Callouts Continue for MSAR

Members of Montrose Search and Rescue team head down a snowy patch after searching for a hiker who was missing.
Photos courtesy of MSAR


For the third week in a row CVW is writing about hiking before, during and after storms – especially since recent recorded rainfall totals have drenched the entire state.

California, like most places on Earth, can have rainfall occur in one area and then, not too far away, the sun is shining. This happens in areas like the Angeles National Forest where an all-out storm can be happening while in lower elevations the rainfall is light or not at all. But the rain is going to fill the higher level creeks and that water is going to flow down to the lower elevations.

“Some of these creeks are really cool but are unpredictable,” said Sgt. John Gilbert, Los Angeles County Sheriffs Dept., Montrose Search and Rescue (MSAR) coordinator.

This is just one phenomenon that occurs, especially during and after storms; another are rock slides and mudflows. Rock slides can happen at any time, although they are especially prevalent after storms.

And then there are snow and ice, which was part of these recent storms. Gilbert said even for those who are experienced snow slip and falls can be dangerous and even fatal.

“One of the fatalities a week ago happened to an experienced [winter hiker] who took a bad fall,” Gilbert said. “With these conditions it [is not] a good time right now [to hike].”

Searchers are nearly buried in the snow during a search.

This is true for experienced hikers, those who think they are experienced and novice winter hikers. Since Friday, MSAR members have assisted other search and rescue teams that have been looking for hikers, and responding to those who have taken a fall.

“On Friday we were asked to assist with San Bernardino County Sheriff in Mt. Baldy. They have had a tough go of it in the West Valley Search and Rescue,” he said.

Gilbert said West Valley members responded to several callouts concerning lost and injured hikers.

“They had a missing hiker out of their area [who] is still missing,” he said.

While MSAR members were assisting in the search the West Valley team received a call about another slip and fall.

About 80% of the slip and fall callouts are for those ill-equipped or not at all prepared for the snow and ice, Gilbert said. He added often hikers think it is a nice day for a hike so they won’t need the specialized equipment or training. Or they are just not trained or have not kept up with their winter skills training.

On Sunday and Tuesday the MSAR team assisted San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team in the Windy Gap area by Mt. Islip. The situation had team members in extreme snow and ice conditions searching for a missing hiker who has yet to be located.

This search was difficult even for those on the team who are trained and continually refresh their skills and have the right equipment.

Gilbert also added that these missing hikers were hiking alone, another action that is ill advised especially in these types of conditions.

“I think the best case scenario is to wait a few days [to go hiking],” Gilbert said.

Wait to hike in the snow, ice or even on trails that may be familiar. U.S. Forest Service teams are inspecting trails for damage from the storms. Gilbert suggested allowing a few days of sunlight to pass before venturing out.

Drifts like this are particularly dangerous for hikers during snowstorms when visibility is reduced and they are not expecting such an extreme drop off.

“But for those who are interested in going on a snow and ice adventure make sure [you] have the right equipment,” he said. “And take a mountaineering course from a reputable company.”