British Columbia

Backcountry adventurer shares story of survival after getting caught in New Year's Day snowstorm

Evan Paterson wanted to kick off the new year with an overnight snowshoe expedition through Vancouver Island's backcountry — he was prepared for snow, but not the blizzard that came.

'It felt like we were just swimming through the snow'

Evan Paterson and his brother-in-law were prepared for some snow, but not the blizzard they were hit by while on an overnight trip in Vancouver Island's backcountry. (Evan Paterson)

Evan Paterson and his brother-in-law kicked off the new year with an overnight backcountry snowshoe trip in Strathcona Park, in the heart of B.C.'s Vancouver Island. They had prepared for snow — they expected between 10 and 30 centimetres — but they weren't quite prepared for what befell them.

After an eight-kilometre journey on snowshoes in wintry conditions, the pair arrived at Kwai Lake, where they planned to spend the night. They arrived at about 3 p.m., set up their tents and shoveled out the entrance to the outhouse before going to sleep.

When they woke up at about midnight, Paterson said their tents were completely covered by "several feet" of snow. 

"My breathing had changed and my brother-in-law, he was starting to get a headache and he called out to me," Paterson recalled during an interview on CBC's All Points West

"At first we just thought the snow is full of moisture, it's just kind of sticking to the tent. But as we were trying to knock the snow off, it felt more like it was solid. So we realized that it was way more than we had expected."

The pair had to dig out their tents multiple times after heavy snowfall kept burying them. (Evan Paterson)

They came prepared with a shovel, so they cleared the snow and went back to sleep.

When they woke again in the morning, the tents were covered once again. 

They packed up and prepared to leave the area. But they weren't able to cover much ground as heavy snow continued to fall. Paterson said they weren't sure they'd be able to navigate their way out.

"It was suffocating," Paterson said. "It felt like we were just swimming through the snow."

They knew there was a cabin nearby, but weren't sure if they could find it. 

They knew there was a cabin nearby, but they had to hike through waist-deep snow during a blizzard to find it. (Evan Paterson)

Out of precaution, Paterson activated the distress signal on his spot device, which sent a message to his partner at home. She then contacted police who sent Comox Valley Search and Rescue to find the stranded men. 

They continued to push through waist-deep snow in search of the cabin. As they finally came upon it, members of search and rescue appeared.

Evan Paterson and his hiking partner snowshoed out of the area with Comox Valley Search and Rescue. (Evan Paterson)

"When we found that cabin, it really just meant salvation for us," Paterson said.

The pair hiked out with search and rescue, and eventually were shuttled out by a snowcat and snowmobiles.

Paterson and his brother-in-law weren't the only people who needed rescuing from the area that day — Comox Valley Search and Rescue posted on social media to say they had rescued five people on two separate calls.


Paterson said he feels they were well prepared, because when they ran into trouble, they were able to get out of it.

"It really goes to show it can happen to anybody."

He's reminding others who venture out into the backcountry to be prepared. For him, the most important items were his physical map of the area and compass.

"Just relying on technology alone, if your battery dies, that's it, you know?"

LISTEN | Evan Paterson shares his story of getting caught in a blizzard in the backcountry

Evan Paterson and his brother-in-law decided to start off 2022 with an overnight winter camping trip in Strathcona Provincial Park. A severe snowstorm rolled in and turned their trek out into a life-and-death situation. They made it out thanks to preparation and the help of Comox Valley Search and Rescue. Kathryn Marlow reached Evan in Nanaimo to hear the story.

With files from All Points West


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