I’ve had a lifelong fascination with people who mysteriously disappear, especially those who get lost in the wilderness. On January 13th, British actor Julian Sands was reported missing by his family. Sands, an experienced hiker and mountaineer, had set out alone for the San Gabriel Mountains , 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles. He never returned. On January 18th his car was located near Mt. Baldy , one of his favorite trails.
Julian Sands is/was 65 years old and made his home in North Hollywood. His break-out role was in the British period piece, A Room with a View , which coincidentally starred Helena Bonham Carter as an ingenue -before she found her goth persona and her partner, Tim Burton. Sands continued to work in many diverse films and series, including The Killing Fields, The L Word, Smallville, 24 and even Dexter!
How could he simply disappear? How could a seasoned climber come to grief?
For answers, I looked to my friend, bear biologist, Sarah Poole. She told me about search and rescuer, Dr. Robert J. Koester, who’s an expert in understanding the behavior of lost people.
Here’s what I learned from his video, which you can watch here on YouTube.
- It is very easy to get lost. Dr. Koester describes a case of an experienced 65 year old hiker who had a habit of walking 80 steps from the trail for a washroom break. (That’s right, eighty not eight!) Her skeletal remains were found two years later.
- Lost people DO tend to wander around in circles. People wander in random patterns and can travel great distances. They are often found far from the area where they were supposed to be.
- Lost people tend to travel downhill rather uphill. People believe that down is safer and that they will be more likely to find help there. Sadly that is not necessarily true.
- People get lost by making a mistake. At first, they believe their instruments or maps are faulty so they can travel a significant distance before they realize they are lost.
- People get an adrenalin rush when they discover they are lost. This is a normal physiological response. The worst thing one can do is to panic. The first thing to do is to calm down; a simple drink of water can be enough.
So what happened to Julian Sands? The San Gabriel Mountains are about an hour’s drive from LA, stretching between the city and the Mohave Desert. Winters are wet and snowfall can be heavy. Ice-climbing and snow trails are popular with mountaineers and Baldy Bowl is a favorite. This is where Sands was headed.
Mt. Baldy’s real name is Mt. San Antonio. At over 10,000 feet, it’s the highest peak in the mountain range. Winter climbing on the Baldy Bowl requires ice axes and crampons with ascents of 45 to 50 degrees. Rockfalls and avalanches are common. This January severe storms in the area led to extremely dangerous avalanche conditions and search and rescue operations had to be curtailed. Julian Sands remains missing.
Not long after, a number of bogus reports surfaced, claiming that Sands had been spotted alive and well. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario, born of romanticism and desperate hope – and perhaps too much bingeing on Netflix.
One hiker, 75 year old Jin Chung, was rescued from Mt. Baldy around the same time after he went missing for two days. He’d gone off on his own leaving his two hiking companions on another route. Fortunately, after they alerted search and rescue, Chung was found with only mild injuries.
As Dr. Koester warns hikers: tell people where you are going; take emergency survival supplies with you and never hike alone.
More to come in Part 2!