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Drone-mounted thermal camera helps North Shore Rescue locate lost hiker

Hiker watches sunset atop mountain and then tries to head down without a headlamp

A mix of “old school” boots on the ground and high-tech assistance helped North Shore Rescue find a lost hiker on North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour in the nick of time late Sunday night.

The 35-year-old hiker from Ladner had been descending from First Pump on Mount Seymour and, without a headlamp, had managed to get off-trail and fall into a creek. Hypothermia was setting in when searchers reached the man, said search manager Al McMordie.

The search might not have had a good ending if they hadn’t found the hiker when they did, he added.

The North Shore rescue team was called out between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Sunday evening after one man who had been part of an online hiking meetup group failed to make it back down to the parking lot.

Four people had hiked to the top of First Pump and watched the sun go down. But one hiker became frustrated at the pace of the group on the way back down the trail, and went on ahead, said McMordie. The hiker, however, was soon hiking in the dark.

“I’m always amazed at how many people can actually stand on the top of a mountain, watch the sun go down and think that they will still have light walking down the trail,” he said. “The sun’s just gone down and they don’t have a headlamp in their pack. They miss that concept of when the sun goes down and you’re gonna be in the woods it’ll be dark and you can’t see the trail.”

In this case, the hiker found himself heading downhill in De Pencier Gulley. As it got darker and harder to see, however, “he took a couple of tumbles” over cliffs and waterfalls.

“He fell into a creek and got himself pretty wet,” said McMordie, eventually managing to crawl under a tree.

Meanwhile, when the man’s hiking companions made it out to the parking lot, his vehicle – which they’d travelled up the mountain in – was still there, with no sign of the hiker.

They immediately contacted the RCMP.

Unfortunately, night flying by Talon helicopters wasn’t possible because of fog at Vancouver airport.

A search team was sent in on foot – targeting De Pencier and Suicide gullies as likely areas where someone could have gone off trail. Searchers used bear bangers, lit flares and called out until they heard a faint voice responding in the distance.

The hiker told search members he had already fallen asleep, but the calls by the searchers woke him up.

At that point, a drone operator was able to send up a drone with a thermal camera to pinpoint the location of the lost hiker.

Search team members were able to warm the hiker up and walk him back out along the trail.

McMordie said the incident highlights the importance of groups staying together, and being prepared with the right gear – including a headlamp and micro spikes.

Freeze/thaw conditions have resulted in trails that are very slippery right now, warned McMordie, making good micro spikes or crampons essential.