Rescue crews returned to Mount Baldy Wednesday for a fourth day in the search for an Irvine man who disappeared on a hike to the summit over the weekend.
Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati, 52, started the trek with three other hikers early Sunday morning, heading out from the village at Bear Flats, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
But at some point he got separated from his companions, and they reported him missing when they got back to their car around 4 p.m.
Rescuers from several counties and volunteers have been combing through the snowy mountain terrain ever since, but they've not reported any sign of Mokkapati.
Deputies described Mokkapati as an experienced hiker who has tackled Mount Baldy a number of times.
But he was only prepared for a day hike and has limited supplies. He was wearing a gray puffer jacket with gray pants when he vanished, officials said.
On Tuesday, search crews were working in snowy conditions at elevations around 7,000 feet, and rescuers encountered waist-deep snow at some higher elevations, the Sheriff's Department said.
The hike is difficult even in mild conditions, with steep inclines, narrow trails and drop-offs of more than 1,000 feet in some spots, said Cindy Lyman with West Valley Search and Rescue.
“When you add snow and ice and you don’t have secure footing or the proper gear, it definitely adds a level of danger,” Lyman 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.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Cindy Bachman said there’s been some discussion with the Forest Service about closing the mountain to recreation amid dangerous winter conditions, but nothing has been confirmed.
“People go up there, and accidents happen,” she said. “But a lot of times, people aren’t prepared for the conditions. Conditions are for expert-level hikers.”
Officials didn't comment on whether Mokkapati had the recommended equipment.
The sheriff's volunteer coordinators tweeted that the search was hindered by having to stop and assist unprepared hikers they encountered, and as a result several areas would be temporarily closed during the rescue operation.
While searching for a missing hiker, sheriff resources have been diverted multiple times to rescue other hiker who are unprepared to be hiking in snow & ice. With cooperation of @Angeles_NF several areas of Mt Baldy are temporary closed while we continue our original search. pic.twitter.com/UwBBxxicBu
— SBCSDVolunteerForces (@VolunteerForces) December 12, 2019
Personnel from five counties and several volunteers have been involved in the search thus far, and Bachman said additional resources from Tulare and Fresno counties have been committed for Thursday.
At least two helicopters were also involved, with one primarily being used to insert crew members on the mountain.
Anyone with information on Mokkapati's whereabouts can contact Sgt. Al Huff or Detective Brent Meelker at 909-453-5392 or 909-677-9436. Anonymous tips may be submitted via 800-782-7463 or www.wetip.com.
— Mike Leum (@Resqman) December 11, 2019
— San Bernardino County Sheriff (@sbcountysheriff) December 12, 2019
Active search going on in Mt. Baldy. WVSAR would like to remind you to stay off the mountain if you are not experienced in dealing with crampons, snowshoes, ice axes etc. We will always be there when needed but, please, do you best not to need us. pic.twitter.com/iTcHX1FcTK
— West Valley SAR (@WestValleySAR) December 10, 2019