British Columbia

Search and rescue calls climb in B.C. as hikers head to mountains

During the first two weeks of July, search and rescue calls across the province increased sharply compared to the same period last year, according to the B.C. Search and Rescue Association.

Experts urge preparation before venturing into the great outdoors

A Lions Bay Search & Rescue helicopter in the air over Howe Sound, B.C. (Lions Bay Search & Rescue)

During the first two weeks of July, search and rescue calls across the province increased sharply compared to the same period last year, according to the B.C. Search and Rescue Association.

Search and rescue teams from around B.C. responded to 110 calls during that time; a steep increase of 50 per cent.

"The first two weeks of July did not look promising," said Dwight Yochim, senior manager with B.C. Search and Rescue Association.

"It's a bit concerning to have such a big jump."

As COVID-19 restrictions limit people's choices for recreation, Yochim believes many are turning to the wilderness and, in some cases, biting off more than they can chew.

North Shore Rescue was called out four times on Sunday.

"To be honest, it kind of brings us back to reality to where we used to be back before COVID-19 [in terms of call volume]," said Mike Danks, team leader at North Shore Rescue.

Although two of the calls were for minor problems like rolled ankles, Danks says the difficult terrain required them to perform aerial extractions.

North Shore Rescue team performs aerial extraction on Mount Seymour. (NSR/Facebook)

He says they also responded to calls concerning a pair of hikers who were fatigued and another couple that got lost.

"A lot of people believe they are still in the shape they were pre-COVID, and they've been sitting around for a while."

Rock climbers rescued

His team was also brought in by Lion's Bay Search and Rescue, which responded to two calls on Sunday.

The rescue that required the help of both North Shore and Squamish search teams involved a pair of rock climbers who got stuck on the north face of the West Lion mountain peak.

Martin Colwell, search manager for Lion's Bay Search and Rescue (LBSR), said a member-in-training on his team spotted the climbers' headlamps Saturday evening while camping and alerted his colleagues. 

After making contact with the climbers, LBSR told them to buckle in and wait until morning due to the lack of light.

Early Sunday, the climbers were rescued by helicopter.

"They were fine, aside from an uncomfortable and wary night," said Colwell.

Preparation is key, say experts

All three men say the majority of calls they are responding to are due to a lack of preparation. Whether that's people wearing the wrong type of footwear, failing to research their route, or not packing the appropriate equipment.

Yochim believes more beginners are trying out hiking as a way to enjoy our province.

But he says the key is starting small on manageable hikes, and working your way up.

"We don't want people to stop enjoying the outdoors, we just are asking them to be a little bit more cautious," he said.

One of the big challenges, Yochim says, is providing search and rescue services while also adhering to public health guidelines.

Every time somebody gets hurt on a trail — which he says is becoming more frequent — members have to put personal protective equipment on themselves, as well as the person they are rescuing.

"It just creates a risk for everyone involved that is far greater than we've ever had before," he said.

With files from On The Coast

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