Date: Feb 13/14, 2016
Location: Mount Strachan / Top of Sky Chair (Cypress Resorts)
Activation: NSR was activated by West Vancouver Police at 20:00 on Saturday Evening
Number of Members Involved: 20
Short Description: A snowshoer and his dog went for a hike out the Howe Sound Crest Trail, with an ascent to Mount Strachan when the dog bolted and both became lost in an effort to get the dog. Both made it out in good condition due to a little bit of luck, and good preparation.
The subject began his day with a plan to complete a loop via the Howe Sound Crest Trail, an ascent up Christmas Gulley to the peak of Strachan, followed by a circumferential trip around the summit to Mikes Corner, and a descent back to his car via Hollyburn. The route was planned in detail, a trip plan was left with a responsible person (his wife) and he was carrying significant personal safety equipment. His gear included all of the 10 essentials plus a sleeping bag and more. There was no doubt that this individual was prepared, and knew how to use all of his equipment.
Shortly after contacting his wife around 5pm, to say he was on his way down to the car, his dog ran off down the gulley to the north of Mike’s Corner. This drainage is just to the South of Strachan Creek and is a highly technical route. It was there that he made the on the on-the-spot decision to follow. We obviously cannot, and do not, endorse the decision to pursue his dog into the terrain he did, being by himself, with heightened avalanche conditions, in steep technical terrain. That said, in the moment, he made his decision with the full knowledge that he was experienced and carrying all of the necessary survival equipment to get him and his dog through the night. This is rarely the case.
The biggest short sight at this point was the fact that he did not anticipate the speed with which his cellphone battery would deplete being out-of-range (cell begins actively searching for a signal and depletes the battery), and in the cold. Unfortunately, he had also left his battery pack in his car and this made it impossible for him to call for help or update his emergency contact. In this sense, his emergency contact did everything right by contacting SAR immediately when her husband did not return home at the specified time. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Furthermore, this is an excellent example of a situation where owning, or having access to, a satellite communications device would overcome the shortcomings of cellphones in a wilderness environment. As many will know, we definitely endorse backcountry users purchasing such devices, as they are now very affordable.
The subject followed his dogs tracks all the way down into the Capilano Watershed where he reunited with his dog (putting it on leash) and intercepted the Sisters Branch Forest Service Road. Having a map and a compass, he made the decision to ascend the Hollyburn Branch of the Forest Service Road. After a long and arduous night in deep snow, the subject was able to make his way out from the Hollyburn lodge back on Cypress. In total, he probably traveled 25 km during the night, with a full descent to the valley floor, and an ascent back to the peak.
During the search, high winds and blowing snow obscured any tracks and hampered the call significantly. Furthermore, crews were hindered by increasing avalanche conditions which made it very difficult for them to access high probability areas. That said, had the subject stayed put with his dog, he would have been located early this morning by SAR crews. He had flares, and a helicopter & ground crews were dispatched to the area where he would have been.
Regardless of any misadventure, we are happy to report that both the snowshoer and the dog are in good health. This call is a example of how preparation can make all the difference in outcome when things go wrong.
On that note, there are a number of learning points to take from this call, both good and bad. If you or someone you know likes the outdoors, please read this carefully.
- Carrying the 10 essentials, and knowing how to use them, likely saved this individuals life. Preparation goes a long way in mitigating errors and misfortune. A mistake or bad luck can happen to any of us, be prepared for it.
- Leaving a detailed trip plan and telling someone where you are going and when to expect you back are a critical part of every adventure.
- Make sure you preserve your cell battery and carry a external charger when you head out on your trip. The ability to communicate can make all the difference when something unplanned occurs.
- Always check the avalanche conditions on avalanche.ca before heading out on your trip and adjust your plans according to the forecast & your own field observations. Sometimes it is fine to head out on a solo trip, other times you should have a companion. Traveling by yourself when avalanche conditions are elevated is very risky. Even if you are experienced and equipped, if something happens, no one is there to call for help and initiate self-rescue.
- Never go downhill into the drainages of the North Shore. This is a sure fire way to get yourself killed. Mistakes can be mitigated by preparation and experience, as was the case last night, but the general rule stands – going downhill can mean death or serious injury.
- If you become lost, stay put. If you need to keep warm, trying walking back and forth on a track in a localized area. If you have told someone where you are going, and when to expect you back – have faith that rescue is coming.
- Although only directly relevant to dog owners, please also note that all dogs should be on a leash, by law, while recreating in a BC Park. This also helps to reduce the number of calls that arise due to dogs bolting, of which we have had many.
Please also visit www.adventuresmart.ca for information on trip planning, and how to stay safe in the wilderness.
Social Media Support
We would also like to thank all of the many people who shared this story last night. In fact the sharing resulted in a number of critical leads which we followed up via social media. One instagram user had actually posted a picture of her dog, and the subjects dog earlier in the day. Due to a tip from a twitter user, we were able to contact her and get information on the subjects route. Although the subject ultimately made their own way out, this info could have been critical to focusing the search efforts this morning. Once again, thank you to all the social media users who assisted us on this call.