CLMRG assists in ‘Mt. Baldy Miracle’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

CLMRG assists in ‘Mt. Baldy Miracle’After a pair of hikers were rescued five days after being stranded in Cucamonga Canyon, the team lead of volunteers from the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group shared the group’s piece of the story dubbed by searchers as “The Mt. Baldy Miracle.”

On April 6, 33-year-old Eric Desplinter of Chino Hills and 31-year-old Gabrielle Wallace of Rancho Cucamonga apparently set off on the Ice House Canyon trail toward Cucamonga Peak.

The pair failed to check in with friends by an appointed time on Saturday, and that evening they were reported missing.

Three CLMRG volunteers were among those who responded to the call for help, reporting to the command post Wednesday morning. One was assigned to a team searching the surrounding area.

The other two were assigned to the overnight team, led by West Valley volunteers who knew the area and were tasked with hiking to the summit of Cucamonga Peak, where they would set up camp and search through the next day.

“We visually scanned as much terrain as possible on the hike in, and reached the summit in the afternoon,” said Luke Swanson, team lead for CLMRG and member of the summit team (Team 2) during the rescue. Nathan Simons and Mike Franklin also volunteered to assist in the search.

“There was significant snow on a lot of the route, and we used crampons and ice axes for a lot of the ascent.”

Team 2 reached the summit and set up camp around 6:30 p.m.

“At this point, we heard over the radio that Team 1 [which the local volunteers had hiked with earlier that day before separating at the saddle] was following the tracks of two people,” said Swanson.

That was after scores of volunteers and public safety officials had spent four days combing the rugged terrain.

The missing hikers were seen huddled around a small fire by an aerial crew. Swanson and his team were informed shortly thereafter that the hikers had been found.

“We were then told to return to the command post and that a helo would pick us up,” he said. “We took cover from the wind behind trees or rocks and spent some time pacing around the summit, trying to stay warm.”

Around midnight, the helo arrived to gather members of Team 2 and return them to the command post. “We were happy to hear that the two missing people were found, and OK.”

CLMRG, along with other organizations, is made up of proficient mountaineers who are willing to devote time to aiding officials in search of those in distress.

“I really enjoy climbing, hiking and spending time in the mountains, so it’s great to be able to put my skills to good use and try to help others while doing what I enjoy,” said Swanson.

“I’ve learned a lot from some members of the group, especially when I was first learning to climb.”

CLMRG is called upon for 20-30 operations a year, though some years that number is even higher.

“We ask each member to commit to at least three operations per year, although some members go far beyond the minimum.”

Although the Mt. Baldy rescue had a happy ending, dozens of individuals die each year while exploring the California wilderness.

Swanson reminds hikers that telling a friend where you are going is an important part of planning for safety.

“I think there is a lot more to really being safe (or fast or capable) in the wilderness than I can state here, so if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you should get a good book, do some research and ask people.”

The best option, he said, is to start by going with people you trust who know what they are doing.

“There are lots of people in Ridgecrest that are happy to find more hiking and climbing partners,” said Swanson.

CLMRG also offers a summer mountaineering safety class every year. See www.clmrg.org/summerclass.html for more information.

Pictured: Volunteers from?Team 2 scale Mt. Baldy in search of missing hikers — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-04-19