Friday, December 30, 2016

Hikers lost on Cypress

It is with sadness we hear the news of two hikers lost snowshoeing on Cypress mountain since Christmas day. Their prognosis at this point does not look good. People keep stressing the importance of not going off the main trail or skiing out of bounds for good reason.

So my first question was were where they? One newspaper photo was at the beginning of the trail up Hollyburn ridge which is a well marked and well travelled trail. Snowshoeing on that trail is safe. Going beyond that trail at the top of Hollyburn ridge is not.

One media report claimed Search and Rescue received a tip claiming they saw two Asian hikers snowshoeing on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. That is a well marked trail in summer but is much more difficult in Winter. It goes all the way to the Lions which is much easier during late summer. One of the people lost was an experienced hiker. Which tells me it's most likely that they were trying to access the Christmas gully on the back of Sky chair on mount Strachan. That is a very common route in winter and climbing up the peak is very challenging in fresh snow and difficult to find in winter. That trail isn't as well traveled and packed as the Hollyburn ridge trail is.

If they skipped the Christmas Gully turn off and kept going along the Howe Sound crest trail, who knows where they could be. The trail goes up Saint Mark's summit, up Unnecessary mountain all the way to the Lions themselves. Getting to the middle of the two peaks on the Lions so you can continue along that trail to Porteau cove is insanely dangerous during winter. In summer when the trail is bare you have to cut across a very narrow path on the side of the West lion. When there is snow, that tiny path in inaccessible. It is not something I would consider doing in winter.

With 30 cm of fresh snow they should be able to tell if anyone has attempted to climb Unnecessary mountain recently. In a meter of fresh snow they wouldn't even be able to tell if someone had tried it recently and right now we are getting pounded with fresh snow. It is certainly possible for an experienced hiker to dig a snow cave and survive yet at this point is really doesn't look good. Let's hope for the best.

Update: It might be worth finding out what trail crosses the Howe Sound Crest Trail on the way back from the top of St Mark's summit and check that one for the lost hikers.


  1. Jack Wasserman, an old time columnist for the Vancouver Sun once wrote, Vancouver was the only major city in the world where you could die in the wilderness 30 minutes from the downtown core.

    if you go into the mountains, wilderness you need to be really prepared.

    Thank you to all the North Shore search and rescue people and first responders who participate in finding people.

    before people go out into remote or out of bound zones, think: do I want to die this afternoon, for this experience? How will my friends and family feel if I die.

    Its beautiful out there, but it can kill.

  2. Lets hope for the best, but the reality is that this is unlikely to end well. The nature of the outdoors is such that you can never assume you will make it back to civilization/shelter etc. on schedule. In winter time especially you need to be prepared to stay out there if necessary. With snow on the ground water isn't a problem but the bare minimum anyone should head out with is a light/medium weight sleeping bag, 3 days of food, the ability to heat water/snow, to make fire, a good knife, a tent(s)that can provide shelter for every member of the group, and signalling equipment. Mirror/smoke bomb/flares, and these days, modern electronics such as a good radio (even a low priced sat phone is not too much overkill) and a GPS receiver. An emergency location transmitter is cheap insurance.

    Sound like overkill? I'll bet these two would disagree. "Better to have and not need than to need and not have".

  3. The problem is that there are many dead zones on the mountain where there is no cell phone reception. A snow shovel to dig a cave and flares for your bear scare are pretty basic tools.

  4. Agreed on the cell, radio/sat phone. Spare batteries.

    Doing the snow cave thing is something that needs to have been done at least once before you need to use it for real. In addition no one is going to see you inside of one of those, especially with new snow covering whatever "sign" may be visible from the air of you having dug one.
    A tent in a high vis colour is better. Snow covers it during the night, when you wake up you pop the roof a couple times and it's visible again. When you hear a aircraft, especially a helo, you fire a flare, followed by igniting a smoke bomb. Make sure you have multiple lighters in addition to other fire starting gear.

    Basically whenever you go hiking on the North Shore in winter, a pack of at least "three day" size with as much of what I've listed here should go with you. Cheap insurance. Not just for yourself, (or your family) but for anyone you may find up there that needs your assistance to survive until help arrives. Anyone who is even moderately injured will need to be in a sleeping bag to prevent shock which can kill in and of itself. A tourniquet and a chest decompression kit are potentially of more lifesaving use than a basic first aid kit for bumps and owies. Dude managed to spear himself on his own or someone else's ski pole resulting in a sucking chest wound? If you can't decompress him and it takes an few hours to get the helo in there, he (or she) is gonna die. Respiratory stress will put them into shock faster. Any type of severe bleeding that can't be controlled by manual pressure, same thing. Space in your ruck and weight are at a premium, choose every item wisely.

    1. On the way back from third peak on Seymour just past first peak you see people digging in snow caves to spend the night all the time. On a clear night with a nice sunset and peaceful moonlight it is very inviting. The idea is to survive the night. During the day you can dig something in the snow people will see.

  5. Point taken, I'm just saying for someone who hasn't done it before, when they have to do it for real for survival, night approaching faster than you'd like, etc. the first time is not ideal.

    The USGI Entrenching Tool (folding shovel) is a great tool for this. It is all steel but it folds up nice and compact and has two sharpened edges. You can use it to chop down small tree's if you have to, either for a lean-to shelter or to clear an LZ. Don't buy the cheap Chinese made copies.

    1. I'm leary of snow caves myself because I'm worried about them caving in on you when you are asleep but it a very common thing here. As you say the more prepared the better. When it isn't snowing I prefer a tent. It's just that hiking these mountains with a day pack is one thing but hiking them with a heavy overnight pack is very physically challenging. Yet I always carry a folding snow shovel to dig a bench to have lunch.

  6. both of you read like you belonged to the boys scouts at one time, be prepared. Unfortunately most people aren't and that is why they got lost in the first place Most people who go out for a "hike" never think anything bad is going to happen. They think they're still in Stanley Park or an extension of it. People don't understand being up the mountain, even 20 ft. off a trail can get you killed. Its cold out there and you won't be able to even find a door way.

    Even as rescuers go out to search others are going out of bounds and never stopping to think and that is the problem with so many things in life, people don't stop to think of the danger

    1. Naw, Trailrunner is military and I go hiking and snowshoeing a lot but you're right many people aren't prepared. We don't know what happened in this case but it's heartbreaking to hear of this kind of thing happening on Christmas Day. If you note the picture on my other post on the Howe Sound Crest trail, the trail is well packed. If you go off the trail you will get tired very quickly because you will be sinking knee deep in snow even with snowshoes on. That's why snowshoers don't usually go off the trail in the back country on purpose. Skiers and Snowboarders however, often ski out of bounds to get fresh powder.

    2. Something bad is always going to happen. The questions are when, and if it will be you it happens to....


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