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Lost hiker recounts ordeal of suffering

Hypothermia and lack of food and water led to hallucinations

A man who spent nine days lost in the North Vancouver backwoods gave a harrowing account of his ordeal Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to a crowd of media at Lions Gate Hospital, Michael St. Laurent, who was flown to safety from an area near Grouse Mountain Sunday, explained how he spent his time in the forest in a state of pain and hallucination, suffering so badly from undernourishment and hypothermia that he didn't understand for much of that time what was real and what wasn't.

In a sometimes contradictory account, St. Laurent, 45, said he set out from a parking lot near the Grouse Mountain Skyride Oct. 13, intending to head up into the Hanes Valley north of the mountain and return before nightfall - a roughly eight-hour round trip.

He was delayed during the hike, however, and was forced to spend the night. Fortunately, he had a tarp with him and a dry change of clothes, meaning he was able to stay at least partially dry.

"I was prepared for a twoday trip, expecting a one-day trip," said St. Laurent.

The following day, apparently becoming disoriented, he continued to wander in the area, and in the evening veered from a marked path into the tree line and set up camp again. He had the means to make fire, but was unable to light one, as he couldn't find any kindling.

Over the following seven days, suffering from the early stages of hypothermia and dehydration and a lack of potassium, it appears St. Laurent continued to wander in a daze, hallucinating, at times vividly.

"I would be driving; I'd be going to work; I'd be meeting friends at a restaurant," he said. "It was just like real life."

He also developed trench foot, a crippling condition caused by sodden footwear, according to the rescuers who eventually found him. It forced him at times to crawl, said St. Laurent.

"After the first three days, I lost track of time," he said. "I thought it had been three weeks."

It appears the man was unable to communicate with the many hikers who passed through the area, said rescuers, although he maintained the presence of mind to shelter himself with the tarp at night - a fact that likely saved his life, they said.

North Vancouver RCMP, meanwhile, had begun to investigate St. Laurent's disappearance. His vehicle had been found abandoned at the base of Grouse on the day he disappeared, leading investigators to believe he may have got into trouble.

They issued a missing persons report, but with no clear indication as to where he might have gone, police did not call for a full search. On Oct. 17, acting on what turned out to be a false tip, the Mounties called in North Shore Rescue to survey the wilderness around Grouse by helicopter and to scour the McKay Creek area by foot, but they turned up no trace of the missing man.

St. Laurent told reporters on Wednesday that he had seen rescuers on a trail near him at one point, but that he had been unable to attract their attention, although NSR has said they were never in the area he referred to.

St. Laurent also said he saw the rescue helicopter, but wasn't able to flag it down.

On Oct. 22, soaked and freezing and severely dehydrated, the man made his way to a helicopter landing area near a Hanes Valley hiking trail, where an off-duty rescue volunteer and her boyfriend, out for a run, stumbled across him.

Recognizing that he was in trouble, they immediately gave him first aid, hydrating him and warming him up before attempting to walk him out of the forest as far as they could. Bad weather and failing light made a helicopter rescue impossible.

Another team of rescuers met the group at Lynn Creek and cared for St. Laurent in a tent overnight before arranging for him to be airlifted the following day.

St. Laurent was treated in hospital and is expected to recover. At the press conference, he said his prognosis was "day by day."

Asked if the harrowing experience had taught him anything, St. Laurent said it had convinced him to leave an itinerary with a friend before hiking in future, no matter how minor the excursion.

"It was supposed to be a day hike. . . . It was going to be a non-issue," he said. "In retrospect I should have left word."