Search and rescue volunteers carried out a dramatic 16-hour rescue mission spanning Christmas Eve and Christmas Day after a skier became stranded on a cliff in waist-deep snow on a Courtenay, B.C., mountainside.
The skier, a Courtenay man in his early 20s, called the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre around 12:30 p.m. local time on Saturday asking for help getting off a section of Mount Beecher dubbed Forbidden Plateau, just west of Courtney, according to air force coordinator Capt. Ray Jacobson.
A team of 16 Comox, B.C., ground search and rescue volunteers were deployed, eight trudging through the waist-deep snow on snowshoe and eight trying to get to the man on snowmobiles, said search and rescue coordinator Paul Berry.
“He had been skiing from Mount Washington to Forbidden Plateau and he managed to get himself lost,” Berry said. “He was out on a cliff, couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down.”
The man had a GPS device to provide his co-ordinates but the search and rescue team had trouble getting to him because of a treacherous combination of deep snow, steep terrain, 40 knot winds and heavy sleet, Berry said.
Darkness was approaching and rescuers feared the man could be hypothermic because he had been hiking for a day and a half.
“He was shivering significantly, did not have a change of clothes, no food remaining and he was unable to light his stove so he was unable to get dry,” Berry said.
The search team tasked two private helicopters to try and reach the man but thick clouds meant there was zero visibility to the ground below.
The rescue crew was able to communicate with the hiker by whistle and they estimated they were about one kilometre away, so they carried on their search in the dark of night.
By 9:40 p.m., the team on snowshoe reached the skier. He was cold but uninjured. Berry said it took more than five hours to hike to an area where they could meet up with the snowmobiles to take them down the mountain.
It wasn’t until 4:30 a.m. that the rescuers and the skier were back on solid ground, making for an exhausting 16-hour ordeal.
Three of the search and rescue volunteers were treated by B.C. Ambulance paramedics for exhaustion and dehydration.
“It’s a great team. There was a huge sense of pride in the group last night to have snowshoed through the night in very difficult terrain for over 12 hours to get to this young man,” Berry said. “It was just an incredible feat for the crew.”
Berry said the skier was grateful to be able to spend Christmas Day with his family in Courtenay.