K-Country rescue teams say calls still high after record volume

·3 min read
A Kananaskis Country public safety specialist says rescue crews will be staffed up ahead of the long weekend.  (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)
A Kananaskis Country public safety specialist says rescue crews will be staffed up ahead of the long weekend. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)

Following a record volume of calls during the pandemic, a Kananaskis Country safety specialist says rescue calls have begun to slow.

But Mike Koppang, Kananaskis Country public safety specialist, is warning people not to get complacent, as call volumes are still higher than they were before the pandemic.

During public health measures and social distancing, Albertans went out to experience the mountains, many for the first time, said Koppang.

"It was like they kind of discovered the attic in their house and all the fun things that can be in the attic. So we had people coming out here, new to hiking, new to climbing, new to horseback riding, you name it," he said.

But that resulted in safety crews being "swamped with calls," mostly from people who are out scrambling.

"We were kind of doing back-to-back calls quite routinely throughout the entire summer," he said.

"Hitting record numbers of calls, much higher than any previous years that we've ever had. So we were quite busy during those pandemic times to a point."

While call volumes have tapered off in May and June in this year, crews were almost as busy in July as they were during the pandemic, Koppang said.

He added that crews are staffed up ahead of September long weekend.

"We definitely do kind of prep ourselves for that last bit of summer, people trying to get out and experience it."

Overall lower call volumes, Koppang said, can be attributed to a number of different factors, including people traveling to other areas instead of heading to the mountains, and some learning from "unfortunate accidents during that time frame."

Dave Gilson/CBC
Dave Gilson/CBC

"Sometimes as we learn, we get better and we see that a lot of people have accidents, so a lot of people actually got better too," Koppang said.

One big piece of not ending up in a sticky situation, said Sean Carter, who has been going on bikepacking trips in Kananaskis for the past eight years, is pre-planning your trek.

"I do as much research as I can. If it's a new place, I'll do a lot of research on trying to find information on the trail conditions or maybe reports from other people that have been there before," Carter said.

Carter reads park websites to see if there are closures or wildfires, and if poor weather is projected, he delays his trip.

"You know what we might experience out in Calgary as a rainstorm, in Kananaskis it can be a brutal hail storm, or sometimes even snow," he said.

He also recommends packing a first aid kit and a satellite phone, water, food and a warm jacket.

To reduce the likelihood that Koppang or someone from the area's safety team will have to rescue you, he recommends planning a trek that's within your wheelhouse before you get out into the backcountry — and take a course or learn from a mentor.

"Don't go and try to climb the hardest, steepest peak on the scramble for your first time going out."