Ontario hikers’ ordeal in B.C. a reminder for others to be wilderness prepared

A search and rescue helicopter leaving Cathedral Provincial Park. COURTESY: Randall St. Germain

After five days of combing British Columbia’s rugged back country on the ground and in the air, searchers were beginning to think the worst.

Lynne Carmody and Rick Moynan, from Ontario, went out for a day hike in Cathedral provincial park near Keremeos on June 22 and didn’t return.

Up to 50 trained search volunteers fanned out along the route they’d planned, to no avail.

“There is some really bad terrain there. We’ve seen people with multiple fatalities in that type of terrain and we were strongly thinking that might have been the case,” says Alan Hobler, a search manager from Kamloops Search and Rescue and one of the search managers involved in the rescue effort.

Then, on Sunday, the pair emerged on their own, hiking six hours through the timber in the direction they’d seen the helicopters fly.

“They had lots of mosquito bites and scratches and they’re dehydrated and hungry, but aside from that it sound like they’re doing well,” Hobler tells Yahoo Canada News.

The pair were very inexperienced and strayed from their planned route, he says, ending up in difficult terrain. That they survived is a relief and, possibly, a victory over the odds.

“They didn’t have the right equipment; they didn’t have the right clothing. They had a very small pack with a limited amount of supplies in it,” Hobler says.

“They didn’t have the appropriate navigational tools and they didn’t have adequate clothing and food for wilderness survival.

“These people were basically prepared for a hike in a city park.”

They are certainly not the first and sadly, won’t be the last.

The mountainous West Coast province has some of the toughest — and most accessible — terrain in the country.

According to the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada, there are approximately 10,000 search and rescue operations in this country every year.

The three Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centres staffed around the clock by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Forces each respond to about 3,000 air, marine and humanitarian incidents annually. While there is some overlap, the statistics add up to a huge number of searches every year – not all of them with such happy endings.

A disproportionate number of them take place in the mountainous western province, which has some of the most rugged — and most accessible — terrain.

Hobler says there are basic measures hikers and other backcountry users should take before heading out.

First, he recommends checking the AdventureSmart website, which offers lists of proper equipment and precautions depending on the activity and location.

Then make a plan, leave that plan with someone and stick to it. Don’t deviate.

Carry a cellphone or an emergency location beacon in the event something goes awry.

Have a GPS unit or a map and compass with you and know how to use them.

And plan for the worst possible scenario: Do you have proper clothing? Enough food? Some kind of communication device?

Carmody and Moynan stayed put when they realized they were lost, which is a good strategy in most cases. Unfortunately, rescuers did not know they had gone off their intended trail.

“They did end up waiting, I think it was five days for help and they heard the search going on. They could even see the helicopters and the longlines from the helicopter,” Hobler says. “I think they eventually realized that the strategy of staying put wasn’t going to work for them.”