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Storm shutdown of tram kept hikers on peak

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POSTED January 24, 2012 7:21 p.m.

PALM SPRINGS (AP) — Seventeen hikers spent a cold night stranded on an 8,516-foot mountain when a fierce storm with howling 100 mph winds forced operators to shut down the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, authorities said.

The last rotating tram car left the Mount San Jacinto State Park station for the Coachella Valley desert station at 2 p.m. Saturday because of the bad weather.

The hikers battled snow and wind to reach the mountain tram station only to find the doors locked.

Hiker Mihai Giurgiulescu, 28, of North Hollywood said the group couldn't believe they were left behind. The 14 men and three women only had food and clothing for a day hike.

"We were not stranded at the top. We were abandoned," Giurgiulescu told the Palm Springs Desert Sun (http://mydesert.co/zD6f8C).

But state park rangers knew the group was still in the wilderness area and ranger Bart Grant volunteered to stay behind and make the hikers as comfortable as possible for a 14-hour stay.

Grant brought blankets, sleeping bags and tarps to a mule shed used in the summertime by the California Conservation Corps.

The hikers huddled together, taking turns to stand alongside a campfire and they made practical use of hammers, nails and anything else they could find.

"We put planks on the ground, covered the windows with cardboard, and proceeded to spend a very long 14 hours," Giurgiulescu said.

"They organized really nice in there," Grant said.

The temperature dropped to 33 degrees — much warmer than the usual single-digit temperatures this time of year. Grant said the highest wind gust was 118 mph.

Some of the hikers complained that Grant didn't invite them into the small, heated ranger station, though it lost power at 8:20 p.m.

"It's a security concern," Grant said. "I'm a law enforcement officer. I'm armed. I don't know who these people are. And we keep weapons in the station."

They returned to the desert station on Sunday morning's four-mile tram run.

Tramway spokeswoman Lena Zimmerschied said the hikers will each get reimbursement for their $23.95 tram fares.

 

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