Mt. Seymour Task – Jan 17-19

Left: NS1 – Command.

This was a big rescue, multiple teams, and a few days. There was also much media coverage – some accurate, some not-so-much.

Here’s my account –

Jan 17th at approximately 16:30 my pager went off, I quickly left work and jumped in my truck heading back to the North Shore. Another page went out, advising anyone available to go directly to the Fell Street heli-landing area.
I heard on the radio that Tim and Gord had made it to the heli-pad and were already taking off – luckily they were both near the area and prepared as the light window was closing fast.

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.

Left: Inside Command.
Once on Seymour I was assigned as a back up team to another advance team that had already gone in to get Chris’ hiking partner Simon. Simon was the one who had phoned 911 from the trail after Chris had slipped off of the trail and out of sight. Simon then climbed down to try and communicate with Chris, but then got himself into dangerous terrain. Our team – Connie, John K, Greg and myself hiked out to the intersection of the Seymour main trail and Elsay lake trail where we waited as the back-up/safety for Ales, Russ and Doug who were extracting Simon from the steep terrain.

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.

Left: Tim and Gord’s original camp – surrounded by avi debri.

We made our way down to Theta Lake, found a safe location for a camp and quickly dug out a platform with tarps slung above. We then went down to Tim, Gord and Chris and we dragged/carried Chris up to the platform.

Left: Our base camp. And Tim in his stylish orange garbage bag – his gore-tex got soaked the first night.

At this point we realized we were probably stuck there for the night, so we started digging out snow caves and preparing for a night out. We spent the rest of the day digging caves, staircases and a fire (it actually went for a while – congrats to Jeff) – mostly to try and stay active and warm.

Left: Re-packaging Chris.

Left: Snowcave entrance aka Condos at Theta Lake.

At about 6pm we placed Chris in the snowcave – which he was not too happy about due to his claustrophobia, but he toughed it out. Tim and I bunked down beside him in our sleeping bags and spent the night rubbing our legs and hands together to stay warm. Chris asked if the snowcave could collapse and I assured him it was solid – thinking in my head – “I hope it doesn’t collapse”. The snow was pretty solid, so I wasn’t too worried.

Left: The boys from left – Doug, John, Rollie, Gord, Jeff

Jeff had opted to sleep under the tarps – unfortunately for him – in the middle of the night the weight of the snow collapsed the tarps and landed on him. Being in his long underwear and without help he had no choice but to lie there in his bag until morning when we could give him a hand. Gord and Rollie had to share a sleeping bag as we were one short, and Tim spent most of the night moving his legs to stay warm. Needless to say – no one had a great night.

Left: From left Rollie Webb, Jeff Yarnold, Tim Jones, Bruce Moffat, Gord Ferguson, John Blown – Photo Credit – Doug Brown.

Morning brought with it a great sound – explosions above us. We could hear the avi-techs on the radio coming straight down the gullies above us throwing charges ahead of them to set-off the avalanches. We would hear “fire in the hole” over the radio and then a deep rumble and watched huge avalanches come tearing down the chutes and over cliffs – it was some good morning entertainment. It also signaled an escape route was being created for us.

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.

Left: Snowy parking lot.

I visited Chris in the hospital on Saturday and he was doing well – he will make a full recovery. He was extremely appreciative and his family thanked everyone who was involved.

Left: Chris – this is after being cleaned up.

Left: Chris’ mom, wife, John and Tim.

The media that covered the event did a pretty good job overall, however, it should be emphasized that there were many other teams involved in the call – so thank you to Coquitlam SAR, Lions Bay SAR, BC Parks, Whistler Ski Patrol and Mt. Seymour. If I have missed anyone let me know, as I was in the field most of the time and didn’t see all that were involved.

And…on to the next rescue….which will be soon I’m sure…

Left: Our parting shot…Chris with his family.