Sunday, February 17, 2008

Search & Rescue Team trains on snow

Article & Photos by Jay Fermin ppp-usa

Los Angeles: Some of the mountain survival tips for hikers and skiers in winter weather are quite common sense. Tips range from as simple as letting somebody know where you will be starting your hike from and what time you’re leaving and what time you expect to return; or better yet, check in with the local forest ranger station at the trailhead of your hike, as well as having an imprint of your hiking boots by carefully stepping your boots on a piece of thick aluminum foil over a padding of folded towel on your kitchen floor and leave it at home or with friends or family so rescuers can track down your trail.

The ten essentials to good hiking according to West Valley Search & Rescue (WVSAR) are: Bring plenty of extra drinking water, plenty of extra food, first aid kit, large trash bag or tarp for shelter, whistle (which will carry your call farther than the loudest yell for help), lip balm, sun screen, signaling mirror, proper clothing and footwear and flashlights. They do recommend leaving a sample of your footprint at home using the foil technique above.

Also knowing the five W’s of survival are an essential part of a hiker’s safety: weather, wood availability, wigglies (spiders, scorpions, snakes), widow makers (rocks, trees, large animals that can fall or attack you), and water (where will you get water, and how).

On a recent beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon of February 16, 2008, I caught up with WVSAR units who were practicing their snow search and rescue operations at Manker Flats (elevation 6,300’) at the base of Thunder Mountain in San Antonio Canyon and is the usual acclimatization point and trailhead for hikers going up to Mount San Antonio, better known to most in Los Angeles as Old Baldy or Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains standing majestic at 10, 064 feet. Mount Baldy’s peak, surrounded by eight other peaks of considerable height, is called ‘Baldy’ because of the absence of trees around the summit.

Taking Mt. Baldy road with its steep curves and incline, I was quietly reminded by a sign on the side of the road halfway up that I am leaving Los Angeles County and crossing into San Bernardino County. Upon arrival at the Manker Flats, due to the beautiful sunny weather, people dotted the gentle slopes to my right playing and sliding on the snow while WVSAR vehicles (with their distinct VHF/UHF radio antennas) and Forest Services personnel in their light green trucks conducted snow training. This will be a good day for snow training with an average of 4 to 8 slip, trip and fall on the snow slide area and maybe an occasional hiker in distress.

Snow Training took the WVSAR personnel from the usual team meeting at Chino Hills Sheriff Station, classroom, and CPR & First Aid refresher to prepare them for their upcoming MRA (Mountain Rescue Association) Recertification on March 1, 2008. West Valley SAR’s area of responsibility includes mountains from Mount Baldy and the Los Angeles county line along Little Creek and down south to Chino Hills State Park. Due to the varied terrain and stiff cliff and incline, the team of 41 rescuers are well trained and equipped to respond to Search and Rescue efforts in alpine, mountain, urban and desert areas of the West Valley area of San Bernardino County. Mount Baldy’s backside rugged terrain (compared by some to Mt. Whistler in British Columbia and Crested Butte in Colorado), as well as the San Antonio Falls offers the hiker an opportunity for trouble, totaling almost one out of four rescues they execute. Other peaks in the San Gabriel Mountain range including the three T’s: Thunder, Telegraph, Timber, as well as Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks also get a chunk of the calls. Come to think of it, San Bernardino County with all its mountain ranges is the largest county in the United States.

As I watched the team practice the slopes and assist in minor slips among the weekend crowd, and waiting for an occasional call from the ski lift of Mount Baldy, I cannot stop but stand amazed at the dedication and preparation of this all volunteer but professional SAR team. They even expanded their efforts by presenting PSAR programs to the community, aptly called Preventive Search and Rescue.

How can we help the helpers? WVSAR is a non-profit volunteer organization that donates their time and resources in saving lives. They are funded solely by private contributions, grants, and fund-raising activities. In April each year, they hold their 5k and 10k marathon “Fun Run and Fund-Raiser.” Here is how you can help. Mail your tax-deductible donation to:

West Valley Search and Rescue
PMB 475, 8780 19th Street
Alta Loma, Ca. 91701

Or call Sheriff Sgt. Dennis Shaffer (Chino Hills) (909) 364-2021
Team Hotline (909) 207-2444
WVSAR website