Louise Baxter in a photo shared while she was missing last summer from Jumbo pass. File photo

Rescued hiker urges for Search And Rescue funding renewal

Louise Baxter speaks about her experience last summer with volunteer rescue organization

In her first interview after spending three days lost on Jumbo Pass with her poodle Maverick, Louise Baxter praised the throngs of BC Search and Rescue volunteers who dropped everything in their personal and professional lives last August to find her and return her safely to her family.

“I was by myself not understanding all that was going on for me,” she said, adding that she remains awed by the scale of the search effort and the number of people who raced to help.

The mission involved more than 35 volunteers from eight search teams, three RCMP detachments, three helicopters, four search dogs and a drone.

The search to find Ms. Baxter occurred while BC’s Search and Rescue teams were funded through a three-year arrangement with the provincial government that provided the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue (CVSAR) with $80,000 annually. CVSAR search manager Steve Talsma said the provincial funding is running out, with the tap shutting off at the end of March.

He said the Valley’s Search and Rescue operation is “in an OK position to get through this year” but he is concerned about the future. A typical call takes CVSAR a few hours and runs from $3,000 to $5,000, but longer and more complex missions can run up to $100,000, he said. CVSAR also has costs to train volunteers and maintain equipment to allow volunteers to be effective in their roles.

“We’ve had a good three-year run, and now we’re going to have some work ahead of us,” he said.

Both he and Ms. Baxter hope to see the provincial funding resuscitated.

“How do I feel about it?” Ms. Baxter asked. “At any moment it could be someone that you know that needs (to be rescued), especially in the kind of area that we live.”

Ms. Baxter knows how quickly fates can shift for those out enjoying the mountains.

She had only intended to leave her hiking group briefly to take Maverick to a lookout point. Then the weather changed, obscuring the path she had travelled.

“I was convinced I knew how to get back to the cabin, and so I was trying to find my way back there. But I was already totally lost. I was on the wrong side, the opposite side, of the mountain on the West Kootenay side, which I had no idea,” she said. “At first it was like ‘I can’t believe I got myself lost’ and then it was terrifying.”

To calm down, she prayed and repeated a mantra she learned in her yoga class as the days turned into nights and the nights turned back into days.

Hope also came from above when helicopters circled overhead, when she ended up on a road and when a vehicle rumbling in the distance drew close before the occupants welcomed her inside.

Ms. Baxter travelled from Cranbrook to share her appreciation in person at the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue annual general meeting on Wednesday, February 27th.

“I just wanted to really thank everyone for what you do,” she told the volunteers, adding that she is deeply grateful to everyone who gave up three days of their lives to help her keep hers.

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