Sub-Title: Embarrassed but alive
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
Occasionally, powder would accumulate on the bottom side off our crampons
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
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
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
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.
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.