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The family that hikes together ...

Challenge to benefit SCV Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, also great way to spend time with family

Posted: March 13, 2009 12:11 a.m.
Updated: March 13, 2009 4:30 a.m.

SCV Search and Rescue Team members Dave Christianson, left, Ken Wiseman, center, Tony Buttitta right, practice during a drill in the Santa Clarita Valley. Team members respond to diverse calls, ranging from evacuating civilians during fires to directing traffic following accidents to finding lost hikers.

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Ken Wiseman is issuing a challenge to fellow locals - 12 hikes in 12 weeks.

"It's healthy, it's fun and it beats a treadmill," Wismeman said.

It will also help a good cause. Wiseman will lead the SCV Search and Rescue Team Trail Challenge, which begins Sunday and costs a tax-deductible $50 for the 12-week program. Corporate sponsors such as B & B Manufacturing and AMS Fulfillment, pay a rate of $250, plus $50 for each team member.

Funds raised from challenge entry and sponsorship fees will directly benefit the Santa Clarita Valley Search and Rescue team. As part of the SCV Search and Rescue Team for more than three years, Wiseman, CEO and managing partner of Castaic's AMS Fulfillment, understands the organization's challenges go way beyond physical.

"Team members are issued approximately $4,000 worth of equipment a year and a lot of them pay for it out of their own pockets.

I thought this challenge would be a fun way to involve the community and raise funds towards our team," Wiseman said.

Open to hikers age 18 and over (younger participants are welcome with a guardian) the challenge will be held at trails throughout the SCV, including Towsley Canyon, East Canyon, Rice Canyon, Mentryville/Pico Canyon, Placerita, Whitney Canyon Park, Weldon and Golden Valley.

All participants will receive a trail brochure that details trail heads, parking areas, mileage estimates and brief trail descriptions.
Well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome to hike with their humans, as park rules allow.

The trail challenge will kick off at the picnic grounds at Ed Davis Park 9 a.m. to noon Sunday with registration and the first challenge hike. The 12-week event ends May 31 with a barbecue and awards ceremony hosted by the SCV Search and Rescue Team.

Hike distances range from 2.2 miles to 9.5 miles, with varying degrees of difficulty. Challenge members have the option of hiking with the team every Saturday or Sunday or attempting the hikes themselves and tracking their results.

Corporate sponsors can compete for bragging rights based on total miles logged by their team with first, second and third-place winners announced at the barbecue.

"It's on the honor system. It's about being a personal challenge," Wiseman said.

People currently facing financial issues can find value in the challenge too, as Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputy Artie Thompson illustrated.

"With the economy being the way it is, hiking is an inexpensive way to get fit. People will get familiar with all the trails in Santa Clarita during the challenge and be able to hike them on their own afterwards," Thompson said. "It also raises awareness that the rescue team is out there, on these trails and beyond, helping people."

The Santa Clarita Search and Rescue Team was founded Jan. 27, 1957, after the rescue of a boy in rugged Loop Canyon, located in the foothills north of Sylmar. Programs to acquire training and equipment for the group's efficient operation were set up with special emphasis on first aid and mountain climbing techniques.

Headquartered at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, the team is currently composed of 13 to 15 reserve deputies and civilian volunteers. They are on call and ready to respond 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as one of eight similar search and rescue teams in Los Angeles County.

"We cover 656 square miles, starting at the I-5 and (state route) 14 interchange and heading north up to Gorman," Thompson said.

Search and Rescue orientation meetings are held at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station the second Thursday of each month.

After a 24-question test, applicants are asked to create a one-page bio and fill out an application. After being screened, applicants are called back for an oral interview and have their backgrounds checked.

Once approved for training, applicants begin a 22-week long course through the police academy at Valencia's College of the Canyons, which includes CPR, first aid and EMT training. A monthly meeting is also required, as well as continuous training; the group recently spent a weekend in Squaw Valley, practicing snow, ice and avalanche drills.

Overall, the process tends to weed out the serious versus not-so-serious candidates, said Thompson.

"For every 100 applicants, only six make it all the way through," he said.

Volunteers for the SCV Search and Rescue team has been involved with everything from directing traffic after the 2007 tunnel fire on the I-5 freeway to evacuations following the Buckweed blaze to helping a son find his elderly father, suffering from dementia, after the man wandered five miles away from home and into local canyons.

"Last week, it was two ladies with a 3-year-old that went for a hike on Templin Highway. They had gotten lost in 45-degree weather, only wearing shorts," Thompson said. "We found them."

Wiseman counts a recent experience at Mt. Baldy as one of his most rewarding. While he knew going in that it would most likely be a recovery rather than a rescue mission, he felt good about being able to deliver closure to the family of the young hiker who had perished.

"Being part of that, helping relatives cope with their loss and come to terms with what happened, you really understand the important role you play as part of this team," Wiseman said.

On the flip side, some weeks afterward, Wiseman was involved with helping to find a 64-year-old man who had gotten lost on a hike.

"He was alive and willing to follow us back to the trail head," he recalled with a smile.

There are other rewards to volunteering in search and rescue, such as bonding with like-minded people in a natural setting and learning all about the trails Santa Clarita Valley residents are so lucky to have right in their own backyard.

The Search and Rescue Challenge will offer all this and more to its participants, according to the two men spearheading it.

"For some, it may be about overcoming a hurdle and busting out of their comfort zone," Wiseman stated.

"For others, it's an easy way to get fit, healthy, and gain camaraderie," Thompson said. "You know, you can hike for five miles out here, chatting with people or just enjoying it quietly by yourself. Either way, it's a great way to clear your head and get some fresh air."

The Santa Clarita Valley Search & Rescue Team Challenge will be held from March 15 through May 31. To register, contact Ken Wiseman at (661) 775-0611 or e-mail For more information, visit


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