said that around 25% of Montrose Search and Rescue missions were a result of people using their cell phones to call 911.
“Technology has changed the nature of the business, but not the frequency of incidents,” Leum said.
Motorcycling remains a common activity, particularly on weekends.
“Every weekend, there are multiple accidents involving motorcycles,” said Leum, who noted that the recent fatalities were a result of less-experienced motorcyclists trying to keep up with others in their group.
The forest has also become host to some more extreme activities such as hang gliding, with social media only increasing the ability to arrange larger meetups for such events. However, Leum said that it is usually in the best interests of the guides arranging these activities to ensure nothing happens to the participants.
Camphouse recommended hikers not rely on technology and instead bring the Ten Essentials, survival items recommended for safe travel in nature areas. They include maps or GPS, sun protection, insulation such as warm clothing, a headlamp or flashlight, first aid supplies, a firestarter, a repair kit and tools, extra food, water, and emergency shelter such as a tent. Filing a hiking plan is also recommended. A copy of the plan can be found at www.cvweekly.com.