Mt. Seymour Task – Jan 17-19
Here’s my account –
I got home, grabbed my equipment and started heading up Seymour. Gord and Tim made it to Theta Lake just in time before the light and weather window closed and advised us that the subject had sustained multiple injuries (head, wrist, shoulder) from a 200m fall. They were attending to Chris, the subject, and placing him in the hypothermia bag.
442 Squadron (the Army search and rescue chopper) was called in, however, they were unable to get into Theta lake due to deteriorating weather conditions. At this point we were called back to base, as command realized this search was going to be drawn out. At command we were told to go home and return at 07:00. At this point the snow was starting to accumulate on a very hard ice layer – which Chris had slid on. I realized that if it kept snowing the avalanche conditions were going to get nasty.
I got home about midnight, slept for 6 hours, and returned back to Seymour. I was then assigned to the advance team which was tasked to go quickly into Theta Lake to set a trail and bring supplies for Tim, Gord and the subject, Chris. As our team (Bruce Moffat, Jeff Yarnold, Doug Brown, Roland Webb) set-out we were checking the avalanche conditions. Doug checked a number of hills and advised us that avalanche hazard with considerable to high. As per my previous nights thoughts, this was turning into perfect extreme avalanche conditions.
Left: Recreational snowmobilers provided assistance hauling gear.
As we passed the trail junction and into Wes’ Staircase – a steep decline and then traverse on the Elsay lake trail we changed up our snowshoes to crampons. Bruce lead out down the gulley – with full knowledge that he could be instantly swept down the gulley in an avalanche – and join our subject 1000 ft. below. I give full respect to Bruce for leading down that first pitch, it was a little concerning.
Left: Avi debri above Theta Lake.
I followed Bruce next and we slowly made our way down, and then began traversing, passing the spot that Chris had fallen. We came across an open area and watched as a small avalanche passed right in front of us.
Dave, our avi specialist was at the top of the gulley and had been observing natural avalanches starting to release everywhere. He advised that the avalanche hazard was becoming extreme and widespread and sending anyone in after us was not an option. The rope/stretcher team that was supposed to follow us down was heading back to command.
At that point we knew we were committed. There was no turning back, and Tim made it clear to us that we had to get down to them with the supplies. Over the radio Tim suddenly yelled avalanche, and informed us that a large avalanche had stopped only a few feet from their camp. They needed us to get down there and help move Chris out of the avalanche paths.
Once the avi-techs came down – after two of them being caught in avalanches themselves and nearly getting killed, the rope team 900 ft. above started to set ropes straight down the chute.
Watching the avi-techs from Whistler, and Pemberton come down – I was thinking those guys are hard core – the terrain they were skiing was extremely steep with fatal fall consequences and scraped clean ice. Later I heard that they made a few comments back in the parking lot that, that was one of the funnest aka craziest days in the mountains for them. My sincere thank you to those guys for risking their lives to create an escape route for us.
During this time, we could hear Peter from Talon Helicopters below us trying to fly in, however, the weather was still bad, and it had not stopped snowing. We had basically given up on the chopper, but still insured we had stomped out a path to a heli-pad that we had created in the snow.
All of a sudden the chopper appeared in the fog and raced over the ridge towards Theta Lake. We all yelled “GO GO GO!!” we grabbed Chris in the hypothermia bag and literally ran through the snow, falling and scrambling to get him to the pad. We had advised Chris earlier that it was going to be quick if the chopper came in it would probably hurt when he was loaded in. The chopper swooped in and hovered about 5 feet off of the ground – Mike and Curt threw open the doors and we literally threw Chris into the open doors – Curt grabbed him and fell backwards into the chopper with Chris on top.
And that was it – the chopper left as quickly as it could – doors still not closed. We started cheering, and hi-fiving. The feeling of elation of getting Chris out of there was amazing. The rope teams 900 ft above us said they heard the cheers coming from below. We knew that a conventional rope rescue would have been 20 hours of hauling up extremely steep and technical terrain. Now all we had to do was get ourselves out.
Later I learned that Peter was having icing problems on the machine and the flying conditions were very very marginal – hence he informed us that he was not coming back to get us.
A big thank you to Peter from Talon Helicopters for getting Chris out.
We grabbed most of our gear and started boot packing up the chute that the avi-techs had created. It was quite steep and icy and required a bit of care, as falling was not an option. About half way up we met up with the rope teams who had set up some hand lines for us. And…a few hours later we were out. I then spent a half hour digging my truck out as so much snow had fallen – I couldn’t even see my truck under the mound of snow.
And…on to the next rescue….which will be soon I’m sure…