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2 Hikers' Return Ends Search

Crews weary from four rescues are relieved to see the pair walk down from Mt. Baldy.

February 08, 2005|Lance Pugmire and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

Two hikers -- a Hollywood screenwriter and the son of "Designing Women" actress Annie Potts -- walked down from Mt. Baldy on Monday afternoon, 18 hours after they were reported missing.

Jonathan Lemkin, 43, and Clay Senechal, 23, both of Los Angeles, walked into the Mount Baldy firehouse unharmed and said, "We're here," stunning rescuers gathered there.

Their arrival was a relief to the weary rescuers, who had set out at dawn Monday after making four high-mountain rescues in the previous 48 hours.

"It's just been the hardest day of my life, but it's a happy ending. I'm just thankful my son is back," a teary-eyed Potts said after being reunited with Senechal, her son with director B. Scott Senechal.

"I guess this is what you get for teaching your children to be independent and brave."

The pair told friends they intended to hike Mt. Baldy's icy peaks, about 40 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, for a few hours Sunday. When they didn't return by 7 p.m., family members notified authorities.

Senechal tried to make a cellphone call about 6 p.m. Sunday, but the call didn't go through because of the limited cell range on Mt. Baldy, which at 10,064 feet is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.

On Monday morning, a friend of the pair who had recently hiked in the same area with Lemkin set out on the trail in search of them. Kyle Millsap, 41, of Los Angeles said he was concerned because of the "steep, dangerous, icy" conditions he and Lemkin had encountered two weeks earlier.

"I just kept hollering for them, and then I saw them hiking back in," Millsap said.

"They were very happy to see me. They said they had seen two helicopters earlier and started waving, but the guys couldn't see them."

Millsap said the two men became stranded on a steep, ice-covered peak in heavy fog and snow early Sunday evening.

"They got up there, around the 8,500-foot mark, and pretty much got lost because of the conditions of the fog, the snow and the dark," Millsap said. "They were stranded ... and didn't want to start walking around when they couldn't see the trail. So they just strapped themselves in, and even slept a little until dawn."

Lemkin and Senechal told authorities they had been "very cold," said San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.

For the most part, the pair declined to comment about their adventure. Lemkin hopped in his green Range Rover, which was left at the base of the Baldy trail, and said, "Now everything's good."

Lemkin, whose writing credits include the films "The Devil's Advocate" and "Lethal Weapon 4," has also written for the TV series "Beverly Hills 90210," "21 Jump Street" and "Hill Street Blues."

This year started out in far less deadly fashion than last year on the area's major peaks, with no reported hiking fatalities so far. Seven hikers on the peaks died in January 2004, including two on Mt. Baldy.

Last month, three people died after falling into Mt. Baldy's roaring San Antonio Creek, swollen by torrential rains and rapid snowmelt.

"It's all ice up there right now. It's just frozen solid," said sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Shaffer.

Times staff writer Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

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