Rescued on Register Ridge

General Palm Springs area.

Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby Ellen » Thu Jan 26, 2017 5:44 pm

Sub-Title: Embarrassed but alive :oops:

It was either going to be a rescue or a body recovery. We chose the former.

Sally and I planned to hike up Register Ridge to Harwood, then over to Baldy and down the Ski Hut trail. We specifically avoided the Baldy Bowl due to avalanche concerns. Donned snowshoes at the base of the trail. Two skiers passed us before we turned off on the Register route. Before long, we wanted better purchase on the snow and switched to crampons and ice-axes. The snow was icy and often covered with frozen rime ice that had fallen from trees and bushes. There was so much new snow that the usual route was completely obscured, so we switch-backed our way up the ridge, trying to stay on the right side but far away from the corniced right edge. Whenever possible, I kicked in steps, otherwise I was side stepping up. Due to the rime ice on top of the snow, I tested every step before committing. Sometimes the rime ice broke off, so I had to find another place to step :shock: Occasionally, powder would accumulate on the bottom side off our crampons :roll: Climbing was slow work and very tiring. Due to the icy conditions, we did not want to down climb -- we'd also planned on coming down the less steep Ski Hut trail.

A bit after 12 noon, we reached a relatively flat saddle area and checked our elevation -- Holy <expletive deleted> we were only at 8,200 feet :o We started talking about our options, including being rescued. To cross the Devil's backbone, we needed to gain another 1,000 ft. This part of Register (what I call the last 1/3 of the climb) goes to the left of big rocks, then switch-backs up. It is VERY steep but not on a knife-edge ridge. There was so much new snow that the big rocks were covered -- all we could see was a steep climb and lots of trees laden with rime ice. Started to climb and found the snow as non-cooperative as before :cry: It was now 12:30 PM. Based on our slow rate of climbing, we would not reach Harwood until mid-afternoon (we specifically wanted to avoid the Devil's Backbone trail). There was no way to know the conditions up to Harwood, over to Baldy and down Ski Hut. We did the math and called it -- Sally pressed the 911 button on her SPOT.

We listened for the thump-thump-thump of a helicopter. Time passed. We started to get concerned and I pressed the 911 button on my SPOT. As we waited, clouds started rolling in :? REALLY? How ironic -- all we could do is laugh in frustration. Finally heard a helicopter but we weren't visible due to the clouds. The flying Angels persisted, the clouds lifted and they finally saw us :D Sheriff’s patrol helicopter 40King4 (Pilot Sergeant Dan Futscher and Tactical Flight Officer Deputy Paul Kowalski) told us to keep warm and stay in our location -- they had to figure out how to extract us. Shortly thereafter, Air Rescue 307 responded (Pilot Corporal Jon Anderson and Crew Chief Deputy Ed Leon) lowered Firefighter Spencer Brumbaugh down 100 feet to the hoist us up.
We were flown to Cow Canyon Saddle, then driven back to Baldy Village and up to Manker by Sherriff Faro: https://local.nixle.com/alert/5835610

These guys are heroes -- we love them. We are so glad no one was injured saving us. I've been reading the posts on the Sherriff's FB page. As in 2008, people are saying very nasty things.

Observations:

1) I have NEVER experienced conditions like this on Register Ridge or the Baldy Bowl and I've climbed in the Baldy/Cucamonga wilderness since 2009. I've always been able to go up Register safely with ice axe and crampons in the snow. Apparently, these conditions are similar to when numerous people died last year.

2) We had crampons, ice-axes, snowshoes, down jackets, rain jackets and enough food and fluid to spend the night.

3) We both had SPOT's and cell phones. We couldn't call or text from our location.

4) We will be making a donation to the SAR group that works with the San Bernardino County Sherriff's department -- West Valley Search and Rescue: http://westvalleysar.org

5) Our rescuers were very happy that we were prepared and not injured or dead, On the way back to Manker, Sherriff Farrow shared horror stories of last year's rescues/fatalities -- he is very concerned about the upcoming weekend.

6) Without snow, it usually takes me under 2.5 hours to summit Baldy from Register and about 5 hours for the full trip. With snow, it has taken 4 hours to summit Baldy. Yesterday, It took over four hours to gain 2,200 ft.

An embarrassed but grateful Ellen.
Last edited by Ellen on Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:14 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby Hikin_Jim » Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:16 pm

Yesterday, It took over four hours to gain 2,200 ft.
Wow!

Crap for conditions. Glad you guys are OK.

HJ
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby halhiker » Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:25 pm

Glad you're OK. You are also not the only people who had problems on Baldy.

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local ... 04895.html
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby bytebit » Fri Jan 27, 2017 7:46 am

Hi Ellen. Glad to know you and Sally are OK :D . I will make a donation to the wonderful organization who had you rescued. Yeah! I love Mt. Baldy. However, I prefer to hike it in less challenging conditions. See you around, David
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby whatmeworry » Fri Jan 27, 2017 9:59 am

Hi Ellen,

Glad everything turned out OK and, as always, thank you for supporting the local SAR teams.

Thank you for sharing your initial thoughts since is often useful to look retrospectively at what happened and see what "lessons learned" we can all take away.

Do you have a feel for where mistakes happened or where different decisions might have been made? Was hunkering down for the night and continuing with the planned route the next day considered as an option vs. triggering the SPOT? Do you think that knowing you had the SPOT available change your risk tolerance (this has often been a subject of discussion in the mountain SAR world)?

Note - I wouldn't suggest this via the FB channels since there are so many people that are merely interested in bashing and blaming, but this is a community of like minded outdoor enthusiasts. It would also be perfectly OK to take a pass on commenting further! Your write-up of the events on San Jac was quite good.

Understanding what happened may help others avoid a problem in the future. I agree with the Sheriff's comments about the potential for real issues this weekend. Baldy and some of the other high peaks in our local mountains can often become quite sketchy in these conditions. I would not be surprised at all to have someone buried in an avalanche. We dodged a bullet with yesterday's slide.

Thanks!
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby zippetydude » Fri Jan 27, 2017 12:57 pm

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Sally and Ellen, it is good that you are safe and sound. There are few adventurers who do not, at some time or another, encounter conditions that could not have been anticipated and which might have instantly ended in injury or death. The call was easily the right decision and quite clearly the result of unforeseeable circumstances. Each of you rest with a clear conscience.

With respect to the previous post asking for lessons learned, I wouldn't be surprised if your very honest answer turned out to be, "None that I can think of...we did everything according to a reasonable plan based on a great deal of previous experience, and nonetheless ran into extremely dangerous conditions."

On San G a few years ago I was snowshoeing at around 11,000 feet ascending over near Jepson. The snow was seemingly well consolidated and I was only sinking in about 8" as I stepped. All of a sudden, I stepped and the snow under my snowshoes began to slide very fast down the mountain. I slid perhaps 50' with the entire area flowing down with me, then stopped just as suddenly for no apparent reason. There was a hard layer of ice just under the 8" of snow that had been invisible and undetectable. After that, I simply made my way back down and called it a day. Lesson learned? Besides the fact that it is safer to never venture out, I can't think of one. There are simply some circumstances that go bad on you, and you simply manage them the best you can at the time.

That's what you did. Ya done good.

For now, the hills in Hulda Crooks Park in Loma Linda are covered in a beautiful carpet of freshly sprouted green grass, the best they have looked in years. You can see Baldy, San B, San G, and San J from the high points. Come take a hike in the SAFE ZONE and be glad you made the smart decision. :D I'll buy you both a delicious Thai lunch and you can tell me first hand about the whole ordeal.

z
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby Ellen » Fri Jan 27, 2017 2:08 pm

Greetings whatmeworry,

You asked:

"Do you have a feel for where mistakes happened or where different decisions might have been made? Was hunkering down for the night and continuing with the planned route the next day considered as an option vs. triggering the SPOT? Do you think that knowing you had the SPOT available change your risk tolerance (this has often been a subject of discussion in the mountain SAR world)?"

Sally and I spent a long time considering our options:

1) We could have spent the night. However, we were concerned that the snow/ice conditions would worsen overnight. We also didn't know what we would encounter a) continuing on to Harwood via the steepest part of Register Ridge b) going up the Devil's Backbone to Baldy (numerous rescues and deaths occurred there last year) and c) coming down from Baldy to hut -- we couldn't see any tracks coming down the north side of the bowl through the little forest. I am much more likely to slip going downhill, especially when exhausted.

2) If we had not had our SPOTs, we probably would have continued to climb until we ran out of daylight and/or energy, then found a place to hunker down, perhaps in more treacherous terrain. We tried to text with our iPhones but weren't successful. Our families would have activated SAR when we didn't return home Wednesday night.

Let me know If you have any further questions.

Embarrassed but grateful.

Ellen
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby Ed » Fri Jan 27, 2017 2:26 pm

Ellen,

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. There are so many SAR's where we have only fragmentary information, and don't know what lessons, if any, there are to be learned.

I guess the lesson here is that two people who are very fit, very experienced, very well equipped, and very familiar with the mountain and route can still be tripped up by snow conditions. And that it is a good idea to carry a SPOT.

I think you made a prudent decision.

I've had the experience, on both rock and snow, of reviewing all the alternatives - going up, going down, going sideways, etc. - and finding them all unattractive. "Unattractive' here is a code word for 'scared the bejesus out of me.' They occurred in an era which did not have the technology and resources for timely rescues. So all you could do is choose the least bad alternative, and hope it was your lucky day. I guess it always was. But relying on luck is definitely something to be avoided whenever possible.

Again, thanks for sharing your experience.
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby drndr » Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:46 pm

I have always thought how nice it would be to have all survivors of SAR rescues tell their story and answer the questions 'whatmeworry' asked. Probably a great read but really a great learning experience.

I think Ellen's tale of her San J experience in the hut on this forum opened a lot of eyes to what can happen in a bad situation.

D
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Re: Rescued on Register Ridge

Postby Ron Case » Fri Jan 27, 2017 5:16 pm

Great post Ellen and great replies. I appreciate people being free to ask semi hard questions that at least everyone for one sec at least pondered... end of the day we are here to help, to learn, to grow and to support people trying to take advantage of the amazing beauty the Lord has allowed us to live near.
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