'Thinking ahead to the worst-case scenario': How a 3-page trip plan helped save a lone hiker
Bruce's detailed outline of his multi-day journey into the backcountry was crucial for search and rescue teams
Bruce really didn't want to call for a rescue.
He was standing in a clearing in the forest above Indian Arm with two fractured ribs and 20 kilograms of gear on his back. He'd been hiking for seven days, the last four in a downpour.
He'd planned his hike from Buntzen Lake to Mount Seymour for weeks, leaving a meticulous three-page trip plan with his wife before he left home.
The plan was supposed to reassure his wife and to avoid a rescue — but also to make it easier for search crews to find him, if he did run into trouble.
"I did that sort of, 'in the one per cent event of requiring a rescue, what information is going to be useful to them?'" said Bruce, who didn't want his last name published.
Despite all his planning, Bruce did need help in the end. Search and rescue crews met him in the clearing and hiked him down to the water to be picked up by boat.
The team who brought Bruce home praised his preparedness, saying the plan was a prime example of what hikers need to leave behind when they go into the backcountry.
Crews say a few minutes of extra contemplation and consideration can save hours — and even lives — perhaps otherwise lost.
The Indian Arm trail is more of a rough route than a clear path; a hacked-out suggestion as to how to hike from Buntzen Lake to Mount Seymour around the long sea inlet.
The vegetation rises taller than a hiker on the way north to the inlet's head, and ropes are required to navigate steep cliff-side sections coming back down south. Rain can make it impossibly slippery.
Hiking forums describe it as "a wonderful experience for those capable, a nightmare ending in a helicopter ride (if lucky) for some."
Bruce, an avid hiker in his late 40s, knew it would be a challenge — but he spent weeks crafting the plan to leave with his wife of 18 years.
"She's not a hiker. She worries," he said.
His trip plan noted where he would be hiking on which days, which equipment he'd be carrying, where he'd have cellphone coverage and what he'd be wearing in painstaking detail — down to what his boot print would look like in the dirt.
He also packed as much emergency supplies as he could stuff in his pack, including an extra cell with a spare battery pack.
Bruce gave himself seven days to finish the four-day trip. His wife was to phone 911 at 2 p.m. on the seventh day — a Saturday — if she hadn't heard anything from him by then.
Then the weather made the going "extremely tough" as Bruce was coming back to Buntzen.
"I realized I wasn't going to make it on time," he said.
Wanting to prevent that seventh-day 911 call, Bruce went off route to try to find cell reception. He slipped on a rock in the process and fell nearly two metres onto a boulder, fracturing his ribs.
"I heard this loud crack and realized I was in trouble," he said.
"Fortunately, at that point, my adrenaline was still going and I was able to pick up my pack and walk."
Bruce found the clearing with "a tiny sliver" of reception and dialled 112 for help.
See the map below for the place Bruce was found:
Unbeknownst to him, rescuers had already been dispatched. His wife had thought to call early.
North Shore Rescue, Coquitlam Search and Rescue and the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue teams were all part of Bruce's rescue.
Michael Coyle, Coquitlam's team leader, was expecting a multi-day search — there's not much information available on Indian Arm and the terrain is difficult.
He knew it would be cut mercifully shorter when he saw Bruce's plan. They found him with a combination of the plan and his cellphone signal.
"It was great to know what he was thinking," Coyle said. "Suddenly we were like, 'OK.'"
Searchers reached Bruce in the clearing and hiked him to the water to be taken home by boat.
Coyle said rescuers wish every operation started with a trip plan like Bruce's.
"You have to think, 'What if I am wrong? What if I can't handle this?' And that's what [Bruce] did with a trip plan: he was thinking ahead to the worst-case scenario — which is basically all we ask people to do."
Bruce said he left a trip plan thinking entirely of his family and rescue teams.
"As a hiker ... I accept the risks," he said.
"My concern is not for me. It's for family and it's for other people who don't need to be out there. It's kind of the guilt of putting other people in a situation they don't want to be in because of decisions I've made."
Bruce is happy to be home — though his ribs are "excruciatingly sore" — and able to thank rescuers, on behalf of himself and his family.
"My wife and daughter, they're still so overly blown away by just how supportive and how great these people really are," he said.
"It's important for people to understand: if they are involved in a rescue, there are a ton of people that are behind the scenes ... sacrificing their own time. It's mind-blowing."
Coyle recommends filling out a trip plan template like this one to leave with friends or relatives before heading into the backcountry: