A body believed to be that of a 49-year-old Venice woman remained high on a steep, rugged, ice-covered area in the Fish Fork drainage northwest of Mount Baldy's summit on the Los Angeles County side of the mountain, authorities said early Thursday.
The body was located Wednesday afternoon, and the remote mountainside was considered so treacherous that search supervisors and helicopter crewmen opted to leave the body where they found it until Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Department of Coroner is working with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Aviation Unit to recover the body, which has been confirmed to be a female adult, a coroner's investigator told City News Service early Thursday.
Michelle Yu, described by friends as an experienced mountaineer who trained and hiked regularly on Mount Baldy, had last been heard from Saturday.
She'd started up the Ski Hut-Baldy Bowl trail above Manker Flats and signed a trail register about 8:30 a.m. that morning, according to search supervisors.
Yu indicated she planned to ascend 4 1/2 miles to Baldy's summit, then descend to Baldy Notch by way of the Devil's Backbone trail, where she planned to ride the ski lift or walk down the maintenance road to her car, search supervisors said.
But Yu never returned, and her roommate reported her missing Sunday.
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Starting that afternoon, scores of alpine-trained volunteers from several Southern California counties arrived in Mount Baldy Village to join the organized search for Yu.
Though she normally went out for day hikes and climbs with little or no overnight gear, friends and family of Yu described a tough woman who could survive for days in the mountains if necessary.
On Wednesday afternoon, a sheriff's helicopter crew picked up a search team in the Fish Fork area and spotted a body on the side of the mountain, Jodi Miller of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a telephone interview.
The steep, rugged terrain was covered in ice, and the pilot had to return to a landing zone, drop the search team and return with a medic, who was lowered to the body and confirmed the person was deceased, Miller said.
The body was located at an estimated 7,900 feet above sea level. Baldy's summit is 10,064 feet, the high point in the San Gabriel Mountains and Los Angeles County.
"Based on clothing and physical description, authorities believe that this may be Michelle Yu," a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department statement said.
"A positive identification and cause of death will be determined by the Los Angeles County coroner."
The Mount Baldy Village command post for the Yu search since Sunday has been closed.
The upper Fish Fork drainage that comes off Mount Baldy is a north-facing slope that retains ice and snow.
Described by mountain historian John W. Robinson in "Trails of the Angeles" as a "rugged, rock-ribbed chasm," the Fish Fork of the San Gabriel River is one of the most isolated and wild recesses in the San Gabriel Mountains.
"The canyon is wedged tightly between two high mountain ridges," according to Robinson. "The long hogback of Pine Mountain Ridge on the north, the sawtoothed wall of San Antonio Ridge on the south.
"Looming high over its head is the gray mass of Old Baldy. Melting snows from the great mountain nourish the stream that swishes and tumbles and somersaults down the chasm. . . . The air is crisp with elevation."