LA Times

Los Angeles Times
Article Published: January 15, 2004

Body of Missing Newbury Park Hiker Is Found on Mt. Baldy

*Ali Aminian, an experienced climber, slipped on an icy trail and fell more than 500 feet down a slope, authorities say

By Lance Pugmire and Holly Wolcott, Times Staff Writers

The body of a Newbury Park hiker who had been missing for three days was found Wednesday on Mt. Baldy, where he apparently had slipped on a narrow, icy trail and fallen more than 500 feet down a slope.

Ali Aminian, 51, was an experienced hiker and Sierra Club member who had been president of the California Mountaineering Club in 1998.

"One of the things he said was that if he had to die, he wanted to die climbing in the mountains," said Jilaa Aminian, a 21-year-old sociology major at UCLA and Aminian's oldest child. "I just hope that he didn't suffer."

Aminian was hiking alone Sunday, en route to the 10,064-foot peak of Mt. Baldy, when he encountered what rescuers described as hard, frozen ice conditions. He fell near the 8,990-foot elevation marker on Bear Flats Trail, hitting small pine trees as he plummeted and stopping under a small pine that obscured his body from searchers, a rescue official said.

One of four rescue dogs picked up a scent at sunset Tuesday. About 11:30 a.m. the next day, volunteers from the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group found the body. The terrain was so icy that the rescuers' metal shoe spikes "barely stuck to the slope," said volunteer Tom Roseman. "I'm sure he just slipped and couldn't stop himself until he hit the bottom." Aminian was wearing basic hiking boots, Roseman said.

A Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter lowered a hoist to recover the body.

Meanwhile, a second hiker remains missing on Mt. Baldy. Charles Koh, 53, of Buena Park disappeared during a hike on New Year's Day. A spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said the search was ongoing and would intensify this weekend with additional personnel.

Aminian's family said he started climbing mountains more than 30 years ago in his homeland of Iran. He continued the sport after moving to the United States in 1977 and to Newbury Park in 1996. Sunday's climb, which he began about 4 a.m., was training for a trek up Mt. Whitney in March.

Jilaa Aminian said her father often took daylong conditioning hikes to prepare for larger climbs.

The family's Newbury Park garage is filled with climbing gear.

"My mom said that before we were born, his first love was mountain climbing," she said. "After us, it was his second love."

Chris Jain, a member of the California Mountaineering Club, said, "Those of us who engage in this are aware it's not a risk-free endeavor, that there is an element of unpredictability to this no matter how experienced you are."

Two other hikers have died in the mountains above San Bernardino and Los Angeles County since Jan. 1. A 66-year-old Yucaipa man died Jan. 5, and a 15-year-old San Bernardino boy fell about 400 feet to his death Sunday in the mountains above Devore.

Sgt. Cliff Weston, San Bernardino County Sheriff's search and rescue coordinator, said Aminian's death should serve as a reminder to avoid hiking alone and to use the proper equipment, such as the metal crampons, when required. Jain said it's common for experienced hikers to bypass the use of crampons because they sometimes cause broken ankles in minor falls.

"Mountaineering is no different than race car driving," Weston said. "One little thing can go wrong, and it becomes a tragedy."

Henry Arnebold of La Verne, who had climbed with Aminian for more than 12 years, said, "Everybody in the climbing community that knew him is devastated. He was a very safe climber, a very knowledgeable climber.

"He always goes prepared, makes smart decisions and never took unnecessary risks. Once you get to know him, he is very outgoing. I've had a lot of fun with him over the years on some challenging peaks and some good times traveling to and from the mountains."

Aminian had scaled several 14,000-foot mountains, as well as a smaller one, including 7,000-foot Mt. Shasta in Northern California.

Arnebold said he and other members of the Mountaineering Club and Sierra Peaks Section of the Sierra Club had opted not to organize their own search party after authorities expressed concern about having too many searchers, and therefore a confusion of tracks, on the mountain.

Aminian also is survived by his wife, Roberta; and children 19-year-old Bidjan and 14-year-old Keyon.

Aminian had worked at Verizon for 25 years, the last seven as a dispatcher in Thousand Oaks, said spokesman Jon Davies.

"Our employees are devastated." Davies said.

Aminian, who had a master's degree, had been studying Spanish at Moorpark College and had considered studying for a doctorate and perhaps teaching Spanish after retirement, his daughter said.

Times staff writer Greg Griggs contributed to this report.