At least two hikers have died on Mount Baldy this winter, with two more missing for over a week, but hikers continue to attempt the dangerous trek up the California mountain. One such daring hiker nearly lost his life while climbing the Devil’s Backbone area, unprepared for the endless snow and ice covering the steep terrain.
When avid outdoorsman Tack Sappington embarked on his January 13 hiking trip, the same day actor Julian Sands went missing, he expected to summit Mount Baldy and return to his vehicle before dinner. As he climbed, however, he found himself struggling against brutal winter weather battering the mountain with no equipment to save him.
“I know I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to be alive after that,” he told ABC7. The 21-year-old was making the trek up Devil’s Backbone, a strenuous 14-mile trail, alone for the first time.
To make matters worse, the normally tough trail was made even tougher by the thick layer of ice coating the sharp incline. “I didn’t have an ice axe or crampons, a rope or a helmet or any of the equipment you need for the conditions like that,” he said.
Unable to continue on foot and growing concerned for his safety, Sappington sat down, attempting to scoot down the mountain. Unfortunately, the attempt failed and he fell several feet down the slope instead, landing on a narrow ledge. “I looked down and it was pretty much just death on both sides if I looked down,” Sappington recalled. “It’s much too steep.”
Search and Rescue Crews Save Hiker From Icy Mount Baldy Cliff
Clinging to the icy ledge, the young hiker realized he had no choice but to call for help. Dialing 911, Sappington explained the situation, and a search and rescue helicopter was soon en route to Mount Baldy.
After a short wait, two helicopters arrived, hovering above the hiker in search of a place to land. Due to the hiker’s precarious location, however, rescuers were unable to land safely anywhere near the frightened outdoorsman.
Rescuers attempted to convey a message to the hiker, but he couldn’t hear them over the roar of the wind. With no instruction and no idea what to do, the hiker could do nothing but watch as his would-be rescuers flew into the distance.
Believing rescuers had abandoned him, Sappington tried once again to descend the frosty Mount Baldy on his own. He slipped once again, this time falling even further, terrified that he would hit the jagged rocks below. “I remember seeing the rocks and trying not to hit them,” he explained. “So I’d be facing the rocks like while I was airborne and I would try to cover my head.”
After a horrifying fall, Sappington smashed into the snow near a stream. Though bruised and battered, he was able to walk to an area where rescuers could find him, transporting him to a nearby hospital.
He remains traumatized and in pain from the incident, but Tack Sappington’s main takeaway from the harrowing incident is that he’s lucky to be alive. “Very very few people come back from something like that,” he said.