Mike Leum stepped into the icy mountain with his crampon, using the steel-spiked footwear to find purchase.
Instead, he plummeted down the steep slope, only an hour northeast of sunny Los Angeles.
Leum, a veteran mountain rescuer with LA County Sheriff's Department, was on a search for a 61-year-old hiker who had gone missing Jan. 13 on Mt. Islip when Leum had his own brush with death.
Wearing a 50-pound rescue pack, Leum said he immediately lost his center of gravity and began falling backwards, head first down the mountain, before smashing his ice ax into the slope, stopping the fall.
The hiker they were searching for, Bob Gregory, still has not been found. The search for him is ongoing.
While some risk is part of his job as a volunteer search-and-rescue member, Leum said it's been a particularly rough season in the San Gabriel Mountains. In less than one month, two hikers have fallen to their deaths, some have been seriously injured and several have gone missing.
The back-to-back emergencies are straining search-and-rescuers like Leum, who are almost all volunteers. It's become so taxing, crews have had to come help from San Diego.
"It's unusual to have so many incidents so close together," Leum told USA TODAY. "It's frustrating that people are losing their lives. If they just wait a couple of weeks for conditions to improve, that would dramatically improve their chances and lower their risk."
The recent spate of accidents have come in rapid succession:
Dec. 28: 43-year-old Jarret Choi of Los Angeles was attempting to summit a popular local peak called Cucamonga (8,862 feet, 2,701 meters). Though he was equipped with the proper gear, Choi fell 300 feet and died before rescuers reached him two days later.
Jan. 8: An experienced hiker and mother of four named Crystal Gonzalez fell 500 feet to her death while attempting to summit the tallest area's tallest peak, Mount Baldy (10,068 feet, 3,068 meters).
Jan. 13-16: Two hikers go missing in separate incidents. Gregory on Mount Islip, and Hollywood actor Julian Sands near Mount Baldy. They remain missing, and crews return every day to look for them.
All that is on top of 10 other hikers who went missing or were injured and have been rescued.
“We're doing the best we can,” said Gloria Huerta, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County sheriff’s crews who recovered Gonzalez’s body and are still searching for any sign of Sands.
Though members of the public often comment that rescuers should charge people for causing a search, the vast majority of rescuers are against the idea, Leum said.
He got into the business 30 years ago after being inspired by the search for a missing Boy Scout.
"We're in it for the saves," Leum said.
More coverage from USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LA-area Mount Baldy hiker rescue, Julian Sands search, task volunteers