British Columbia

'These guys are incredible': Climbers grateful to be rescued after cold night in North Shore mountains

North Shore Rescue volunteers camped overnight to stay near the pair.

'It's hard to describe what I felt when I saw their headlamps down in the gully,' rescued climber says

Serguei Okountsev and his partner were stuck in Hanes Valley overnight after she fell and broke her ankle on Monday. He said they got through the night by staying awake with emergency supplies and tarps to keep warm. (Megan Batchelor/CBC)

Two climbers have been rescued from Crown Mountain on Tuesday morning, having spent a night stuck in the cold after one of them broke an ankle.

Serguei Okountsev, whose partner slipped and fell, said they feel "super lucky" and grateful to North Shore Rescue crews.

"It's amazing. These guys are incredible, unreal. It's hard to describe what I felt when I saw their headlamps down in the gully," he said after the rescue.

Tuesday's helicopter rescue of two climbers from the Widowmaker area of Crown Mountain. (North Shore Rescue/Twitter)

Okountsev said his climbing partner slipped and fell about 45 metres in the Widowmaker area, which is closed to the public this time of year.

She ended up with a broken ankle, fractured finger, a cut to her face and possible fractured ribs.

"She fell so far, I couldn't see her," Okountsev said.

He said he climbed down to where she landed, activated their emergency locator beacon and hunkered down to wait.

North Shore Rescue crews were dispatched to look for the pair after hearing the beacon on Monday evening.

North Shore Rescue sent a Talon helicopter at first light to decide how best to rescue the climbers on Tuesday. (North Shore Rescue)

Teams found them in the Hanes Valley area, but it wasn't safe to rescue the pair in the dark.

A Talon helicopter was sent to assess the situation at first light and the pair was lifted out with a long line.

An ambulance took Okountsev's climbing partner to hospital.

Okountsev said they stayed awake all night, keeping warm with tarps and other emergency supplies they'd packed. The volunteer rescue team who found the climbers set up camp within shouting distance and stayed with them all night.

The climber said the rescue efforts left him speechless.

"These are unpaid volunteers," he added. "I don't know what to say ... such commitment."

The pair was on a training climb for Denali — North America's highest peak, in Alaska — and were well prepared with the locator beacon as well as a satellite phone.

"We really had little information last night other than the beacon going off and indicating their location," NSR team leader Mike Danks said.

The climbers were brought down from this area of Crown Mountain on a long line. It's closed to the public at this time of year. (Megan Batchelor/CBC)

"This situation could have turned into something a lot worse if they had no means of communication, but having that spot device makes a huge difference because you can get a signal out from anywhere.

"The sat phone just provides even more information, but even that wasn't able to get through every time like the beacon."

Peter Haigh, who was on hand for the rescue Tuesday, said Hanes Valley "is not a nice area to be in" and that the climbers "shouldn't have been there."

"You get cold in a hurry," he said. "It could have been a lot worse if they weren't as prepared as they were."

Busy Family Day

Tuesday's rescue caps what was a busy Family Day stretch for the North Shore team. Danks said eight calls for help came in from three different mountains within an eight-hour stretch.

Danks said a lot of those calls were for people who were "actually prepared" for the conditions, but had taken a "legitimate fall."

"I think we got pretty lucky given the amount of people that were in the backcountry," he said. "Some of those people were pretty lucky too because some of those falls could have been fatal."

North Shore Rescue crews during one of many rescues they performed on B.C. Family Day on Monday. (North Shore Rescue/Facebook)

The team leader also thanked rescue crews who gave up their holiday Monday to help.

"Respect to our team members. They were out in full force and did an excellent job. They missed their Family Day, but we signed up to do this job for our community and all the calls had a happy ending so it was very positive for us," he said.

Danks said the busy day can serve as a reminder to be prepared by checking bulletins, talking with mountain staff and getting trained in avalanche safety.

With files from Megan Batchelor


  • An earlier version of this story said the rescued pair were snowshoeing. In fact, they were climbing.
    Feb 13, 2018 12:37 PM PT