British Columbia

Hikers too reliant on smartphones, says North Shore Rescue founding member

Gerry Brewer says it's frustrating that the most common reasons for rescue haven't changed since 1965.

'They do learn the hard way, but they do learn,' Gerry Brewer says of stranded hikers

Gerry Brewer, in the red hat, is pictured on a winter hike with other North Shore Rescue members, including Karl Winter, next to the tree, in an undated photograph. (Dave Brewer)

Gerry Brewer says the reasons why people get into trouble in the outdoors haven't changed much since 1965.

That's the year Brewer, now 83, joined an outfit that became known as North Shore Rescue.

It responds to roughly 130 calls every year to help people stranded, lost or injured in the North Shore mountains.

Brewer said there are three main reasons why people still get into trouble: they haven't properly planned their trip; they don't have the right gear; and they haven't let others know where they are going or when they will return.

He still volunteers for the group, but no longer does field rescues.

Gerry Brewer, a founding member of North Shore Rescue, says it's frustrating when hikers don't take precautions before heading out. (Gerry Brewer)

How have you seen the demand for rescues change over the decades you've been involved?

In the earlier days, of course, the sign that someone was missing was either a phone call or an abandoned car in a parking lot.

We'd have a bunch of people charging off in different directions at Cypress Bowl and Seymour or Grouse [North Shore mountains] trying to find where this person might be.

Today, the technology available for the rescue team is more focused on the specific area.

Once we comb through that, we find the person, treat them and recover them [often by helicopter].

We used to have to carry people out for endless distances and terrible terrain and thereby getting injured, broken fingers, limbs.

The problem was that the cost of the rescuer was quite high in terms of time, loss and injury.

Members of North Shore Rescue on Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1966. (Dave Brewer)

What is a rescue that stands out from the early days?

A couple of young guys went behind Grouse, Goat and Dam Mountain [in 1968] and got onto the north face of Goat Mountain and by misadventure one of them slipped and fell off the face.

That face is about 1,200 feet [365 metres] and this young man had fallen in there primarily because of improper footwear and being too close to this precipitous edge.

We charged off into the snow with a basket stretcher and bunch of rope and good hope.

Anyway, two days later, we finally recovered the body off the face, but this drew our attention to the fact that there was some training in severe mountain rescue techniques that we needed to learn and that was the start point for so doing.

Gerry Brewer, in the centre with the orange helmet, pictured with other members of North Shore Rescue — Karl Winter (left) and Allan Danks (right) — in an undated photograph. (Ole Edlig)

What can you say about the friends you've made through North Shore Rescue?

We all have had shared experiences on different mountains where we weren't sure we were going to survive the incident or situation.

So shaking hands with people you climb with, thinking that in the next hour you all may be dead, it's a bonding experience that ... looking back was wonderful, but at the time was totally terrifying.

But it does tie you to people in a different way than simply social buddies over a beer.

Members of North Shore Rescue celebrate Christmas in the mid-1980s at a cabin on Mount Seymour. (Ole Edliq)

It sounds like the reasons for rescues from the early days are similar to today's. People going into areas that they aren't prepared for.

What has changed is the reliance of the public today to use technology — that this thing that they hold in their hand is going to both guide them into troubled areas and get them out.

Too often, the system is wrong to begin with, unreliable, and at some point, you sooner or later run into signal loss, so you now have nothing to guide you to go anywhere.

North Shore Rescue's Gerry Brewer (lower left, with orange webbing around his chest) in an undated photograph. (Ole Edlig)

The misadventure of people in shorts and running shoes, going out on the Dog Mountain trail [on Mount Seymour] in five feet of snow, oblivious to the fact that even something as simple as an injured ankle precludes them from getting anywhere on foot.

They have no preparation, no plan and no equipment with which to recover themselves, so they have to be carried out.

This is frustrating, but the good thing is that the ratio of incidents per 100,000 outdoor users has not significantly changed [since 1965].

We only rarely have to deal with the same person a second time. They do learn the hard way, but they do learn.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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