Before you head into the woods, or onto the mountains this long weekend (or any other time), take a second to make sure you have done your planning, you are prepared, and you are safe on your hike. Your preparation begins with reading this post in full. It could save your life.
Many Vancouverites have discovered the awesomeness of hiking to popular North Shore destinations such as the Peak of Seymour, Crown Mountain, or Saint Mark's summit. Focusing on Saint Mark's Summit as an example, it begins with a gentle hike along the Howe Sound Crest Trail from the Cypress Resorts parking area, and concludes with a steep ascent to the summit. To top it off, there is an amazing vista of the Howe Sound ripe for photo ops. However, Saint Mark's is neither a simple walk in a municipal park nor is it a hike to Quarry Rock.
What is Saint Mark's then? It is a five-hour round-trip hike for someone with average fitness, which takes hikers into some of the most rugged terrain the B.C. coast has to offer. A hiker is exposed to steep mountain cliffs, mountain weather conditions and true backcountry remoteness.
If something goes wrong, a call to 911 will not bring emergency aid to your side in a matter of minutes. You may be on your own for a number of hours, perhaps many hours, depending on the weather and time of day. Saint Mark's, like many other North Shore hikes, requires preparation, planning, and preparedness. A hiker needs proper and supportive footwear, adequate clothing, and the remaining 10 essentials for the possibility that something might go wrong. Now trust me folks, speaking from over a decade of experience in search and rescue (SAR), things do go wrong for even the most prepared. The wilderness is not forgiving, and there is a real possibility you might die, or SAR personnel might die trying to get to you, if you are not prepared.
No matter where you are in British Columbia, on any hike, be prepared.
But why the focus on Saint Mark's? I was recently up Cypress doing some work on our ATVs, and witnessed people flocking to the BC Parks map posted at the trailhead/parking lot. Many of these hikers were wearing light sneakers, light exercise clothing, and carrying little more than a water-bottle. A number of them asked me for advice on how to get to the trail after having inspected the map. These individuals had driven up Cypress, with little more than a plan to climb a trail called “Saint Mark's”. They had done no proper research, they did not have a map, and they definitely were not prepared for the conditions of the day (be it weather, trail condition, time of day, etc.). This level of negligence is something we see regularly on the Grouse Grind, and it is not ok even there, but to see it heading into the Cypress backcountry left me feeling frustrated and defeated.
Now, during this time, a member of the public approached me to express her exasperation with people she had observed on the trail. She noted that she saw numerous unprepared hikers and one individual, in particular, wearing flip-flops on the summit. As one might expect, this report of a candidate for a Darwin award was somewhat frustrating to a dedicated SAR volunteer spending their day off making sure team equipment was operational. It is truly hard to imagine why one would choose a backcountry hike when there are so many trails, and other outdoor options in the city, for those who have chosen to not take even the most fundamental steps to become prepared.
The facts are simple, North Shore Rescue has responded to many preventable rescues on or near this peak in the last two years. Consistently, those who we rescue from this area are woefully underprepared. In fact, on one call during the winter, a family ascended to Saint Mark's summit in the snow wearing plastic bags over their street shoes to watch the sunset. However, in their rush for a spectacular sunset selfie, these individuals had forgotten to bring a flashlight with them. Oops.
P.S. they could have all died, they got lucky. Since this call, we have responded to many more calls in this area for underprepared hikers.
Now, there are accidents which flow naturally from the inherent risks of a backcountry adventure. These accidents may even be due to inadvertence or mistake, but are nonetheless an accident. These risks are worthwhile for the pursuit of the amazing backcountry adventures that B.C. has to offer. That said, these are the accidents that occur despite adequate planning, preparation, and preparedness. These are the accidents where the hiker, biker, or camper is able to care for themselves, or care for someone else, until rescue arrives. Those who suffer these accidents are not the target of this post.
Although, we do appreciate when the prepared backcountry users share this information with the next group of people I am going to talk about…
And then there are preventable accidents, which flow from an abject lack of preparation, planning, and preparedness. These accidents are the target of this post. While everyone should check out Adventure Smart and NSR’s education page, it is those who venture into the backcountry unprepared that need it the most. These are preventable because a little bit of education can change the behaviours that ultimately lead to these accidents. You need to read the educational material linked in this page if any one of these descriptions, describe you (or if you know someone who does, sit them down in front of the computer and make them read it):
- You go for a hike, anywhere, without telling someone responsible where you are going and when to expect you back
- You do not know what the 10 essentials are
- You think that proper hydration before a hike is a latte or other coffee beverage
- You think the Grouse Grind is a stair master, no different than the gym
- You think flip-flops or sandals are appropriate footwear anywhere in the woods
- You hear of a hike from a friend, and drive up there to do it without researching it
- You do not check the weather before you head out on a hike
- You do not carry a flashlight, other than your phone
- You think your smart phone is sufficient to get you out of trouble (it isn't)
- You think that North Shore Rescue will be able to save you, regardless of your mistakes
If you or someone you know, does any of the listed issues, then they need to spend some time reviewing the following websites:
- North Shore Rescue Education
- AdventureSmart (they have a wicked trip planning tool)
- Environment Canada Weather
- Vancouver Trails (for trip planning)
- Mountain Equipment Co-Op (to buy the gear you need)
JUST DO IT
With all that said, North Shore Rescue does not endorse charging for rescue. This is an ongoing debate, for the uninformed masses, and one which we stand strong in our position on. What we do endorse is education. Whether that be in visitor centers at ports of entry, through programs like Adventure Smart, through elementary and high school programs, through visiting your local outdoor store, or through a friend, education is key to preventing SAR calls.
Not to beat this to death, but please visit AdventureSmart’s website and get informed!