Helicopter crashes near Rubicon Trail | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Helicopter crashes near Rubicon Trail

Emergency personnel are currently responding to a helicopter crash near the area of Buck Island Lake, located near the Rubicon Trail. There does not appear to be any fatalities. However, there are injuries, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office has not confirmed the number of people on board the helicopter. Cal Star 6 is currently on scene and assessing injuries. The FAA has also been notified. Authorities were notified of a possible helicopter crash on the Rubicon Trail about 1 p.m. today. Deputies assigned to the trail patrol arrived on scene and verified a downed helicopter near the area of Buck Island Lake, according to the Sheriff's Office. More details will be available soon.

Fire to the west

Two large fires burned within 25 miles of the West Shore of Lake Tahoe on Monday, sending smoke into the basin and creating questions for residents. “The calls are coming from everywhere – North Shore, Tahoe City, Incline,” said Kory Rodriguez, a dispatcher at South Lake Tahoe Police Department. “We got a ton Sunday; today we’ve only gotten probably five or six in the past half hour.” The Star fire, which started Saturday along the Middle Fork of the American River, was a 3,800-acre blaze burning out of control Monday afternoon. The Bear fire, which started Sunday in Tahoe National Forest about six miles from Sugar Pine Point State Park, is a 165-acre blaze that was 50 percent contained. An airplane first spotted and reported smoke from the Star fire, which started in the Eldorado National Forest and has since spilled over into the Tahoe National Forest, said Gordin Gay, a fire information officer for U.S. Forest Service. “The weather is changing this afternoon and we’re not sure what it’s going to do,” Gay said. The fire burned northeast on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of two Forest Service campgrounds, Hellhole and French Meadows, and five mountain roads. Gay said Monday that 580 firefighters, six air tankers, six helicopters and 16 engines battled the fire, which is burning in steep, rocky terrain. “It got close to French Meadow recreation area this morning, but no homes or communities are being threatened by fire and no communities have been evacuated,” he said. One firefighter broke his arm, but no major injuries have been reported. The Bear fire prompted officials Monday morning to shut down a central section of the McKinney-Rubicon Trail, a popular place for off-road drivers. “The fire is one mile northwest of the trail … close to Long Lake,” said Debby Broback, fire information officer for U.S. Forest Service. “We’re anticipating the Rubicon will be closed through tomorrow depending on the activity of fire and the wind and weather.” The human-caused blaze started in a recreational area about six miles west of Sugar Pine Point State Park, Broback said. It is named the Bear fire because initially it was believed to be closer to Bear Lake than Long Lake. Broback said Rubicon Trail, which is 22.5 miles long, is closed at the 03-4 intersection. That intersection is about 12 miles from an entrance to the trail at McKinney-Rubicon road, which is on the West Shore between Tahoma and Homewood. The Forest Service has two hand crews, 24 smokejumpers and a helicopter battling the fire. “It’s burning brush and timber in what we call ‘stringers,’” Broback said. “There’s a lot of granite up there. At this stage I don’t think it will get to the basin but there are always variables and it’s so, so dry out there.”

Three-day wait for four-wheel driver

It is a treacherous section of the Rubicon Trail through a narrow crevasse with steep sides. The Little Sluice was scoured by glaciers from a granite cliff thousands of years ago and each year it claims dozens of victims. “We go up there all year,” said Deputy Scott Stewart of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, which saves at least 10 people stuck on the Rubicon Trail each year. “It is rough. People will go into the Rubicon all the time and break down or get caught in a surprise storm.” This week, 34-year-old Patrick Counts, of Stockton, Calif., learned that the hard way. He had planned to spend several days with his girlfriend on the Rubicon Trail, which runs from Loon Lake on the west slope to the west shore of Lake Tahoe. But on the first day his Toyota truck broke down. “Poor guy,” said Sgt. Martin Hackett. “Unfortunately, on Sunday Counts got into the Little Sluice and broke an axle.” His girlfriend was given a ride out by another group of people in four-wheel drive vehicles which happened to be in the area. She was supposed to send help but that help never came. Counts and his dog Ted were stranded on the trail until Wednesday afternoon, when his girlfriend finally called the Sheriff’s Office after it started to snow. “We don’t take things like this for granted,” said Hackett who knew Counts would be safe if his stayed with his car. “We were afraid he might try to walk out and get caught in the snow. That storm we had (Tuesday) was bad.” It was 5 degrees below zero when rescuers found Counts and his dog. They were taken from the trail by a California Highway Patrol helicopter that managed to land when the weather cleared. Counts was cold and hungry but not injured. His ordeal reinforces the need for safety on the jagged trail, which is one of the most difficult and famous off-road trails in North America. “It is absolutely dangerous (in early spring),” said Don Fuller of the California Department of Parks and Recreation Off Highway Vehicle Division. “There are obviously still snowstorms in May and if people are unprepared for adverse weather conditions they could suffer severe consequences. The possibility of freezing to death is very real.” “It can snow in El Dorado County at any time of the year,” agreed Stewart, who said the most important safety tip is to stay in a group. “There is always safety in numbers.” Off-road enthusiasts call the trail fun rather than dangerous but stress the need for safety. “People do some pretty stupid stuff,” said Jim Bramham, a former president of the California Association of 4-wheel Drive Clubs. Traveling alone is not the smartest thing you can do.That is why most people traverse that area in groups.” Bramham and others also admit that it is a little early in the year to tackle the Rubicon. In early spring, the trail is still wet making it more slippery and more susceptible to damage from off-road vehicles. “We encourage people to tread lightly because we want to protect our trails,” said Pete Cocores, the president of the Lake Tahoe High-Lo’s. “Spring is unpredictable and you really have to be careful.” Bramham added, “Most people consider the beginning of the high Sierra season as Mother’s Day, so we are close but it is still early.” By July, hundreds of people will descend on the Rubicon and attempt to climb the steep and rocky trail. It is technically a county road but is not maintained and almost completely wild. “You can walk the Rubicon faster than you can drive it,” said Stewart. The trail first became a popular destination in the 1980s and now draws people from all over the world. In 1889, a 16-room hotel was built at Rubicon Springs near the trail used today. It was abandoned after World War I and by 1953 heavy snow had brought it to the ground. Today off-road groups help federal, state, and county agencies maintain the trail which runs through three national forests. “It is a challenging and beautiful trail,” said Cocores. He drives the trail several times a year in his 1987 CJ-7. “The slower the better,” he said.

Helicopter rescue latest in busy rescue stint

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A California Highway Patrol helicopter was used to rescue a man who suffered a head injury following a fall at Lower Eagle Falls Saturday afternoon. The man slipped and hit his head while walking near the falls about 3:30 p.m., said Les Lovell, a lieutenant with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. The helicopter was used to take the man from challenging terrain to a nearby ambulance, Lovell said. The identity of the man, as well as the extent of his injuries were not immediately available Tuesday, Lovell said. He said he did not believe the injuries were life threatening. Meeks Bay Fire Protection District and Lake Valley Fire Protection District also participated in the rescue effort, Lovell said. The rescue is the latest in what has been a busy period for El Dorado County Search and Rescue volunteers. During the past two weeks search and rescue personnel have conducted to at least four search and rescue missions, according to the Sheriff’s media log. The log does not include incidents that require less than a full blown search and rescue response, such as people calling for directions after getting lost while hiking, Lovell added. About 4 p.m. Aug. 17, search and rescue volunteers rescued a 38-year-old Berkeley couple and their 15-month-old baby after they went hiking underneath the Heavenly Mountain Resort gondola and became stuck in steep terrain, Lovell said. About 5:15 p.m. Aug. 18, a CHP helicopter was able to locate a 70-year-old Placerville woman unharmed near Twin Lakes in Desolation Wilderness. The woman became separated from her group and was not prepared to spend the night in the forest, Lovell said. About 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 19, a 42-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman and her 20-year-old daughter lost the trail while hiking back from Mount Tallac. A CALSTAR helicopter was able to land and bring the distressed women to safety, Lovell said. And about 11:11 a.m. on Monday, an El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office boat patrol was used to transport a 74-year-old Fair Oaks woman to medics after she fell while hiking on the Rubicon Trail and suffered a “severe laceration on her arm,” Lovell said.

Jeepers Jamboree: Verifying Dreams on the Rubicon Trail

The French have a saying that "we travel to verify our dreams" and the fabled Rubicon Trail is where Jeep lovers travel to verify theirs. The trail snaking through the High Sierra Mountain Range will be the site of the 61st annual Jeepers Jamboree, a multi-day event with trail ride, camping, entertainment, great food, and ample time away from it all in the middle of absolutely spectacular scenery. The four-day event starts Thursday. "The Rubicon Trail is the mecca of trails for the Jeep world and a perfect spot to get away from everything," said Jamey Paine, Product Manager at 4Wheel Drive Hardware. "You spend your whole day wheeling on this scenic trail. It's indescribable." The Jeepers Jamboree describes the annual event that kicks off July 25 as "the most grueling 17 miles of off-roading you'll ever experience." The experience runs the gamut because between bouts with vehicle-punishing terrain, 4×4 drivers are wined, dined and pampered. The Jeep Jamboree is the more family-oriented trip for 10-year-olds and up, with a mellower atmosphere, tamer music and a vendor show. The night before the Jeepers Jamboree, Wednesday, there's an informal party at the Georgetown Hotel saloon in Georgetown. Paine describes it as a cool little mountain town brimming with character. "It's something like out of a forever ago movie and the town is overwhelmed with both vintage and brand new Jeeps," he said. For him, meeting other Jeepers and hearing their stories was one of the highlights of his Jamboree trip. Roughly 600 vehicles are expected to run the various Jeepers Jamborees events that include three and four day options. Over 20 trail guides are on hand to help with navigation and if breakdowns occur on the trail, a helicopter flies in necessary parts. The Trail has a grip on the imaginations of veteran wheelers who've been there and holds intrigue for those who have yet to take it on. "I'm looking forward to wheeling on more serious rock crawling terrain than I'm used to in Texas," said Buddy Cabaniss, senior sales representative for the Houston/Louisiana branch of Dealer Services International. Cabaniss will be putting a 2012 Jeep Wrangler with a Rubicon Express 4.5-inch express lift through its paces. "We're gonna see what the Rubicon does on the Rubicon," he laughed. Among the items included in the price to make the trek are three meals a day, vehicle and camping fees, wilderness permits, and the use of guides. On the relaxation side are entertainment, drawings, and games. "I'm a diehard 4×4 enthusiast and I've heard amazing things from friends that have done the trail," said Dan Haynes, Dealer Services International representative for Georgia. "I'm a gearhead and when I found out the logistics of camping it really got me excited. I can't wait." Platinum sponsors include 4 Wheel Parts, G2 Axle & Gear, Smittybilt, and Trail Master. Vendors will be at the Jeep Jamboree campsite with products like winches, apparel, and Jeep hardtop hoists. Jeepers are readying their rides and dreaming about conquering the legendary Rubicon Trail. The Jeepers Jamboree is ready to help them verify those dreams. — David Beran is a Copywriter at 4WD

Unsanitary conditions close camping area on Rubicon trail

El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared a state of local emergency, closing an area off the Rubicon trail to the public because of an accumulation of human feces. The area includes a couple of hundred acres around the Spider Lake-Little Sluice area, the most popular place to camp along the 14-mile trail. The order calls for the area to be closed for 120 days so it can be cleaned up to the point that it no longer presents a threat to public health and safety and the environment, said Jon Morgan, director of the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management. The order takes effect immediately and is to be enforced by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Forest Service. It does not shut down any portion of the Rubicon trail. “We had a number of reports from the public about the increasing unsanitary condition and we confirmed it over the weekend,” said Jon Morgan, director of the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management. “There is human feces and urine everywhere up there. Hopefully this sends a message and reduces the impact of people on nature up there.” The trail boss for the Friends of the Rubicon, which represents more than 400 off-road clubs from around the world, adamantly opposed the closure. “The government agencies involved have had three years of management opportunities on this trail and yet have not completed those,” said Del Albright, trail boss for the Friends of the Rubicon and member of the county’s Rubicon Oversight Committee. “This closure is too radical and too premature.” The Rubicon trail, a county road, runs west to east around the northeast corner of Desolation Wilderness. It starts in the Eldorado National Forest at Wentworth Springs near Loon Lake and ends at Lake Tahoe at Homewood. On a busy weekend there can be 1,000 people camped within a half-mile of Spider Lake, with at least a couple of hundred camped around the lake, Albright said. Part of the land that surrounds Spider Lake is privately owned. The rest is land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The landscape is granite, making it difficult if not impossible to dig a hole and bury human waste. The terrain is too treacherous to accommodate any restroom facilities. “This (closure) is the result of irresponsible parties,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of responsible Jeepers who pack it in and pack it out.” In 2002, the county bought $10,000 worth of portable toilets and gave them to people who use the Rubicon trail, according to Albright. The county also established the Rubicon Oversight Committee in 2001 to work on a master plan for the trail. “There’s been no follow up by the county, the Forest Service or the Rubicon Oversight Committee,” Albright said. “I believe before closing it the Forest Service should have taken the bull by the horns and developed some campsites.” Albright said closure of the area will cause four-wheelers to camp at Buck Island Lake, just down the road from Spider Lake. “They are going to find other places; the same number of people are going to go,” Albright said. “If these people move to the next lake, are they going to close that too?” Lester Lubetkin, a Forest Service recreation officer, said people need to bring portable toilets when they travel the Rubicon. “What they really need to be doing is packing out their waste,” Lubetkin said. “Otherwise there are just so many people and they’ll go to another spot and end up with the same problem in a new spot.” – Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

Untamed Star fire continues

The Star fire burned uncontained for a fourth day Tuesday as high winds, low humidity and extreme heat plagued firefighters. The 6,000-acre fire in the Eldorado and Tahoe national forests, 25 miles west of Lake Tahoe, is causing tremendous amounts of smoke to filter into the Tahoe Basin. The fire, which is 9 percent contained, is spreading in several directions. Officials aren’t predicting when it will be stopped. “There is no telling how big it will get,” said Dwain Schrader, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer. Schrader said it would be impossible for the blaze to reach the Tahoe Basin because of the the lack of available fuel. “There are too many rocks,” he said. Firefighters have been digging fire lines to contain the blaze, but winds gusting as high as 20 mph are launching burning embers a half-mile from the fire line, starting spot fires in the surrounding area. The thick smoke is making it difficult for air tankers to drop retardant. The blaze, which began at the bottom of a canyon at the Red Star Mine, grew from 10 acres Saturday to 6,000 acres Tuesday. With the aid of air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers, 1,507 firefighters and personnel are battling the blaze. The fire threatens power lines from generators in Hell Hole and French Meadows, which feed Sacramento, and campgrounds in both areas were evacuated. Elsewhere, a forest fire that started Sunday afternoon near Bear Lake and Barker Pass in the Tahoe National Forest is 75 percent contained. “It’s not doing a lot,” said Debby Broback, fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s not like the one that is putting up all the smoke.” The Bear fire has consumed about 91 acres. The U.S. Forest Service is using two helicopters and four hand crews but the natural environment is also providing considerable help. “We are using a lot of natural areas such as large rocky areas to contain the fire,” Broback said. The fire had closed down the McKinney Rubicon Trail Monday morning, but it was reopened Tuesday. The Forest Service, however, is asking the public not to use four-wheel drive vehicles on the trail in the vicinity of Long Lake.

Inexperienced hikers found in Desolation Wilderness

A Texas woman was the focus of a large search and rescue operation Thursday, after she became separated from her hiking companion in Desolation Wilderness. On Wednesday morning Karthryne Kristof, 41, of Austin, and Mike McCalister of Rancho Cordova entered the wilderness area. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Mazzoni said the two were leapfrogging on the trail with McCalister ranging ahead. In the area between Velma Lakes and the Rubicon Reservoir the hikers separated. McCalister told deputies that he searched the area for about five hours before hiking out for help around 8 p.m. After a fruitless search Wednesday night, the search expanded Thursday morning to 30 volunteers including both foot and horse teams, and two aircraft. At 1:15 p.m. the California National Guard helicopter spotted Kristof near the Rubicon Reservoir area. Kristof and McCalister told rescuers that flooded and damaged trails led to their separation. Kristof had camping supplies to make it through the night, but was running low on food when she was found, Mazzoni said. On the north side of the lake a Washington D.C. woman got lost while hiking in Squaw Valley. Martha Peredo, 34, left alone for a hike around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, telling friends she would return by 7:30 p.m. Peredo’s friends notified the Placer County Sheriff’s Department around 11:30 p.m. Squaw Valley Security found Peredo around 6:40 a.m. Friday in a rest room at High Camp. Deputies said Peredo was unprepared for a high altitude hike, and was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. She didn’t bring any food or water. Besides being tired and hungry Peredo was not injured, police said.

Preparation is the key to Rubicon Trail travel

The Rubicon is one of the trails in North America that demands experience and, most importantly, preparation. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office is called to rescue several people from the trail each year. It recommends the following to people planning an off-road adventure: -Be certain your vehicle is worthy of the trail. They do not recommend that people drive pick-up trucks. Instead people are encouraged to tackle the trail in modified Jeeps, although some stock vehicles have made the trip. -Travel in groups and let people know where you are going and when you will be back. -Bring spare parts and tools. -Bring a radio or a cellular phone, which will work if you climb to a peak. -If available a GPS tracking system can prevent you from getting lost and allow you to tell rescuers exactly where you are. -Bring a first aid kit. -Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. -Be prepared for adverse weather. -Bring extra fuel, food and water. -Be prepared to stay out for three days. “You have to be ready to sustain in the Rubicon for at least three days – and that means everything,” said Deputy Scott Stewart. “It is also good to have experience. This is one of the most technical trails and is one of the toughest trails in America.” People can gain experience by joining an off-road club, which can provide safety and camaraderie on the trail. People with questions about off-roading and the Rubicon Trail can learn more from the California Association of 4-wheel Clubs. Contact them at (800) 4X4-FUNN.

County’s Rubicon Trail video educates users, features locals

After years of trying, El Dorado County has found a way to approach and implement best practices for off-roading on the Rubicon Trail without the rough-and-tumble rejection of the 4×4 community. The county recently released an educational and promotional video titled “Rubicon Trail: It’s In Your Hands,” which aims to make people aware of the four S’s: safety, spills, sediment and sanitation. “I think that if the users learn it on our trail and use it everywhere they go, the environment will be much better off,” said Vickie Sanders, an El Dorado County administrative technician who spearheaded the video. Todd Stanley, an award-winning producer for the Deadliest Catch and Cool, Calif. resident, was contracted to make the video while a cast of local offroaders volunteered their time to star in it. The video has been watched hundreds of times online and Sanders has received dozens of phone calls requesting the use of the video everywhere from classrooms to county fairs. “I think the effort from the county to use local volunteers that actually use the trail was a great idea and will reach out to all types of OHV people,” said Scott Johnston, president of the Rubicon Trail Foundation, who’s featured in the video. Linked by shots of Jeep rockcrawlers easing their wide tires over granite boulders, the 15-minute film centers around the four S’s. Using a dated character named Tom, played by Friends of the Rubicon member Tom Hadden, the video first shows viewers what not to do in each of the categories before launching into proper trail etiquette with narrator and 4×4 enthusiast Tim Green. “I didn’t want it to come across as a government piece because it wouldn’t be well received by the users,” Sanders said. Each section of the four S’s is tied to a colored logo bandana and sticker that El Dorado County will give away on the trail. The bandanas and stickers are meant to be shown off on 4×4 rigs in order to start conversation or show that the driver is aware of the Rubicon’s best practices. Each year the county will release one new bandana: the blue bandana for spills will be released this year. The yellow ‘sanitation’ bandana was released last year and has caused quite a stir, Sanders said. The vibrant piece of cloth reads, “Eradicate the white flowers on the Rubicon Trail,” white flowers being a euphemism for discarded toilet paper. “I had environmentalists calling me asking, “Why are you killing the white flowers on the Rubicon Trail?” she said. “It was the perfect way to broach the subject.” Rubicon trailer user Ryan Mohondro has the bandana tied to the cage of his offroad vehicle. It gets a lot of attention, he said. “Everyone who hops in asks what’s up with the yellow bandana? I feel kind of proud to explain it to them,” Mohondro wrote in the online 4×4 forum Pirate4x4.com. The video cost more than $90,000 to make. It was funded by a $73,000 grant from the California off-highway vehicle trust fund and matching funds from El Dorado County. Sanders said she hopes the video will help repair the image of Rubicon offroaders, a group she’s been working with since the Rubicon project was handed to her in 2001 while she was at the El Dorado County Parks and Recreation Department. In 2009 the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board issued a cleanup and abatement order that forced El Dorado County to make an effort to enforce rules, educate users and prevent sanitation issues, erosion and spills on the trail. “It seems like we’re constantly on defense,” Sanders said. “I hope this video puts us out in front.” Del Albright, who founded Friends of the Rubicon in 2001, agreed. “This series of videos does a great job of giving a real message about what the trail means and how we are working to preserve it for future use for all,” he said.