After two hikers died on Mt. Baldy this year, and another 15 were injured or lost, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is calling on legislators to help come up with ways to help keep hiking enthusiasts safe.  

Upland residents Janelle and Joey Rasich hike the Mt. Baldy trails at least once a week with their two dogs. Just a 20-minute drive from their home, Joey said it’s an easily accessible way to get into nature and the picturesque landscape. This past December, though, the couple learned just how dangerous the terrain can be, especially after the snow melts.  

“We got stuck at an area that got very icy. We called for help and a helicopter came and picked us up,” Janelle Rasich said.  

It was just last winter when Joey Rasich says he slid an estimated 20 to 30 feet down the mountain and before he knew it, they required rescue. The incident demonstrated the peril of hiking in the often-precarious area, which can be dangerous for anyone.  

Deputy Chief of Valley Mountain Patrol John Walker, with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, knows firsthand just how easy it is for hikers to get into trouble.  

“January and February of this year, we’ve had 10 search and rescues with two deaths just in those two months alone,” he explained.  

That included the high-profile case of actor and mountaineer Julian Sands, whose body was discovered in June after he went missing in January.  

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has responded to more than 100 search and rescues since 2020, and say that over the past five years the department has spent more than $3 million on the operations. The sheriff also says his department has received little reimbursement for these costs even though the area is federal land and in the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service, which is why they’re calling on lawmakers to help.  

Mt. Baldy safety improvements
Rescue personnel with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. (KTLA)

In a letter to U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu, whose district includes the Mt. Baldy region, Sheriff Shannon Dicus asked for help improving safety measures. The letter proposed closing the mountain to hikers during high-risk conditions, such as heavy snow and ice accumulation and limiting the number of people on the mountain at a given time through a permitting process.  

“We spoke about an educational component to where the U.S. Forestry would have the personnel up there to talk with people getting ready to go on hikes,” Walker told KTLA.  

For avid hikers like the Rasichs, they say it’s essential to know the difference between hiking and mountaineering.  

“If they’re going to close it down and regulate it, at least create a way for people to learn about it and access it safely,” Janelle Rasich said.  

The Sheriff’s Department said they will continue to work and meet with the U.S. Forest Service to find solutions are hoping that lawmakers will step in to improve the situation.  

In a statement to KTLA, Rep. Chu responded to the sheriff’s letter, saying:

“I’m thankful for the Sheriff’s letter last week explaining his concerns, and I fully share his commitment to ensuring the Forest Service has the resources it needs to protect public safety in the mountains. My office and I are evaluating possible next steps, and we look forward to working with the Sheriff and Forest Service to determine a path forward.”