A Record Year for Montrose Search and Rescue

Big numbers for the local rescue team that is always at-the-ready.

Photo by Steve GOLDSWORTHY    Team members probe an avalanche debris field during a search on Mt. Baldy in December. The Montrose Search and Rescue team had a record-breaking year of call-outs totaling 147 responses by the team.

By Sabrina SHELTON


2019 was a big year for the Montrose Search and Rescue team. With it came new accomplishments, new records, and new obstacles.

MSR saw its biggest number of rescue calls in 2019 – 147. This beat out 2016’s 127 calls but that isn’t necessarily a thing to celebrate. More calls mean more people in danger, whether they’re hiking, cycling or driving.

Jeff Martin, assistant reserve coordinator and LA Sheriff’s Dept. deputy, noted the pros and cons of a record-breaking year.

“It’s good for the team, but more calls mean more help is needed,” he said.

While the volunteers love getting called into action things don’t always end well.

Of the 147 calls, 45 were cases of cars or motorcycles driving over the edge of a cliff. Thirty-five were rescue call-outs, meaning everyone searched for was found and needed minimal-to-no medical help. But there were also 42 search calls where the missing persons were either not found and the search had to be called off, or the missing persons were found deceased. These are the instances when MSR wishes people had taken smarter precautions.

“Dehydration is what you see the most,” team leader Doug Cramoline said. “[Also] going out without adequate footwear, water, that sort of thing.”

The good news for MSR is that many calls received are from the missing persons themselves because they have their cellphones on them. So when hikers find themselves turned around or out of water and sunlight, what started as a leisurely stroll turns into a survival situation.

MSR also saw an uptick in action last year because of increased communication with other county agencies. That’s when they responded to what turned out to be one of the most memorable calls of the year: searching for a hiker in icy conditions on Mt. Baldy. Timothy Staples, a search and rescue team member from West Valley, lost his life in the search that was eventually called off. But another search near Newcomb’s Ranch earlier in the year yielded an elderly missing hiker after seven days of searching. Those successes are what MSR holds onto.

Cramoline advised having a planned turnaround time when venturing out. If you don’t hit your mark by a certain time, he said, it’s time to turn around.

“We call it summit fever,” he said. “Getting home is mandatory; getting to the summit is not.”

Even if the plan is a flat-terrain walk during a lunch break, every person should create a hiking plan to send to someone at home. There is also a list of the 10 essentials to have on a hike. These tools and more can be found on the LA County Sheriff’s website at http://shq.lasdnews.net/content/uoa/RFB/LASDSearch&Rescue_HikingPlan.pdf and online at www.cvweekly.com/NEWS.

And for those looking to join the search and rescue team, there are monthly meetings at the CV Sheriff’s Station, 4554 Briggs Ave. The team meets at 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month. As the number of calls increase this year, the team is hopeful that it will also see an increase in rescues with happy endings.