Preparation is key to survival

This week our columnist Claudette Sandecki takes a tough stance on people who go out into the wilderness unprepared

As I write this, an out-of-bounds snowboarder has been lost on Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain for two days while North Shore Search and Rescue slog through 49 cm of fresh snow  toiling only 10 to 15 metres in 30 minutes. Avalanche conditions are high, putting searchers and snowboarder in extreme danger.

Sunday he had been snowboarding with friends but chose to go out of bounds by himself. Two no-nos.

Two helicopters, including a Cormorant, were brought in; poor visibility grounded them part time. About supper time tonight a helicopter was sent in to pick up a ground search party that had been dropped off yesterday and move them closer to  fresh tracks spotted late this afternoon.

He is in a steep ravine from which it may take three hours to carry him up or longline him out by helicopter in the dark tonight.

The snowboarder is close to the ocean, meaning he has traversed a good portion of the mountain, though the rule is When lost, stay put. He is wearing a white jacket, and not carrying even an orange garbage bag to make him visible among the trees. His cell phone is dead.

Too many outdoor enthusiasts leave their common sense at home and venture out to hike, ski, or snowboard often out-of-bounds despite clearly posted limits. They fail to consider how Search and Rescue risk their lives every time they are called out to save the neck of some ill-equipped, completely unprepared individual who either hikes off at sundown in running shoes, shorts and a tee shirt in March or ducks under boundaries to be the first to leave tracks in fresh snow, armed only with enthusiasm, “Happy as if they had brains,” my Uncle Gordon would say.

Walking with my dogs this afternoon through “back country” where tall hemlocks sway in a light breeze and the only sounds are the occasional squeak of one trunk rubbing on another and our footsteps swishing through two inches of powdery snow, I considered this snowboarder’s situation.

While I was fenced in by plowed streets on three sides and a mountain on the east side, he has no boundaries other than maybe a ravine or a stream. Even the sounds of traffic were absent, muffled by the fresh snow. He would have heard only overhead helicopters or planes. Not much guidance from them.

If, by some fluke of weather, a blinding blizzard struck erasing all markers, I could  leash my dogs and trust them to guide me home. What help has the snowboarder got to keep him on course? Not a thing that I know of or can imagine. I’d be surprised if he’s carrying so much as a compass.

Two weeks ago a Manitoba hunter survived 23 days lost in dense bush with an apple for food, a few matches, and a dead cell phone. He lost 40 pounds and may have sustained permanent damage to his feet. Did anyone learn from his experience?

Or tune in to Global TV News any evening to see Tim Jones of North Shore Search and Rescue listing backcountry safety precautions.

Does anyone heed Jones’ precautions? Guess not.

You’d think after the many instances of people being found in the bush, dehydrated, hypothermic, with frozen fingers and toes that led to amputation, that the next  outdoor nut would demonstrate better judgment. But no. Each one starts afresh, deliberately ignoring danger signs, scoffing at precautions, and blithely expecting Search and Rescue personnel and pilots to risk their safety, donate family time and taxpayer funded equipment and gasoline to save them  from themselves.

I agree Search and Rescue should wait 72 hours before initiating a search, and charge rescue costs to survivors. If they don’t survive, oh, well. At least no one would have to search for them a second time.

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