While most people were enjoying Canada Day festivities, Campbell River Search & Rescue was busy at work. CRSAR was paged to assist Powell River SAR with the search for a missing despondent male who had walked away from a family member’s home on June 30th.
CRSAR, along with Comox Valley SAR, responded on July 01 by taking the first ferry over to Powell River to assist Powell River SAR in the search for a 45-year-old male who had become despondent and walked away from a house. SAR crews searched the immediate area along with RCMP air-and-dog services, but were unable to locate the man. The search effort was stood down until information develops.
On July 03, CRSAR was tasked to respond to assist BC Ambulance with the medevac of an injured hiker on the Golden Hinde, Vancouver Island’s highest peak. We received the call at 1900 hours from BC Ambulance to pick up an injured hiker who had made a broken cell phone call to report that he required an air ambulance evacuation due to an injury. The information we received was sketchy: we had no call back number and no idea of the injuries involved, but luckily we did get a set of GPS coordinates.
This is a popular area for backcountry users. It’s a very remote rugged area that requires at least two days of overland travel just to reach the Golden Hinde. The summit time and return can then easily make it a 5-7 day trip. Historically, we respond to this area at least once a year. We went last year and performed a similar type of rescue. We get called to this area for injuries and exhaustion on a regular basis. It’s such a remote area, and becoming inured or overcome by exhaustion, or running low on food makes it a very dangerous place to be. This is Vancouver Island’s highest peak and the terrain around the area is rugged and covered in snow and ice most of the year.
CRSAR dispatched a helicopter with three SAR members and first-aid gear to the site. We encountered low cloud at the 1400 meter level, which prevented us from taking a direct route to the GPS coordinates we had. We were obliged to circumnavigate the Golden Hinde, poking holes through the low cloud, before we found a hole to fly through and we were then able to locate the subjects at the 1800 meter level. Initially, we were expecting one subject, but we found two men huddled just below the peak on a snowy patch of rock outcropping. Upon landing, we found the two men set up beside a fire waiting for us.
We assessed that one male had sustained lower limb injuries while descending from the peak across a snow field. They had managed to descend to the 1800 meter mark, where they set up a small camp, while a third man had descended to an even lower camp point, approximately three kilometres away, to prepare for the hike out.
We made a quick assessment of the injuries and decided to evacuate both men to an ambulance, but we also had the issue of locating the third man as he wouldn’t know that we had located the other two men. Moreover, we couldn’t be sure of his status and we didn’t want to leave him alone in the back country as he had the bulk of the hiking party’s gear and wouldn’t be able to get it all out alone. Additionally, we had a failing daylight issue compounded with a low ceiling, so we decided to do a quick recon of the area we suspected the other man to be in, to see if we could locate him and make contact. After 10 minutes of flying, we located the third man at a lower elevation camp. We landed and decided to let the uninjured male out to join his companion. Their plan was to hike the gear out over the following days, thus freeing us up to evacuate the injured man. It worked out well, since the two uninjured males didn’t need to be evacuated, so we left them in place with all their equipment and flew the injured male back to Campbell River, where he was transferred over to BC Ambulance.
Over all, it was a good rescue. If we hadn’t had the GPS coordinates, it might have led to an extended search as the low ceiling of cloud made for a slow, limited air search. Having the coordinates allowed us to fly directly to the site. The Golden Hinde area is huge and has multiple approaches for hikers and climbers, and trying to find a person on the ground, by looking down onto rock, snow, ice and heavy forest, can be very difficult.
The summer can be very busy for us and we perform a number of medical rescues throughout the region. We expect this summer to be the same.
We caution all back-country users to take with them the proper equipment, maps, and communications equipment, such as cell phones, satellite phones or PLBs – Personal Locator Beacons – which can communicate to the outside world. Leave a trip plan and emergency plan details with family. Don’t over-estimate your ability and leave yourself plenty of time to complete the journey.