Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit volunteer and Idyllwild local Lee Arnson remembers many very difficult missions, but the Sunday night rescue of a 17-year-old hiker stranded on Tahquitz ranks near the top, both in dangerous conditions and satisfaction at the end.
“I think we may have saved a life,” said Arnson, recounting the ice-encrusted chute in the Chinquapin bowl on the northeast side of Tahquitz where the team found the stranded hiker around 10:30 p.m., Sunday, April 1. RMRU had been called out shortly after 6 p.m. after the hiker used a cell phone to call for help. “The cell phone saved him,” said Arnson. “The conditions were so brutal — ice everywhere, temperatures around zero degrees with strong gusty winds that came out of nowhere without warning. He would not have made it through the night.” Of the ice chute where they found the hiker, Arnson said, “He could not move. He was completely stuck.”
The arduous all-night hike out was just as dangerous for the team and the subject as the retrieval from the ice chute, according to Arnson. “It’s an area I dread,” he said. “Solid ice, a 40-degree slope, winds so strong that they blew one of our rescuers off his feet. It’s the most dangerous place on the mountain other than the north face of the summit.”
After finding the hiker, the team had to belay him up to the ridgeline, where ice–covered boulders made for treacherous going. “It was a full technical rescue,” said Arnson. Working with Arnson were RMRU members Helene Lohr, an Idyllwild local, and Will Carlson from Running Springs. The team and hiker bivouacked for an hour at the ranger hut and lookout tower on the top of Tahquitz. It then took until 4 a.m. to go an additional 500 yards up and down and across a major drainage, said Arnson. Eventually by Monday morning just after 9 a.m., the team got the hiker to Humber Park.
Arnson voiced concern about Pacific Crest Trail hikers venturing near the same area. “There is still a lot of snow coverage,” he said. “Sunny days melt the snow then it freezes at night. I hope the word gets out [to the PCT hikers] about the conditions.”
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reminds all hiking enthusiasts to carry proper equipment and be aware of conditions on the mountain before beginning hikes, especially solo hikes.