Thursday, August 14, 2008

Biker rescue at Mt. Wilson Trail

On my recent training hike to Mt. Wilson, as it occasionally happens, I ran into a mountain biker flying downhill. I stepped aside to let him pass, but instead he slammed on the breaks and hastily let me know that his buddy was further up lying immobilized with a broken leg. Then he asked me if I knew, "What trail we were on!?"

Now, to me it seems rather imprudent to hit an unknown track where one risks a fair chance of getting hurt in the first place, however, some of these hapless bikers can only be partially to blame. The top end of Winter Creek Trail at Manzanita Ridge is clearly marked as a bike trail, without any suggestion for further bearings. Although the Altadena Toll Road one half a mile up is the natural choice to proceed, no signs indicate such a direction. So, invariably the riders that make it up to the Ridge, just take the first trail down to the left. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Mt. Wilson Trail (especially above Orchard Camp) with its steep banks, loose dirt, less than 6 inches width in many places, brush cover of less than five feet height at times and tons of bees during buckwheat flowering season is hardly conducive for riding. Just as this unlucky rider found out after the first hundred feet on the trail, where he was down with a broken tibia and a dislocated foot.

I checked on his condition, helped him elevate his leg, and just tried to get him as comfortable as it was possible under the circumstances, before hiking further up in an attempt to get a cell signal. When I reached 911 and gave them my location, they dispatched me to the LA County Sheriff air rescue who promised to send help shortly. I was only about two miles from the top, so I summited, before heading back to the sight of the accident.

Just passed the Toll Road on the way down, when I first spotted a Jolly Green Giant circling overhead, realizing that the guy must have been lying there by then for close to two hours. Noticing that the rescue chopper made several passes on the other side of Harvard Peak and the north face of the Ridge, I also recognized that they must not have the exact location of the stricken biker. I ran down on the firebreak to David Trinkle's Bench, and threw down my trekking poles into a cross on the middle of the clearance, in an attempt to mark my location. I got out my headlight too, set it to flashes, and held it to the direction of the helicopter for about two minutes, when they finally noticed me.

When the thing hovered close enough that I could make out the rescue guys' facial expressions, I started pointing wildly down-trail to let them know where the injured biker was. I thought I would hang around, and check out how they are going to come down, until I realized that the giant S-61 was making a beast of a sand storm as it was getting lower. I quickly picked up my gear and scrammed for cover.

At least I managed to shoot one picture with my cell phone. The biker called me a few days later. He said, he had been airlifted to Huntington Memorial and been sent in for emergency surgery the same night. He got a plate and some screws in that leg. Eric, I am glad you are all right, buddy...