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North Shore Rescue pulls terrified teen from risky conditions

The team’s avalanche safety officer was hesitant to clear anyone to go after the subject on foot.
North Shore Rescue members carry out a helicopter extraction from the North Vancouver backcountry, Jan. 26, 2021. | Maria Masiar / North Shore Rescue

North Shore Rescue pulled a man from the backcountry Tuesday evening, just minutes before he would have found himself stranded overnight in dangerous conditions.

West Vancouver police requested assistance from North Shore Rescue after a 19-year-old East Vancouver man called 911 from a steep slope near St. Mark’s summit, crawling on his hands and knees and unable to get back to the trail.

“In the conversation that I had with this young man, it just became very clear that he was not in a good situation,” said team leader Mike Danks. “And he definitely didn’t have the confidence or skill or equipment to make it out on his own.”

The police were able to “ping” the hiker’s cellphone to get fairly accurate GPS co-ordinates for North Shore Rescue to follow, but the window of opportunity to get him out quickly via helicopter was rapidly closing.

“We had essentially less than 60 minutes of light,” Danks said.

The team’s avalanche safety officer was hesitant to clear anyone to go after the subject on foot. Had the call come in any later or had bad weather prevented them from flying, Danks said they would have had serious discussions about whether to put rescuers at risk.

“The forecast was not good,” Danks said. “[Our safety officer] didn’t want us actually responding on the Howe Sound Crest Trail because of the avalanche slopes that we’d have to pass through.”

Luckily, they were able to pull off a quick grab-and-go with the help of their long-line rescue team.

“We honestly had minutes to do that,” Danks said.

The rescue underscores numerous public safety messages the team urges anyone going into the mountains to heed.

Shoulder season is a dangerous time as people enjoying the warm weather in the city are naively lured onto snow-covered trails with higher than usual avalanche risk in the backcountry. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday evening, Danks said.

“People are getting out there and they’re getting disoriented,” he said.

The teen was relying on his smartphone for navigation, which the team doesn’t recommend. He didn’t have proper equipment including a headlamp or flashlight, avalanche rescue gear, or a satellite communication device. He was travelling solo and he hadn’t let anyone know where he was going or when he was due back.

“If he didn’t have a cell signal, this is a guy that we could potentially have just done a body recovery for. We wouldn’t have known he was missing for multiple days,” Danks said. “One of our members had a good chat with him.”

Meanwhile, the team’s premier piece of rescue equipment – Talon Helicopters’ night-flying, hoist-capable Dauphin – has been seconded away on another contract until the summer. North Shore Rescue will still have access to the familiar yellow helicopters and long-lines for rescues, but they can’t be used in every circumstance.

“It just really means that if people are going to call for help, do it sooner than later because last night was as close as we can get,” Danks said. “Keep into consideration the conditions and don’t put yourself in that situation.”

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