Campers Rescued after 2 weeks.

Looks like the TV station won’t let me embed their video so you’ll need to click on the link.

Here’s the TLDR. A couple in their 30s and their 2 dogs are camping on Alamo Mountain. It snows. They get their truck stuck in a snowdrift next to a downed tree, presumably accidentally. Now they are on top of a mountain in very bad weather.

Two weeks later they hike to a location where there is cell service and call 911. When they are rescued, they are sunburned and dehydrated but otherwise OK. They reportedly heard the weather report indicating a storm was coming but didn’t think it would hit them.

If you are in the backcountry mountains, you only mistrust the weather forecast if it is good. If it is a poor forecast always trust it.

Click on image for a bigger map.

That’s Alamo Mountain, lower left. The only established campground up there is Dutchman. The road that climbs up and loops around the mountain is 8N01. Yup. I’ve been up there. Nice country, would be a lot nicer if not for the bark beetle and the drought. Look to the upper right and you see the closed Hardtack Campground. A lovely place to hike much of the year, it was 3000 ft lower in elevation and yet also under snow from the storm.

I’m not sure how they got up there. The Forest Service locks those roads down in winter. Sometimes for far longer than necessary. Either a gate didn’t get closed or some naughty person drove around it.

Next, buried in a snowbank next to a downed tree isn’t where you normally park your car. I think the missing part of the story involves trying to drive out of there and losing control. Maybe the tree fell during the storm and that’s what stopped them. That’s a very frightening situation. They may have been well prepared (chains, 4WD, hi clearance, deep tread) and skilled in winter mountain driving and simply got a bad die roll. Or they were ill-prepared and unskilled and got really freaking lucky. There are places where one could easily slip over the edge and not be found until spring.

It took them two weeks to hike far enough to get a cell signal. That campsite is only a road mile or two from cell coverage. I suspect they were hoping the snow would melt quickly enough to get their car out of there. Or maybe they thought it was too damned cold to take the risk. Heavy snow often comes to the San Bernardino mountains and disappears in a couple days but this is a very cold winter. Since they were already camping, waiting it out may have seemed the best thing to do.

Nobody wants to call SAR if there’s a chance of self-rescue. But food eventually runs out. Couldn’t get a vehicle up there so they were evacuated by helicopter. (Been there. done that, didn’t get a t-shirt.)

My biggest criticism?  Nobody knew where they were or expected to hear from them. Nobody said, Where the hell is X? They haven’t checked in. Better call the forest ranger. Or, OMG! We just got walloped by the biggest winter storm in a decade and they are on top of a mountain. We better check on X!

That’s the real problem. But they were young and immortal and nothing can go wrong. If they really want to explore the back of beyond, let me suggest a SPOT or InReach satellite communicator. Rent it from REI or buy it outright.

Despite their mistakes, they did well. Good on them for staying alive, unfrostbitten and not needing to eat the dogs.

During the same storm, someone got stuck on top of Mt. Pinos. A curious thing since CalTrans is supposed to check to make sure there are no vehicles up there before they close the snow gate. Somebody messed up.

Lots of places up there with cell signal. They got rescued the next day when Search and Rescue drove a snowcat (a vehicle designed for ski resorts) up the mountain to get them. Pinos is a big-time cross country and sledding recreation area so I’d expect them to plow that road quickly. This person would not have had to wait for more than a day or two even if they hadn’t called.

The moral of the story is that even the relatively domesticated Southern California mountains are dangerous. Be prepared for bad weather in the wild and don’t disregard forecasts. If you are in the mountains and snow starts to fall, git while the gittin is good or find a comfy place to spend the duration. Let someone know where you are going, when you are coming back and when to call out the Gendarmerie.

Familiarity should not breed disrespect.