Inside Search and Rescue
On Sunday Feb 9th two friends and I were planning on going waterfall ice climbing just off the highway near Hope, BC, as the latest cold snap in the weather had caused many of the lower volume waterfalls to freeze. The day started early, as we were attempting to head high into the mountains climbing rope length, after rope length up the frozen slot canyon drainage. We had informed loved ones and family members of our plans and even had a cell phone in case we acquired cell service higher up off of the valley floor. The conditions were great as we pushed and pulled ourselves higher up the route that is known as Mouse Trap, and we could not help but be moved by the exhilarating feeling of being out in the mountains surrounded by such beauty. After 8 ½ hours of climbing we had reached higher than anyone is recorded to have gone before us and we discovered more unclimbed waterfalls and drainage systems that, regrettably, we did not have time to attempt to climb.
It was then 4:00 PM and time to turn around, so after a brief phone call to our check-in we began the long rappel back down to the valley floor. We were still rappelling two hours later as it became dark and I saw a moving light in the forest far below us near where we had began the climb. The person yelled up to us, and although it was difficult to make out what he was saying from so far away, i believed he had hollered, “are you ok?”. I yelled back that we were in fact ok, however above the whistle of the wind and the running water behind the frozen surface of the ice, it was difficult to catch anything else that he might have tried to communicate. Thinking the person was most likely on the hiking trail for the evening and merely concerned about seeing lights high above him in the canyon, we focused our attention back to the task at hand and continued rappelling for the next hour and a half it took to finally reach the ground.
When we reached the base of the last waterfall we realized that the story unfolding on the ground was far different than the one that we had hypothesized. The man who hollered at us was no hiker, but in fact an RCMP Officer.
It had all began when a man on the highway had seen our lights, and thinking that we were in distress, had pulled off the road and began signaling us with a handheld spot light. We had not noticed him, however our headlamps must have given him the impression we were trying to communicate an SOS, so he phoned 911 and reported the “emergency”. The officer we had seen in the forest was trying to follow up on the call, however after only sporadic voice contact and all the other information at hand, protocol deemed it necessary for him to call in Search and Rescue. Complications were added when Hope SAR realized what climbing route the “distress” was on and so they called for mutual aid to Kent Harrison SAR and Chilliwack SAR, to get specially trained high angle rescue teams to assist.
When we got down from our climb we were in good shape, other than being physically exhausted, and were met promptly by two Hope SAR members, who brought us up to speed on the situation and escorted us back to our vehicle, which had become the on-site SAR command station.
The entire evening turned out to be a case of one person’s best intentions and ensuing miscommunications, however the impact of the response effort was not lost on us. Only an hour and a half after the first person reported a potential emergency, volunteer Hope SAR members were there in full preparedness ready to help. Chilliwack SAR and Kent Harrison SAR had also been dispatched and their teams were already on the road out to Hope to assist as well.
If it had in fact been a real emergency we would have had a world-class response system in place fully ready and able to make a rescue happen.
On behalf of my two friends and I, as well as everyone else’s lives that have been impacted by our local SAR teams, I would like to thank all the volunteer SAR members in the area who are constantly on stand-by to ensure that the very highest caliber of search and rescue response is maintained for the backcountry users of our area at all times.
– Sam Waddington – Owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: Equipping you for Rock, Water, Snow, Sand, Wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you!