What started out as a simple day hike to turned into a life-changing experience for Cindy England.
Twenty years ago–almost to the day–England went on a day hike through the with a group of friends. After hiking for several hours, England decided to continue to the peak with her friend’s nephew, Ryan MacIntosh, while the others retreated to the parking lot for rest.
“When we separated from the rest of the group, my friend suggested we switch backpacks since mine was filled with food, water and supplies and his was much lighter,” said Engand. “Unfortunately, his backpack didn’t have any of those supplies.”
England and MacIntosh soon made it the mountain’s peak and reveled with a quick high-five, but the celebration was short-lived. A decision to take a different trail to avoid the strong winds on the cold November night proved detrimental for their trip home.
“The trail took us off Baldy and onto a different peak,” said England. “That night the storm really hit.”
The two were stuck in 8 inches of snow and 100 mph winds. Come nightfall, the temperature dropped to below zero.
“It was the perfect storm not to be in,” England said.
Fortunately, England's friends alerted when the two didn’t return. A team was sent out to find the two lost hikers.
“The team was focused on the south side of Baldy because that’s where most lost hikers are found,” said England. “We were located on the north side.”
After two treacherous nights in the mountains, a rescue team located England and MacIntosh on Sunday morning.
“We were basically stranded without food or water for two days,” said England. “We weren’t dressed properly, I was in shorts and Ryan was in jeans and tennis shoes. It was an unfortunate series of events that led to us being so ill-prepared at the top.”
Both England and MacIntosh had cold injuries, specifically frostbite on their feet, England said.
England suffered hypothermia and was hospitalized, monitored for five days.
"I lost the tip of one toe to frostbite," England said. "Surgery for that was six months following the rescue. A pretty amazing recovery considering that the doctors at the acute hospital were stating I might lose both feet."
England’s own rescue led her to own journey as volunteer search and rescue team member.
“I wouldn’t have at all been interested in search and rescue prior to my own rescue,” said England. “I was busy, I was in my own private practice for physical therapy. In my mind, I didn’t have time for that. Once I was rescued I thought it was an interesting volunteer job.”
England enrolled in the Sheriff’s Reserve Academy and went through law enforcement training and mountaineering school before volunteering for the in 1994.
Three years ago, the Pasadena resident transferred to the in 2008 after spending 14 years in San Dimas.
“There’s a huge level of training and skill with the Montrose team,” said England. “They’re just good people to hang around with even if I’m not training or in operations with them.”
The Montrose Search and Rescue Team has about 75 calls each year. England tries to assist on every mission.
One of England's most memorable calls was in February 1998. Jeff Thornton, a missing snowboarder, was lost in a blizzard in the San Gabriel Mountains for six days.
"The conditions were severe: blizzard, horrific winds, high avalanche potential. I recall searching in that area through the night and it really brought back memories of my episode," England said. "Jeff was, miraculously, found alive six days later. I went to the hospital to visit him, but he had been transferred to another facility before I arrived. Sadly, he died later in the week of injuries related to his incident."
England’s advice to hikers: Always be prepared.
“Through my training and personal experience, I always encourage people to really prepare themselves for a day hike even if they think can be an easily-accomplished summit,” said England.
“Always carry all the essentials you need to survive in case the weather changes and conditions deteriorate," England said. "Also, hiking with someone is preferable because it’s always good to have a partner.”
If you're a community member interested in becoming a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Rescue team volunteer like Cindy England, contact Reserve Chief Mike Leum at (323) 526-5685 or Mrleum@lasd.or. Visit the website. You will provide life-saving services in the mountainous areas of the county. The training is extensive. Team members are Emergency Medical Technicians, Mountain Rescue Association certified and most are Reserve Deputy Sheriffs. Local teams are from the and .