A 62-year-old Hope man, who spent two frigid nights on a mountain in Manning Park last weekend, did almost everything right to survive, according to Princeton Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) chief Paul Fyfe.
The experienced winter camper found shelter at the bottom of a tree – a tree well – on Manning’s Blackwall Peak. He’d left a trip plan, and was equipped with food, extra clothing and a cook stove. He also carried a single person shelter called a bivy bag.
However he was surrounded by five feet of fresh powder snow and could only wait to be found.
“The only thing he didn’t have with him was a communication device,” said Fyfe. “Some kind of communication device is a must if you are going into the backcountry.”
While GSAR recommends backcounty users carry a satellite device enabling them to send messages where there is no cell service, in this instance even a phone would have been useful, as the man was holed down near a tower.
The camper also had touring skis, but was overcome by conditions, according to Fyfe.
“He just underestimated the amount of snow that was out there. He was basically having to walk on his skis instead of ski on his skis. His whole body was having to fight against the snow.”
Princeton GSAR was activated at 10 p.m. Sunday Feb. 21, after the man’s anxious wife reported he did not show up at their rendezvous point.
Waiting for word, she slept that night on a couch in the reception area of Manning Park’s lodge. There was – quite literally – no room at the inn.
Fyfe spent the next few hours preparing a search plan and coordinating with a Ministry of Transportation avalanche technician. A search area needs to be cleared for safety before volunteers can put boots on the ground.
GSAR members from Fraser Valley, Mission, Chilliwack, Nicola Valley and Hope were on their way to Manning Park to assist with the search when the missing man was spotted from a helicopter.
“When he heard the helicopter he came out of the tree well and started waving his arms. If he hadn’t come out of the tree well we wouldn’t have seen him.”
When a GSAR member exited the helicopter to meet the camper “he sunk into the snow up to his armpits. That’s how deep the powder was out there,” said Fyfe.
The camper was relieved to see his rescuers, but in good health and spirits.
It was the best of outcomes for GSAR.
“It was less than an hour after we went up. That’s how quick something can happen, that we can have a positive resolution.”
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