• Mountains Mettle •
Tuesday’s news about the rescue of six hikers and a dog in the Zuma Trail area provided an example of local search and rescue work at its best. When someone is known to be in a specific area in an established time frame, crews not only will nearly always find their subjects but can bring them out of the toughest circumstances swiftly and safely. That’s a far cry from needle-in-a-haystack searches where there are no specific clues as to location and time for a missing subject. The Santa Monica Mountains are like an archipelago of volcano craters in that someone or something can disappear in an area of tall and thick chaparral and remain unseen until stumbled upon, most often by accident, when a hiker cuts through terrain that may have been untrod by humans for weeks, months, or even years.
This became evident when the Malibu Mountain Rescue Team, looking for two missing hikers and their dog, encountered four other hikers in distress that no one knew were out there. These four had built a campfire, an act of reckless disregard if there had not been sufficient rain recently, and no one knows how long they might have had to endure the elements until they were sighted. This is why immediate response is critical whenever someone is reported missing anywhere in the mountains. Waiting one day, two days, or a week, geometrically increases the odds of search failure. Someone who might have entered a hollow for protection, or fallen onto the canyon bottom, could be passed over repeatedly and not be found until the rescue effort becomes one of recovery, a distinction that portends the ominous.
All of the hikers in the Tuesday morning rescues had gone into areas where they had to be helicoptered out. The chopper crew of Air Rescue Five is awesome to watch as it maneuvers the craft in spaces that defy possibility and positions gurneys and lines in ways that make Cirque du Soleil routines look like backyard monkey bar climbing. At least the hikers had all adhered to the cardinal rule of not going into the backcountry alone. However much one might seek solitary communion with nature, the buddy system is imperative for those who plan to leave established trails and venture into the extraordinary wilderness of the Malibu hinterlands.
One can park at a trailhead and find a personal Pandora, but to do so without a companion and having left word as to general time and location of departure is to invite unnecessary danger that could even put canyon trekkers beyond the reach of rescue teams as adept as the local ones. But accidents can happen despite due caution and preparedness. When these mishaps occur, there is the assurance of knowing that there are trained personnel who have the ability to take on the Malibu mountains on their terms