Just seven weeks ago, Lloyd Charton, 69, returned home to Dana Point after an ascent of 16,067-foot Mt. Vinson on the glacial ice of Antarctica.
With that feat, Charton conquered five of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the globe’s seven continents and a holy grail among high-altitude mountaineers.
“He wasn’t looking at these as trophies, but an opportunity to go somewhere spectacular,” said expedition guide Todd Rutledge of Telluride, Colo., whose company Charton hired for several expeditions.
This past Saturday, March 11, Charton and climbing partner Trevor Anthes, of Irvine, returned to far more familiar terrain, the majestic 10,000-foot slopes of Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Charton had made the ascent 158 times before, says a statement from his family.
About a quarter mile from the ski area and 1,400 feet below the summit elevation, Charton fell to his death, falling 300 feet from the narrow Devil’s Backbone Trail, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, who gave no further explanation for the fall. An autopsy was conducted Monday, but results won’t be available for weeks, said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the coroner.
Helicopter pilot Corporal Jon Anderson said the conditions were clear, but windy and snow patches still blotted the trail that crosses an exposed ridgeline where the mountain drops steeply away on either side. Charton fell towards the village side, he said, which receives the most sun exposure.
“If it was any more vertical, the medics would not come off the hook,” said Anderson, who nevertheless held the craft below the ridgeline to drop a medic 135 feet from a hoist onto the nearly vertical cliff face to reach the hikers.
Anthes, injured by falling debris while trying to aid Charton, was first airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, Anderson said. Two deputies descended again to retrieve Charton’s body from the mountain, he said. A call to Anthes went unreturned.
Over 30 years as a personal injury attorney, Charton won several high-profile cases, representing doctors accused of negligence, landslide victims, kin in wrongful deaths and homeless people. He served on the county grand jury, hosted a radio talk show about the law and was interviewed in articles for national publications and broadcasts.
Locally, though, Charton is better known as a longtime supporter and two decade president of No Square Theater, in Laguna Beach, where his daughter performed. “He is so respected and loved, an intricate part of so much for so many of us at the theatre and personally. I am so heartbroken,” founding board member Sande St. John said.
Charton also showed an entrepreneurial bent, transforming eight oceanfront cottages that city records show he purchased for $4.6 million in 2010. At his Retreat, rates top out at $300 a night and receive top Trip Advisor ratings.
And Charton started Lux Adventures, which the website describes as dedicated to trekking the outdoors and conquering the world’s highest peaks while providing a world class luxury experience. The site shows Lux treks in recent years to 15 destinations, including Mt. Shasta and Machu Picchu in Peru. Charton also guided horseback and overnight hiking and camping expeditions locally and took weekly day hikes scaling Baldy, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, says a statement from his family.
“He wanted to pursue his passion at a high level,” said Rutledge, co-owner and director of Mountain Trip, based in Telluride, Colo., which organized private guided excursions such as Charton’s recent Antarctica trip. “He’s like my favorite uncle.”
“He didn’t care about the summit, but wanted to have fun and come back with all his fingers and toes,” said Rutledge, who sees character parallels between business executives and climbers. “They are very goal oriented and able to identify and manage risk,” he said, making course corrections to avoid going beyond their risk tolerance. That fit Charton.
“He was always so positive even when something went sideways,” Rutledge said, such as when unfamiliar guides had to take over the Antarctica trek.
While most trekking clients are in their 50s, Charton was older by nearly two decades. “He could suffer with a smile; these aren’t hospitable places,” Rutledge said.
He is survived by his wife Stella; children: Amber Charton of New York, Hug and his wife Jodi of Laguna Hills, Danny and his wife Jessica of San Diego, Jason Mitchell and wife Terri of Louisville, Colo.; grandchildren Julian and Silas; siblings Steve and his wife Kris of Rancho Santa Fe, Jerry and his wife Hortensia of Albany, Bonnie Charton and her wife Carrie of Menlo Park. He was preceded in death by his parents David and Florence.
A service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 16, at Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Charton’s memory to No Square Theatre, 384 Legion Street, Laguna Beach. http://www.nosquare.org