Lori Carey Photography

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rescue on Santiago Peak and a redemption of sorts

Bill and I decided to take a ride up to Santiago Peak in Cleveland National Forest last Saturday to enjoy the unseasonably cooler weather and explore a new trail. This time we entered from Silverado Canyon and took Silverado Road (5S06) to Maple Springs Road, where we jumped onto the Main Divide (3S04). Main Divide took us up and over Santiago Peak, and on the way down we turned on to the Indian Truck Trail (5S01).

At 5,687 feet, Santiago Peak is the highest and most prominent peak in Orange County and in the Santa Ana Mountains, and together with Modjeska Peak is known locally as "SaddleBack".

The Silverado Canyon side of the trail is drastically different from the opposite side of the peak; whereas the latter is more rocky, sandy high desert terrain, the Silverado Canyon side was heavily wooded, the hills were green and the live oaks were plentiful. It was a gorgeous early Autumn day with temperatures in mid-70's, and we took our time exploring, photographing and enjoying the views.

A lot of people had the same idea we did, and the trail traffic was much heavier than we had seen in other parts of CNF. There really isn't enough room for two vehicles to pass side-by-side on most of trail which necessitates some maneuvering at times, but everyone was courteous and although we'd much prefer to have the trails to ourselves, the moderately heavy traffic wasn't overly bothersome.

We stopped to enjoy lunch at the top of Santiago Peak, we shared our water with two hikers who hadn't counted on running out of theirs, and we started back down the other side of the mountain. As we came around a switchback we saw a helicopter on the edge of the switchback below us.

The last time I saw a helicopter near the trail I found myself smack in the middle of a marijuana field bust complete with a SWAT team, so I stopped on the trail for a minute to see if we could determine what was going on. When we hadn't seen any other activity after a few minutes, I drove down closer to the helicopter, parked the jeep and spoke to the helicopter pilot to see if we needed to turn around (although the trail was too narrow to be able to do so - I figured I'd have to drive in reverse up the mountain and around the switchbacks until I found someplace wide enough!). The pilot informed us that a motorbike rider had gone off the cliff, and if we didn't mind waiting until they brought him up, they could use my help with the trail traffic coming down off the peak. He told us that they had an extremely difficult time trying to find a place to set down (the rotors were still going because they were precariously balanced on the edge of the cliff), and the injured person was being brought up by car from further down the trail. Bill went down below to see if he could assist while I stayed on top to keep an eye on the trail traffic, and with their permission I photographed the part of the rescue I could see from my vantage point.

I can only guess at some of what happened, but the injured man was brought to the helicopter in the back of someone's SUV, perhaps the person who saw him go over the side and called for medical assistance because there didn't appear to be any friends or family with the man, and the SUV was obviously private.

I know it's standard procedure to use a backboard, but I can't tell you how happy I was to see that the man was moving his feet. You can see the terrain and how steep the cliffs are on this part of the trail in the photo of the helicopter; a fall off the sides is serious business and can easily be paralyzing. The rescue workers transferred him to a stretcher and rushed him onto the helicopter.

I had stopped two cars coming down the trail and everyone was gathered at a vantage point to watch the action; the helicopter was directly in front of us, the SUV with the injured biker was directly below us. After the biker was loaded onto the helicopter the pilot signaled us to move back, and he wasn't joking; the helicopter kicked up a huge debris cloud when it took off.

When the dust cloud settled all of the trail traffic that had been backed up had to find a way to get past each other at the switchback. Apparently the traffic coming up the mountain drove right up to the rescue SUV after the injured man was removed, so we now had vehicles going in each direction on a very narrow trail. We found a place to pull over and let everyone who was in a rush get out of the way, and after the dust settled we started back down the mountain. About half a mile or so, right near the Holy Jim trail, we noticed a motorbike on the side of the road and realized that it must belong to the injured man.

It didn't appear to have suffered any damage, and I thought for sure that it would get stolen if left on the trail. I told Bill that I didn't know what to do; if it were mine I would hope that someone would take care of it for me. But we didn't know who the man was, or even how we could find out who he was, and the bike wouldn't fit in the jeep anyway. It was hard to turn away from that bike and continue down the trail.

Our prayers go out to the injured man. We hope that he wasn't seriously hurt, that he has recovered his bike, and that he is out and riding again.

And our thanks and tremendous appreciation go out to the rescue team. Since we spend a lot of time in remote areas and difficult terrain, how to handle emergency situations is something that is always in the forefront of our minds. Seeing these guys in action was very reassuring, although I hope I never need them.

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