At first glance, the image is quintessentially West Coast: a group of hikers on top of snowy Mount Strachan, framed by blue sky and ocean.

But then you see the peril.

The mountaintop surface is actually a cornice, an overhang of hardened snow jutting out from solid ground.

And the hikers? They appear to be in a dangerous place, standing on a surface that could at any moment give way and tumble hundreds of metres straight down.

Mount Strachan cornice April 2017

A view of the cornice on Mount Strachan shot from St. Marks summit last month. (Karl Vietneiks)

After a particularly deadly winter in the North Shore Mountains in which seven hikers perished, North Shore Rescue spokesperson Mike Danks said the photo — which was captured by a drone — serves as a prime example of how people get themselves into trouble.

Naive about the danger

"They've stayed back a little bit, but they're naive ... standing that close to a cornice," said Danks.

"It's a real problem, because that's what caused the death of the five people on Mount Harvey. And we believe a cornice fracture could be the cause of the two snowshoers who have gone missing as well."

Mount Strachan is a popular hiking destination right in the Cypress Ski Area.

Danks hopes the photo, which was posted to a community hiking website and reposted to the NSR Facebook page, will serve not only as a warning but as motivation for people to get educated.

"That's what we want to stress — there's mountain courses that you can take locally here on the North Shore," he said. 

"Right now we're seeing warming temperatures, and it's just a matter of time until [the cornice] fails. Through the winter they've built up to a point where they can't hold their own weight, and that's when they'll fracture. And that in turn will cause a big avalanche below as well."

Mount Strachan cornice May 2017

Another view of Mount Strachan, with a cornice that could collapse at any moment. (Oldmatt/ClubTread.com community)