SDMRT 2017-7 Indianhead Peak Operations Report

2017-07 Indianhead Peak, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

25 February 2017

Submitted by Steve Herman & Bill McNaul

SDMRT Responders

  1. Bill McNaul
  2. Steve Herman

SDSDAR Responders

  1. Chris James
  2. Sgt Fred Duey

Short Summary:

  • Type of callout: Limited (Tech rescue manual personnel diverted)
  • In-County
  • Type of Search: Recon for future planned search/callout for missing hiker
  • CP location: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground
  • Earliest time of activity: 0900 briefing, ending Time 1740
  • Information about the subject:
    • 1 subject, name unknown, early 70’s, level of fitness good, no maps, no phone. Been on this hike in past, normal mental status, loner type, no known injuries, found by other hikers/peakbaggers
  • Any rescuers injured: None
  • Aircraft used: ASTREA and CHP helicopters

Descriptive Report

Subject was a gentleman in his early seventies who spent his time "living out of " his bicycle as he rode throughout the world. Hence, he was obviously very resourceful. He was also considered a fit loner type and was known in the Borrego hiking community. He had made several successful climbs of Indianhead Peak so was familiar with this considerably challenging climb. He was reported to have expressed a desire to find a "shortcut" up the mountain.

His bicycle was first observed on or about Feb 11 at the Borrego Palm Canyon trail head. On Feb 24 someone from the park staff decided to alert the authorities. SAR Lieutenant Chris James was assigned to set up a mission to search for the subject. His first choice was to recon the area for planning purposes. Since he had set up a prior tech rescue standards planning meeting for Saturday Feb 25 that involved most of the SAR technical team he chose to cancel the meeting and re-task those technical members for this "scouting mission." Four of these members, Steve Herman and Bill McNaul from SDMRT and Chris James and Sgt Duey from SDSDSAR. joined in the operation.

All four reported to the Palm Canyon Trailhead at 0900 Saturday Feb 25 and proceeded up the canyon after coordination with park rangers and local Sheriffs. Early in the canyon just below the first palm grove the team spotted a likely "short cut" route up a drainage to the north. The team directed an ASTREA helo to search this canyon and they reported that there were some hikers going up this route but that they would have to break off further searching because of high winds aloft.

The team of four continued up to the first palm grove where Sgt Duey left the team and returned to the trailhead. The rest of the team continued up canyon above the first palm canyon and reached a point at the “small grove of palm trees” near where the "traditional" route up to the peak broke out of the canyon to the north. Having reached the planned turnaround point and the 1300 turnaround time, the team returned to the trailhead. Total round trip was about 6 miles much of it off trail in boulder strewn creek terrain.

Upon returning to the trailhead at 1530 the team was informed that hikers had discovered a body on the slope about 0.3 miles and 600ft above where the team had turned around. The reporting hikers were able to make contact using cell phone and their location was determined by triangulation. It turns out the hikers were probably the same ones that ASTREA had reported earlier and comprised 13 individuals. They had descended the "traditional" route thereby becoming an impromptu open line search party.

A CHP helo was directed to the site to confirm the exact location. Upon returning and landing at the trailhead it was near dark and the flight crew (hoist operator and medic) informed us that they could perform an extraction Sunday, weather permitting.

It appears that the subject may have taken a "shortcut" route to the peak (the ranger informed us that it is not unusual for people try alternate approaches to the peak). He then decided to take the "easier" route down and took an unfortunate fall.

Lessons learned/ suggestions for future operations

The callout for this mission was solely by text from Chris James to only the tech manual team attending the meeting that day, and no one else from SDMRT was notified of the search. There was no ITC or OL involved. In the future, if the callout is not made to the team at large and not picked up by an ITC, any responding SDMRT members should notify an ITC who is available to manage the search callout.