San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Sunday, December 18, 2010

Take precautions when hiking in winter

THE sad news of Michelle Yu's accidental death on Mt. Baldy should serve as a warning to other winter hikers:
The danger of icy trails must not be underestimated.
Hiking with a partner is safer than going solo.

Yu, 49, was no novice, but an experienced and competent mountain hiker who was training for a hiking competition in Argentina when she died. In fact, she hiked just about every weekend in the Mt. Baldy area. "She was in excellent physical condition; she trained all the time," San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.

But Yu's experience wasn't enough to keep her from falling to her death. An autopsy determined that a fall killed her, which certainly is not surprising from the circumstances.

Yu went for a day hike by herself on Saturday, Dec. 4, planning to take the Sierra Hut trail to the summit of Mt. Baldy and to descend via Devil's Backbone to Baldy Notch, where she would ride the ski lift down. She signed the trail register as she started out.

She was dressed appropriately for mountain weather, sheriff's deputies were told, but was not prepared to spend the night.

When Yu didn't return, her roommate called authorities and an all-out search and rescue mission took place from Sunday through Wednesday, when Yu's body was spotted from a helicopter on a steep and icy slope northwest of Mt. Baldy's peak.

Presumably, instead of heading east from the summit toward Baldy Notch, she walked northwest—perhaps disoriented, perhaps checking out the view—and slipped down an icy chute.

We recall that seven winters ago, eight hikers lost their lives in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains over a six-week period. Most of them were quite experienced hikers, like Yu, and most were hiking alone when they slipped on ice.

That was a mild winter, with high enough temperatures on sunny days that mountain snow would melt only to freeze again at night. As the pattern repeated, thin layers of superslick ice built up on and around mountain trails.

It's not officially winter yet but it's been a warm December so far with temperatures in the 80s down here in the flatlands until this part week when things have turned cool and damp. Still, that can be perfect weather for forming mountain ice at night.

If you do hike during winter, whether up to Mt. Baldy or to the very local Mt. Wilson, please go with a buddy. That is the first safety suggestion from authorities in the wake of Yu's death.

A hiking partner would not have been able to help Yu once she slipped, but might have kept her headed in the right direction from the peak. In many mountain accidents another hiker can fetch help in time, or at least tell search-and-rescue teams exactly where to look.

Incidentally, if you want to honor Yu's memory, her family requested the contributions be made to local sheriff's search-and-recued teams.

Our Views state the opinion of this newspaper. Editorial board members provide input but editorials do not necessarily represent their personal views.

San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group Editorial Board: Steve Lambert, Editor and Publisher; Larry Wilson, Public editor; Steve Hunt, Senior editor, Steve Scauzillo, Opinion pages editor; Frank C. Girardot, Pasadena editor; Pia Abelgas Orense, Weeklies editor; Tim Traeger, Whittier editor.

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