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Lost Hiker Tells of Scary, Chilly Night Alone in Angeles National Forest

"There’s a lot of lessons to be learned here," says a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team.

Lost hiker poses with his resucers, including Reserve Chief Mike Leum of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team (R) on Oct. 7, 2013.
Lost hiker poses with his resucers, including Reserve Chief Mike Leum of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team (R) on Oct. 7, 2013.
Chris Grimmell parked his car in the lot near the corner of Ventura Street and Windsor Avenue in Altadena Sunday morning, hoping to take a short day hike in the Upper Arroyo Secco and get some exercise. But after getting lost, he spent the night shivering on the cold ground of the Angeles National Forest wearing nothing but a T-shirt and shorts. 

Grimmell decided to tell his story to Patch because he said he hoped some people might read it and not make the same mistakes he made. And Reserve Chief Mike Leum of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team agreed there were many lessons to be learned. 

"This isn’t three strikes you're out, this is five strikes and you’re out," Leum said. 

Grimmell, armed with nothing but a hiking book and a little water, headed into the Angeles National Forest starting on the Gabrielino Trail, then the Upper Brown Mountain Road. His destination was Oakwilde Campground, about five miles from where he parked his car in Altadena. 

Grimmell, who said he lives in Florida but is in town working for Disney, had hiked trails in the San Gabriel Mountains area many times before, but never the Upper Arroyo Secco.

"When I got to the the end of [Upper Brown Mountain Road], then I got to another trail, and I can’t remember the name of it, but it had a man’s name on it and it said three miles to Oakwilde," Grimmell said. "It was a narrow trail, with a good trail sign, which said to me it was probably maintained. I should have known when I had to fight my way through the brush that it probably wasn’t a very well used trail, but I figured, three miles, I will take the risk."

As it turned out, rescuers later told Grimmell the trail was closed. 

Grimmell trudged his way through the trail and reached the Arroyo Secco. He climbed down a hill and explored the area, looking for a trail that was supposed to go over the dam, according to his hiking book. When he couldn't find it, he went back to find the trail he had come in on, but couldn't find it. 

Starting to panic, he said he decided to try and hike up the opposite side of the canyon to try and make his way toward Angeles Crest Highway, but he couldn't find a decent trail. By then it was getting dark and he realized he wasn't going to make it out in time. He decided to stay the night near a stream. 

"I know it’s not a good thing to do and common sense, but I drank out of the stream," Grimmell said. "By that time it was getting dark and I knew I wasn’t going to make it out. I said I guess I will have to bed down for the night and find the trail that I came in on. So I did that."

It was a long, cold and somewhat scary night, Grimmell said. He tucked his arms and legs under his T-shirt for warmth but couldn't stop shivering. 

"I was near the water source, so there were all sorts of animals out there. I don’t know what they were, I never saw any of them, but I would hear them coming and going all night. But nothing big and nothing came near me," Grimmell said. 

In the morning, as Grimmell continued to try and hike up the canyon, he got high enough where his cell phone started working and he was able to text a co-worker and ask them to contact authorities. 

About three hours later, Grimmell said he spotted the members of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, who gave him a sandwich and Gatorade before guiding him out. 

"They couldn’t have been nicer," Grimmell said. "They certainly told me the error of my ways, but in such a nice way that you didn’t feel like, wow, I am really an idiot. I put these guys through a lot of trouble. They had the right to read me the riot act, but they didn’t, they were very understanding."

Leum said it is important to be fully prepared before going on a serious hike. 

"There’s a lot of lessons to be learned here," Leum said. "He went out alone. He didn’t tell anybody where he was going. He didn’t have the 10 essentials. He had a guide book with him, but without knowing where you are a guide book’s not gonna be any help. And he went into an area he hadn’t hiked before."

Evelyn McCall October 09, 2013 at 03:05 PM
According to the Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 6th edition, the ten essentials are: Map Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver) Sunglasses and sunscreen Extra food Extra water Extra clothes Headlamp / flashlight First aid kit Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)[4] Knife Repair kit

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