Chasing the Deadly Sunset – Saint Marks Rescue

  • 7d9cf81e-1067-4fab-b69b-7c4fb1a689b4Call Location: Saint Marks Area, near the Cypress Bowl Ski Resort

    Latitude: 49 25.260
    Longitude: 123 12.460
    Date: January 9, 2016
    Call Time: 17:00 – 23:50 (6 Hours 50 Min)
    Short Synopsis: West Vancouver Police received a call from a party of 7 hikers who were stranded after darkness fell. The party had hiked to the summit of Saint Marks to watch the sunset at around 16:30. However, the party was lightly equipped, and had failed to take into account the lack of light after sunset. With only one light for the entire group, they became disoriented and ended up losing the trail, and proceeding part way down Charles Creek. Luckily they stopped and called for help before they got themselves into real trouble. Further compounding the rescue efforts, one member of the party was reported to be in medical distress.

Detailed Task Summary

IMG_5341North Shore Rescue was tasked by West Vancouver Police at approximately 1700, on January 9, 2015 to rescue  seven stranded hikers near the summit of Saint Marks. West Vancouver Police and NSR SAR managers were able to quickly ascertain their location by pinging their cellphone and through interviewing them. After having summited St. Marks for the sunset, the group became lost on their return journey, proceeding part way down the Charles Creek drainage. An initial response team, and a backup team were rapidly dispatched from our Cypress SAR station. We would like to thank Cypress Bowl Resorts for freeing up staff to transport our members to the trailhead via snowmobile!

Within 90 minutes, the first NSR field team was able to get on scene with the seven subjects. A  SAR medic, also a doctor, assessed the patient who was a diabetic and found that they were stable. That said, this individual was experiencing physical difficulty with the hike. After conducting a risk assessment, members elected to hike the party out. Six of the seven group members were escorted out a short time later, but the seventh required a much slower and methodical evacuation from terrain.

These hikers had departed from the Cypress Bowl Ski Resort earlier in the day with a plan to summit Saint Marks for the sunset. They had researched this particular trail online, and had determined they would not require snowshoes or any additional gear. Unfortunately, despite their research, these hikers clearly did not read “The 10 Fastest Ways to get yourself killed” or they decided to challenge us on the list. Either which way, mistakes were made.

These individuals made a number of critical errors that cumulatively, could have cost them their lives, or at least some serious injury within their group. The following list sets out these mistakes:

  • Lack of Appropriate Footwear – Many members of the group were wearing running shoes, with overboots rented from Cypress Nordic, to complete a backcountry winter hike into a relatively remote area of the North Shore. Yes, a number of the members of this group were in fact wearing running shoes. This is totally unacceptable footwear anywhere other than the parking lot.
  • Lack of Light – They had only one light to share with the entire group. This was the crux of their misadventure and resulted in them losing the trail
  • Lack of Planning – This group researched the route, but did not take into account return time when considering the sunset. While they made it to the summit before sunset, there was no way they were going to get back to the parking lot before darkness fell. This was compounded by the fact that one member of the group suffered from a medical condition which limited them physically and requires careful management. They had failed to take into account the abilities of each member of the group, in light of the difficulty and length of the hike.
  • Lack of Appropriate Equipment – Beyond the lack of light and inappropriate footwear, this group did not have ice axes, crampons or micro-spikes, despite slippery snow conditions. The combination of these points is where risk of serious injury or death increases exponentially! Lack of light, lack of ankle support, and no protection against slipping and falling.
  • No Navigation – The subjects also did not have a map, compass, or GPS to assist in keeping them on the trail. A smartphone is NOT sufficient as a GPS!

Now, despite a solid attempt at challenging our list of 10 ways to get yourself killed this winter, this party did do some things right. These include:

  • Staying Put – Recognizing that they were lost, and staying put. Had this group decided to continue, they would have found them in ever worsening terrain where it is almost certain that someone would have become seriously injured or died. Furthermore, had they continued down, this would have put our members at substantially higher risk of injury or death in going to get them.
  • Calling For Help Early – After recognizing they were lost, this group called for help without hesitation. This is ALWAYS the right thing to do. An early activation makes our job much easier, and allows us more flexibility in our response.
  • Research – Although some critical points were missed, this group did take the step of researching the route before going up Cypress. We would suggest that when researching any route, you should also review the NSR education page and Adventure Smart’s webpage.

I want to emphasize that we are posting this, not with the intention of shaming the hikers, but with the intention that by highlighting mistakes that we see all too often, others will learn. We do not encourage shaming of their bad decisions by the public, but rather, for the public to share this story and help us prevent similar stories from occurring. Similarly, we do not endorse charging for rescue, fines, or any other punishment. These individuals did exactly what we want them to by calling for help early, rather than delaying the call due to fear of repercussions. If this story reaches even only one inexperienced aspiring outdoor adventurer and alters their behaviour, this story has been successful.

To avoid having a similar misadventure, remember to:

Similarly, having a medical condition like diabetes requires additional considerations when you head into the backcountry. If you or a family member loves the outdoors, but has diabetes, they should read the following article by Ashika Parsad, a Type 1 Diabetic and experienced backcountry adventurer: The 10 Essentials (+6) For Type 1 Diabetics in the Backcountry

Photo Credit: Ryan Morasiewicz (NSR)