Mount Baldy to Reopen Dec. 25 With Missing Hiker Search Suspended; Funeral Set for Fallen Rescuer

Rescuers search on Dec. 14, 2019, for a hiker from Irvine who went missing near Mount Baldy on Dec. 8, 2019. (Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department West Valley Search & Rescue Team)

Rescuers search on Dec. 14, 2019, for a hiker from Irvine who went missing near Mount Baldy on Dec. 8, 2019. (Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department West Valley Search & Rescue Team)

Mount Baldy will reopen to recreation on Christmas Day, earlier than expected, as family members prepare to bury a rescuer who died searching for a missing hiker this month.

The emergency closure issued Dec. 12 amid the search for 52-year-old Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati was originally slated to remain in place through the end of the year. But it will instead be terminated Dec. 25, Angeles National Forest announced Monday.

The mountain was closed over concern for public safety as crews said unprepared hikers were becoming imperiled and hindering their search for Mokkapati, who disappeared Dec. 8. The Irvine man, described as an experienced hiker who’d climbed the mountain before, set out to reach the summit but got separated from his group at some point.

Tim Staples, a 32-year-old teacher who volunteered with West Valley Search & Rescue, was found dead in an ice chute after becoming separated from his partner on the search’s seventh day, Dec. 14.

Staples’ celebration of life has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, at Abundant Living Church in Rancho Cucamonga.

The recently married rescuer taught English at Damien High School in La Verne, from which he’d graduated in 2006, the school said. He was described as one of the students’ favorite teachers.

Mokkapati, meanwhile, remains missing. The search was suspended following Staples’ death.

Conditions remain dangerous on the mountain, where rescuers said they’d encountered waist-deep snow.

Mokkapati was wearing a gray puffer jacket with gray pants when he vanished, and was only prepared for a day hike with limited supplies, authorities said.

Officials advise hikers to use crampons, trekking poles, an ice axe and snow shoes, and practice with the gear at home ahead of time.

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