Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue was called out to Strathcona Park in the midst of Friday’s winter storm, to rescue a group of stranded hikers.
The group, which included two women, a man, and two dogs, needed rescuing after one of the women became incapacitated, due to a knee injury.
“The initial call came ou at about 4 p.m. [Friday] afternoon,” said CVGSAR president Paul Berry. “Initially it was reported that one of their dogs was injured and they were unable to pack the dog out and as such, they were in distress.”
The dog had a laceration to its paw, caused by an ice shard, and was unable to walk.
Communication with the group was done through an inReach satellite communicator, via text.
“It took about two hours to establish that communication link, and at that point, we learned that one of the female members had a knee injury as well,” said Berry.
The rescue mission was hampered by approaching nightfall.
“Immediately we called for a helicopter but last light was coming too quickly and we knew we weren’t going to have enough time to be able to pluck them, so at that point it became a ground operation,” said Berry.
CVGSAR had a base camp set up at Mount Washington’s Raven Lodge by 8 p.m., at which time snowmobilers and skiers were dispatched.
The hikers were found on the northern tip of Mariwood Lake, near Kwai Lake.
“As the crow flies, it would have been about five kilometres from Raven Lodge, but in the conditions, and at night, it’s a little bit more of a circuitous route to make it to them,” said Berry. “It would have been close to 11 [p.m.] by the time we made first [physical] contact,” said Berry. “It was two teams of skiers who eventually did reach them.”
As the hikers were planning a three-night hike, they were equipped with sleeping bags and tents.
Once contact was made, it was determined a helicopter would be needed for the extrication process.
At that point, two CVGSAR members set up camp to remain with the hiking party overnight.
A helicopter was sent out “at first light” Saturday morning, to pick up the hikers and return them to Raven Lodge.
The injured hiker did not require an ambulance. The party was picked up at the base camp by family.
As much as the snowfall was an issue initially, the frigid temperatures were more so. Temperatures in the area dipped to as low as -20C overnight.
“Probably the biggest challenge was the heavy ice crust on the snow, which would have made it pretty hard going on snowshoes for them, certainly, and for the dogs,” said Berry. “But it certainly was one of the coldest nights that our crews have worked in, in the past couple of years.”
Berry said from his crew’s standpoint, the mission went as smoothly as could be expected. He added that although the hikers could have been better prepared for the cold temperatures, the communication device they had with them was integral to making the rescue possible.
“From our perspective, it went as planned,” said Berry. “Certainly it was beneficial that this party had an inReach satellite communication device. That allowed us to communicate with them via text, and for them to be able to send out the emergency call. Without it, they would have been on their own, without cell coverage, and the search might not have started until Sunday night or Monday, when they would have been reported missing.”