Four callouts in one day prompt North Shore Rescue to issue safety warning
May 22, 2023 By Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News
The May long weekend had only just kicked it off when it proved it was going to be a busy one for search and rescue teams, with North Shore Rescue receiving four separate calls by Saturday evening.
North Shore Rescue Search Manager Dave Barnett said three of the four callouts had been connected by one common theme: hikers severely misjudging mountain top weather, a common occurrence at this time of year.
“What’s happening right now is it’s really warm down in the city, and people are underestimating that it’s still winter, or mountain conditions,” he said.
“With the sun out and the snow melting, not only is there some risk of sliding snow, but it makes for very slippery trails. People are thinking it’s summer conditions and they’re up in the mountains totally unprepared, with slippery running shoes and very light clothing.”
Around 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon rescue teams were called to a hiker on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, within Cypress Provincial Park, who had been knocked over by a “small avalanche” of melted snow that had slipped down from one of the banks.
The hiker had been knocked over and was “dazed and disoriented” when he phoned 911, said Barnett. Unable to hike back to safety on his own, North Shore Rescue had to deploy a team via Talon Helicopter to Strachan Meadows, where they located the hiker, provided first aid and airlifted him to safety.
As this rescue was underway a second callout came in around 2 p.m., of a female hiker who had suffered a serious shoulder injury after slipping on a melting trail nearby, atop one of the park’s mountain peaks, Black Mountain.
Barnett said the hiker had been well prepared, with spikes on her shoes, extra gear and reasonably good clothing, but had still succumbed to the winter conditions that still linger at the mountain tops.
As evening fell and crews were preparing to call it a day, another call came in around 6 p.m. requesting help for a hiker with an injured ankle near the summit of the St. Mark’s hike.
“There had been three hikers, one was hypothermal and the other two were incredibly cold,” said Barnett.
“They were poorly dressed for the conditions, and were in not much more than t-shirts and running shoes. They were in no condition to spend any time in that kind of environment,” he said, adding how one had been so cold she had been unable to walk.
“That’s how serious it can be if you’re not properly equipped. If we hadn’t been able to get to these people, they could have easily succumbed to their injuries or had severe hypothermia and possibly not survived the night.”
Barnett said North Shore Rescue are happy to see hikers outdoors and exploring the bountiful trails the North Shore mountains have to offer, but those hikers need to be aware that the conditions remain “really treacherous” in the mountains, and there is still a large amount of snow.
Hikers should equip themselves with warmer clothing, hiking boots with micro spikes to navigate the snow, and poles, to help prevent slips and falls, he said.
The three afternoon calls on Saturday had come after an especially grave rescue mission the night previous, involving a man in his 40s who had been swept away in the waters of Cypress Creek after attempting to save his dog, who had fallen in.
North Shore Rescue and West Vancouver Fire and Rescue had searched for the man long into Friday evening but had been unsuccessful, only recovering his body, and that of his deceased dog, on Saturday morning.
“It’s always a real tragedy when something like this happens,” said Barnett.
“Nobody on our team likes to see any call end up that way,” he said.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.