La Loche volunteers help rescue couple and granddaughter trapped by snowstorm

·4 min read

A Buffalo Narrows, Sask., couple stuck for four days at their camp following a storm are praising a Dene search and rescue group who travelled hundreds of kilometres to come to their aid.

"We should be old enough to know better, to get the heck out of the bush earlier," said Shelly MacDonald, 60, co-owner of Lone Wolf Camps Outfitters.

Shelly and her husband, Brian, 66, along with their three-year-old granddaughter were finishing up the season at their camp, located on the south shore of Carswell Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan. Their youngest son had returned to Buffalo Narrows with most of the equipment and supplies but the couple stayed back one more night to tie up loose ends.

Then a storm left them unexpectedly stranded.

"It didn't seem like very much snow at the camp," said Shelly MacDonald.

She said they drove around one tree, but then came to another they couldn't get by or move.

"Trees were snapping all around us. We had to turn back."

Shelly MacDonald
Shelly MacDonald

"Usually when we come up here there is maybe, five trees down from the wind," she said.

"This was more like 5,000 trees on the road."

The couple informed their three children by satellite phone they were stuck.

Dene Trackers called in

Derek Herman, 47, is the lead member of the La Loche Dene Trackers, located in the village of La Loche, Sask., about 500 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, and 240 kilometres south of Carswell Lake. They are a group of volunteers who help in local search and rescues in Saskatchewan's north.

After being contacted through a mutual friend on the third day after the storm, Herman took half of his 10-member team and began to plan and co-ordinate a rescue mission.

Herman said they know how dangerous it can be when the seasons change.

"We usually go ahead and get searches and rescues started as fast as we can," said Herman.

"But this was a different story how far north Shelly and Brian were. We had to make sure we were prepared."

The Clearwater River Dene Nation offered their assistance with a bulldozer, driver and fuel. The rescue team then set off on the 271-kilometre journey by road from La Loche to Carswell Lake.

Derek Herman
Derek Herman

"It was one hell of a trip," said Herman.

"There was no snow in town but further north of us there was about two feet of wet heavy snow."

What is normally a five-hour drive turned into a 10-hour drive as the crew had use the heavy equipment to move trees and snow from their path.

"It took longer because we had to keep unloading and loading the dozer — the roads were full of downed trees," said Herman.

"We used the big equipment about four times going up there and another three times coming back."

Shelly MacDonald
Shelly MacDonald

The MacDonalds kept in touch with the command station in La Loche, whom Herman also kept in contact with, and were able to learn how far the Dene Trackers were from their camp as they travelled.

The MacDonalds had some food and a survival box, which included water, granola bars and other non-perishables. Shelly MacDonald said as rations were getting thin, that if it were just her and husband they would have been OK, but they worried for their young granddaughter. They were relieved to hear the progress being made with every update they received.

"We were unable to even go out to hunt grouse, the road was so blocked," said MacDonald.

Shelly MacDonald
Shelly MacDonald

After working for nearly 24 hours straight, the Dene Trackers, with the assistance of the MacDonalds' son and family friends, were able to reach the couple on their fourth night of being stuck.

MacDonald said she is grateful for the quick and tireless response of those from Buffalo Narrows, La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation, adding people from La Loche are always quick to help anyone in need.

"La Loche is amazing," said MacDonald.

"No matter who you are, what colour you are or where you are from, people in the north are always willing to help. That is just the way northern people are, especially La Loche. They get 20 out of 10 for their helpfulness from me."

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