After three days lost in near-whiteout conditions, a Vancouver snowboarder has been found alive in a snowy canyon north of Horseshoe Bay.
Rescuers made contact with the 33-year-old at about 6 p.m. Tuesday in the steep Disbrow Creek ravine, about 1,200 feet above Howe Sound’s Sunset Marina. The man had been missing since Sunday morning, when he ventured out of bounds from one of Cypress Mountain’s groomed runs and disappeared into the rugged terrain west of the resort.
The victim was wet, mildly hypothermic and badly dehydrated, according to rescuers, but in surprisingly good condition, given the severity of his ordeal. Sleep deprivation was taking a toll on his mental state, however.
“He was hallucinating,” said North Shore Rescue team leader Tim Jones. “Every two minutes, he would turn around and say: ‘Where’s that music coming from?’”
The rescue capped a gruelling 44-hour search that pitted volunteer teams against brutal weather conditions and some of the worst terrain on the North Shore.
NSR was first alerted to the man’s plight at midnight Sunday. He had been seen ducking under a boundary rope on the western edge of Cypress, leading the volunteers to believe he had descended into the nearby Montizambert Creek drainage above Howe Sound, a precipitous ravine that has trapped numerous out-of-bounds boarders in recent years.
A high risk of avalanche initially prevented rescuers from entering the area, and when they finally got underway, a little after daybreak, deep snow, poor visibility and difficult ground slowed the effort to a crawl.
Over the following two days, aircraft from the RCMP, the Canadian Forces and Talon helicopters were only able to survey the area occasionally during brief breaks in the weather. They found no sign of the man beyond a set of tracks that were of little help to ground crews. The rescuers initially had sporadic contact with the man, but lost touch when his cell phone powered down at about 3 p.m. Monday.
The teams finally caught a break Tuesday afternoon when they spotted a clearer track on the west side of Black Mountain that suggested the man had headed south. It turned out he had been on the move throughout the operation, descending first into Montizambert before hiking back up, descending into the creek’s south branch, and then finally making his way into the Disbrow drainage.
A four-man team was flown to the spot and scrambled down into the ravine while another team made its way up from the bottom. The volunteers finally came across the man after rappelling into the canyon at the 1,200-foot mark. He hadn’t slept in three days, pushing him into a kind of delirium.
“He was standing like a garden gnome (next to) the creek,” said Jones. “He thought we were a bunch of kids going out for a picnic; that’s what he said. And we could hear him screaming: ‘Get me a helicopter! I need a helicopter!’ Screaming at the top of his lungs.”
The team changed the lost boarder into warm clothes and called for help. At 8:30 p.m., victim and rescuers were hoisted to safety by a Canadian Forces chopper.
Jones believes the man would have survived for some time but lacked the strength to extricate himself.
“Where we got to him, he was going nowhere,” said Jones. “That was it for him.”