British Columbia

'I thought I had killed my friend': Quadra Islanders survive 48 hours lost in the woods

Huddled together under an enormous cedar tree, facing a third night lost in the woods and thinking they were going to die, Karen Talbot and Roberta Robson talked about pants.

Karen Talbot and Roberta Robson, 69 and 75, had only planned a quick walk before dinner

Roberta Robson, 75, and Karen Talbot, 69, at Talbot's home on Quadra Island after their rescue. (CHEK News)

Karen Talbot and Roberta Robson were supposed to be catching up.

The longtime friends used to live near each other on Quadra Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island just north of Campbell River.

Robson came back for a visit last week.

Talbot and Robson, 69 and 75, planned a quick walk in the woods near Talbot's Bold Point home before dinner on Wednesday. 

Both women bundled up in wool hats, wool sweaters and light coats. Talbot wore rain pants. Robson chose corduroys.

It's the pants that would come up 48 hours later, when the women were soaked and huddled together in the dirt under an enormous cedar tree — facing a third November night lost in the woods, thinking they were going to die.

"I told her she could have my rainpants. She's sturdier than I am and I knew she would live longer than I did ... and her corduroys were all wet," Talbot said during a phone call from her home early Monday.

"She said, 'Oh my gosh, don't talk like that' … But we talked about it."

The women's ordeal sparked a rescue effort that drew around 80 search and rescue personnel from every ground search and rescue organization on Vancouver Island.

In the end, it was Talbot's neighbour who knew where to look.

Karen Talbot, wearing a bright orange jacket, was greeted by her partner of 26 years after being rescued. (CHEK News)

Night 1

The woods on Quadra Island are dense and overgrown, filled with blown-down trees and boulders. Robson, leading the way, got turned around on the way home.

The women hunkered down in a ravine to spend the night once it started getting dark. It rained incessantly the next day.

"We were completely soaked," Robson said. "I thought I had killed my friend [with this walk]."

After trying to wave down helicopters without luck, Talbot and Robson decided to find shelter for another night.

Night 2

Robson chose the towering cedar for its branches, big enough to serve as a roof.

"We were starting to chatter, get wobbly-limbed," Talbot said. "We just leaned against the trunk and cuddled each other."

"I was saying to Roberta ... 'Gee, I didn't think I was going to die until I was 90. But If I'm going to die at 69 ... that's just the way it is."

Roberta had more questions.

"You're facing death and you think, 'Oh my God, how did I do this? How did I make these mistakes?'" she said.

Meanwhile, around 80 rescue personnel and at least two helicopters were searching for them. 

Dozens of search and rescue personnel from Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast travelled to Quadra Island to look for the women by land, water and air. (CHEK News)


Heather St. John was out, too. She's Talbot's Bold Point neighbour; a friend for the past seven years.

"I could've never stayed in my nice warm house knowing they were out there," said St. John, also 69.

St. John and her son, Ben, went into the woods with sandwiches, hot tea and "a pretty good idea" of where to start on Friday morning.

They walked into the ravine sounding a whistle. Robson "hollered" when she heard it.

"It was like, 'Oh, thank God,'" said Talbot.

"I said, 'I'm sure glad to see you,' And she said, 'I'm so much more glad to see you,'" said St. John.

Karen Talbot and Heather St. John, both 69, pictured on Quadra Island on Monday. St. John found Talbot and a third friend, Roberta Robson, after Talbot and Robson got lost in the woods the week before.

Search and rescue officials arrived in a helicopter to take the women home within the hour. Neither was seriously hurt.

Talbot, Robson and St. John were floored by the search effort.

"They drop their whole lives to come and try and help you," said Robson.

Talbot added: "It was really wonderful. And they brought dry pants."

With files from CHEK News