This weekend NSR conducted two search and rescue operations that resulted in successful finds, although both posed a very real possibility of a tragic outcome. Below is a brief task description of each call.
Saturday June 7, 2014 – Grouse Mountain Search
On Saturday two tourists staying at a hostel in downtown Vancouver took the bus to Grouse to hike up the mountain. Although they didn’t know which trail they took up, they were able to reach the summit. It is assumed that they took the Grind or BCMC. Once on top, they decided to venture further behind the mountain towards Dam Mountain and Goat Mountain. On the way back to Grouse Mountain, they lost the trail and became lost.
Having no cell phones, they were unable to call for help. The two became separated, but the female hiker was able to find her way out to Grouse Mountain where she reported to Grouse staff and called for SAR assistance. With the information provided at the time, NSR crews launched an urgent air and ground search effort to the Kennedy Lake and Thrasher Creek area. This urgency was increased due to the fact that the subject had already been traveling 3 hours before 911 was notified. Furthermore, the subject was deathly allergic to bee stings, not carrying an epi-pen, and reported to be thrashing through tall brush.
Upon the SAR manager interviewing the informant, the information changed and directed SAR crews into a very ugly area of Grouse Mountain known as Drifter Creek. This is a steep drainage with waterfalls and challenging/deadly terrain. The SAR manager placed trail blocks, and air crews began a systematic sweep of the area.
The end result was that while the female companion was making her way to the Grouse Mountain Chalet, the male subject was making his way down drifter creek where he sustained injuries from multiple falls. Despite these injuries, he was able to make his way to the base and subsequently made his own way to the hospital. Luckily, this information was reported to SAR crews, and the police were able to confirm the subject and the SAR task was shutdown.
A couple of take homes from this particular call include:
- A cell phone is a great tool for SAR crews to find you (provided it is charged and there is coverage). If you are traveling and planning to hike, it is worth investing in a local SIM card or getting a Satellite device like a PLB, Spot, or Delorme.
- Even if you are hiking with a cellphone, this does not replace the need to research your destination and to tell someone reliable where you are going, and when to expect you back (with instructions to call for SAR if there has been no contact after this time).
- If you become lost on the North Shore (and most coastal areas), heading downhill is a very dangerous decision. Everything tends to funnel into progressively steeper drainages with slippery footing. If lost, stay put. If you are at risk where you are, try to backtrack, or go uphill.
- Always carry the 10 essentials
Sunday June 8, 2014 – Capilano Watershed Search
On Sunday NSR was activated in the late afternoon after receiving a 911 call from the hikers friend who he had been in contact with during the day. The subject had planned for a two day hike to the Lions and had camped on the ridge on Saturday night. On Sunday, the subject decided that it was two risky to descend the way he had come up due to snowpack so he decided to take an alternate route out.
The subject made contact with the informant in the morning to get navigation assistance (describing land marks and asking for routing directions). This resulted in him descending from between the lions into the Sister’s Creek drainage in an attempt to make his way to Capilano Lake near North Vancouver. Unfortunately this routing is rough at best. Subsequently the subject became turned around, and stuck on the wrong side of Sister’s Creek which was flowing quite high at the time.
Luckily the informant, being unable to contact the subject, called 911 which resulted in NSR being activated. The 911 call being late in the afternoon put time compression on the call requiring a rapid response from our aircrews before dark.
While the air search was underway, ground crews took a rescue team vehicle into the general area to deploy into the field. Simultaneously, search manager Doug Pope was able to establish spotty cell contact with the subject. No GPS data was available from the phone, but Mr. Pope was able to get a good description of the terrain before cell contact was lost again. The subject was thought to be at 700m in Sisters Creek. This was instrumental to the helicopter team pinpointing the subject before dark.
The aircrew were able to direct the ground crews to the subject where they assisted him across the creek and brought him out via land.
- Research and trip planning are essential for a safe trip
- Take equipment suitable for the conditions (ie. if you expect to encounter snow, take an ice axe and possibly even crampons)
- Avoid route finding based on “heading to the city.” This almost certainly takes you downhill into heinous terrain which may be impassable and potentially deadly.
- If you become lost or stranded, call for help early. This could save your life. Remember, there is no charge for rescue.