Thursday, February 25, 2016

50 Years Ago This Month: Death in the Smog Bowl

Good Day World!

We referred to where we lived as the Smog Bowl in 1966.
(Photo-San Gabriel foothills. Note: See A painted in white. Wikipedia Commons)

Azusa was a sleepy little town. I remember going to the In and Out Burger on Azusa Avenue and pigging out on their great hamburgers and fries.

The San Gabriel Foothills near Azusa sported a large letter A which could be seen from the high school campus on clear days - which were few and far between back then.

The smog was so bad we had regular health alerts. But on the clear days it was beautiful area, and the view from the foothills was spectacular.

I use to hike up to those hills regularly and sat down more than once by that A to rest. I'd hike along the narrow trail at the top of the foothills enjoying the solitude, shade from nearby trees, and the views.

Then one day I invited a couple of friends to go with me. They were city boys and never did any climbing or hiking so I thought it would be a good experience for them.

It was a decision that I still rue today. 

Simply put, we ran out of water on a very hot and windy day. Looking down one side of the hills we could see the river running below.

It was so windy we could barely hear each other. Maybe 35 to 40 mph gusts at times. I took their canteens and headed down to the river below.

I asked them to stay and wait for me. They didn't. I don't know how long it was after I left before they followed me.

Minutes stretched into hours as I eased down the hillside when suddenly I found myself in dangerous position. I had came upon a sheer drop-off about 100-feet straight down!

Sinking my fingers into the loose shale I was faced with a choice - climb back up, or die below. I was tired and all of my muscles ached, but fear was a great motivator and I managed to reverse course and climb back up to the top.

That's when I realized my friends didn't wait for me. As fast as I could (I was exhausted and running on adrenaline) I made my way down the narrow trail and to a dairy farm nearby and called my Dad.

Those were the days before dialing 911 for help. You called someone you knew. I called my Dad and he contacted the police and the local Search and Rescue unit, then drove to the canyon entrance where I was waiting for him.

We found them an hour later. It was getting dark. Chuck had fallen and laid broken on some rocks. Dying. John was stranded in a tree that had broken his fall about halfway down the 100-foot drop.

I heard Chuck murmer his brother's name as the paramedics worked on him. Then he was gone. Search and Rescue got John down. He had a broken leg and arm, but had survived the fall.

I was fifteen-years old when all of this happened. Never went back up to those foothills again. Sometimes, on really windy days when I'm outside, I hear Chuck calling for his brother.  

Time for me to walk on down the road...

1 comment:

Glenn Franco Simmons said...

A poignant reminder of how fragile life is. Gave me goose bumps. It reminds me when I scaled an old-growth redwood in Freshwater. I got up just great. It was coming down, without any gear, that was the problem. From the top, I could see Eureka over the ridge. I had to shimmy down it and hoped I landed on a large branch (big enough to be trees in most of America). Fortunately, I made it. I don't do good around sheer heights now. But for the grace of God. ...

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