North Face Rescue

April 24, 2020
San Jacinto Peak

Written by Tyler Shumway.

RMRU received a call-out at 3:30 pm for two subjects on the North Face of San Jacinto mountain attempting Snow Creek. Luckily, they had cell signal at 7,000 feet and were able to report that they were okay but unable to move up or down due to extreme avalanche danger. It was over 100 degrees on the desert floor and with the recent heavy snowstorm that occurred in early April, loose wet avalanches and rockfall were of primary concern. Blake and I were on scene at the utility station on Snow Creek Canyon Rd. while Star-9 was flying the route to assess the conditions. Aviation landed at the utility station and confirmed that we have favorable conditions to perform a hover step.

Blake, Tyler, and TFO doing final check
Image by Blake Douglas

Pilot Manny Romero and Technical Flight Office Michael Chevalier flew Blake and I to a rock outcropping 50 yards below the subjects. This area was safely out of the couloir on climbers right at exactly 7,000 ft. After being deployed we then contacted the subjects to assess their condition.

Tyler with Subjects in Black middle right
Image by Blake Douglas

They were a bit shaken up but otherwise uninjured. I quickly realized one of them was without a pack and after further discussion, they reported being struck by an avalanche and had lost their equipment.

North Face Avalanche Chute
Image by Tyler Shumway

We then briefed them on the extraction plan and how to perform a hover step. Blake and one of the subjects would go first while I waited with the other since the helicopter could only fit 2 at a time.

Blake doing Hover Step
Video by Tyler Shumway

After Star-9 loaded Blake and the subject, a massive loose wet avalanche occurred while we were waiting.

Snow Creek Avalanche
Image by Tyler Shumway

The subject that I was with stated this has been happening all afternoon. The slide continued for over 90 seconds. It was utterly amazing to witness the raw power of the mountain. Being at 7,000ft. they were at the worst spot since the entire north face of the mountain was being radiated by the sun and all the couloirs from Kristen Peak and San Jacinto Peak funnel into this chokepoint. Star-9 returned shortly after dropping Blake off and flew us back down to the desert floor without incident.

Helicopter coming into North Face Base
Image by Blake Douglas

Subjects Plan: The two hikers started at 12:00 am that morning from the utility station on the desert floor and made it 7,000 feet by the afternoon when large loose wet avalanches started occurring. They escaped the couloir climbers right onto a rocky outcropping but not before one of them was struck by a large block of snow. He had lost his pack and equipment except for his helmet which had a broken strap as a result. It is remarkable that he did not have a single scratch given the size of these slides. They thought about descending but the wet slides continued, and they did not feel comfortable down climbing the chockstone at 5,500ft. Their end goal was Marion Mountain Trailhead where they had a shuttle car parked since the Tram was closed. These two made the right choice to stay where they were and call for help.

Lessons Learned: When attempting a route like Snow Creek it is imperative that you have more than physical fitness and route-finding skills. This route is becoming a tick list for more and more people. Understanding snow composition and how each year is vastly different than the last is crucial in successfully completing this route. Conditions may only be favorable for a safe ascent a few weeks out of the year and even then, only a few years out of a decade will have these favorable conditions. It is also worth noting that when traveling in high-risk mountain terrain, wearing bright colors greatly helps being spotted if a rescue is ever needed. It took a little while to find the subjects since they were wearing all dark clothing and blended in with the rocks and terrain.

Thank you, Riverside Sheriffs Aviation Unit Pilot Manny Romero and Technical Flight Officer Michael Chevalier for performing flawlessly. Without them this mission would not have been possible as getting to the subjects by foot would have been out of the question given the objective hazards.

RMRU members Involved: Cameron Dickinson, Blake Douglas, Michael George, Glenn Henderson, Tony Hughes, Beth Jeffery, Dana Potts, Vinay Rao, and Tyler Shumway.