Treasures of the Valley

Montrose Search and Rescue – A Special Rescue

I generally stick to things in my subject matter that are at least a couple of decades old. But Montrose Search and Rescue tales are so amazing that I just have to write about their thrilling stories. This tale is special in that it featured a tracking dog and involved the rescue of an individual who was disabled.

The call came in on a Sunday night with deteriorating weather conditions. On Sunday morning, one member of a hiking group had gotten separated from his group. This person was severely disabled, both deaf and autistic, and was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers, and had no supplies, no water or food. The hiking group looked all day for the lost man and finally, as night was coming on, they called authorities. Any time a child or special needs person is lost, it’s an “all-hands” situation for local search and rescue organizations. The Montrose Search and Rescue team was called out, along with LA County Sheriff’s Dept., Altadena Search and Rescue and Sierra Madre Search and Rescue.

It was dark and fog was setting in as the teams deployed at various trailheads. The Montrose team had a search dog with them and, sure enough, it was the dog that found the missing man. The dog stopped the team on a dark trail and looked down. When all was quiet, the team heard faint moaning from far below the trail. They would have missed him had it not been for the dog’s sharp hearing.

One rescuer went over the side on a rope and into the canyon and found the man 500 feet down the side with only minor injuries. However, it would take much work to get the deaf and autistic man out, and it was 1 a.m. and was drizzling. The Sierra Madre team hiked to their location with coils of rope, medical equipment and a rescue litter.

Several team members rappelled into the canyon and the lost man was helped about 300 feet up the side until it got too steep and choked with brush. For the remaining 200 feet, a special rope system was set up. Because of the lost man’s disabilities, the team set it up so that one man on the rope system would be below the man to help guide his legs and another facing the lost hiker to help communicate with the man face-to-face. With this complicated rope system, they were able to get the man to the trail where he was treated for several deep cuts. The lost hiker was in good spirits and helpful to the rescuers.

It was now 7 a.m. The teams had been hiking and working in the cold and wet for 10 hours. How to get the lost hiker out was a complicated decision. The trails out were just too treacherous. It was decided that instead of carrying the man out on a rescue litter, a helicopter rescue should be attempted.

A fire department helicopter flew in but the weather was too marginal for a hoist rescue. Instead the team assisted the lost man to a relatively clear area. At just the right time the fog momentarily cleared. The copter cautiously came down, placed one wheel on a flat spot on the steep slope, the other wheel hanging in space. The team helped the hiker into the open door of the helicopter, and they took off for a hospital.

Now the exhausted teams had to hike back out after an all-night effort carrying all their rescue equipment. Fortunately another SAR team from San Dimas met them on the trail and helped carry the heavy ropes and rescue equipment. All the crews finally reached the command post at Red Box at 9:30 a.m., after a full 12 hours of all-night strenuous effort in cold and wet conditions.

The Montrose Search and Rescue team is an all-volunteer group. It performs these rescues for free. These men and women are truly local heroes, our community’s best. For more of these stories, check out my book “Thrilling Tales of the Montrose Search and Rescue” available at local bookstores.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at