Last week's rainstorm brought a much anticipated break from the severe fire danger looming over local forests, but the shift in weather marks the beginning of a season that presents different threats to hikers and adventure seekers alike.
The first dusting of snow on Mount Baldy, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountains serves as a reminder that people need to be prepared for cold and icy conditions in the higher elevations.
"People should get up-to-date weather forecasts and prepare for and dress for the weather,' said Ranger Marty Dumpis of the Angeles National Forest San Gabriel River Ranger District.
Last winter, dangerous post-fire and icy conditions in the Southland's wilderness areas claimed the lives of 24 people by mid- February. Eight were hikers, while the remainder died in mudslides at Waterman Canyon and Devore.
"People went out totally unprepared for those icy conditions,' San Bernardino National Forest spokeswoman Ruth Wenstrum said of hikers last season. "They need to be aware of the weather at all times because conditions can change.'
Last week's storm left people in the Inland Valley unscathed. But, two hikers died and 17 others were stranded during a surprise storm at Yosemite National Park in Northern California.
Though weather can creep in on the unsuspecting, as it did in Yosemite, common sense and preparation can help weather a storm.
U.S. Forest officials at both the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests recommend day trippers bring enough food, water and warm clothes to spend a night or two in the wilderness.
Almost every ranger advises to heed the 10 essentials.
The Sierra Club recommends all hikers take at least those 10 essentials, even on a short hike. They are: map, compass, flashlight, extra food, extra clothes, sunglasses, first aid kit, pocket knife, waterproof matches and a firestarter. Firestarters can be wood chips or any other flammable material that helps start a fire.
The Angeles and San Bernardino forests reopened Wednesday after last week's storm dropped enough water to drop the severe fire danger level down to moderate.
Pam Bierce, a spokeswoman for the Front Country Ranger District in the San Bernardino National Forest, said the storm left the area around the Mill Creek Ranger Station in Mentone beautiful.
"It's nice that we had the rain,' she said. "We're hoping for a wetter, colder year.'
Wetter and colder, however means people also must be aware of erosion and mudslide- prone areas, forest officials said.
The Forest Falls trail, Bierce said, follows a narrow canyon that crosses a stream multiple times, and can be dangerous.
Dumpis, who heads the San Gabriel River Ranger District in Glendora, said people need to be wary of crossing streams after storms, even if they look shallow enough.
"You don't know what's being pushed under water,' he said.
Muddy water could be hiding logs, rocks and other debris that may cause people to lose their footing, he said.
Officials say people need to be cautious of areas left fragile by the Williams Fire two years ago, and the Grand Prix and Old fires last year.
A 15-year-old boy died last year in Devore when he lost his footing on fire-scorched land, Wenstrum said. The boy was unable to stop his fall down a 700-foot cliff because none of the vegetation was sturdy enough to hold his weight.
People need to step back and really survey an area before climbing or hiking, she said.
For specific information about trails and weather conditions, visit the following Web sites:
Staff writer Lisa McPheron can be reached at (909) 483-9354, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org