After a relatively quiet start to 2023, North Shore Rescue volunteers banged off three rescues in one day on Monday.
“The timing worked out, just to keep us super busy as one call was basically starting to wind down a bit, the next call started,” said search manager Stan Sovdat.
Just before 12:30 p.m., West Vancouver police alerted the team to a young man who snowboarded out of bounds at Cypress Mountain Resort and found himself at an emergency cache and helipad near Montizambert Creek.
“Several people have perished in the past there because there’s a massive cliff below this emergency cache that we’ve put in specifically for that reason,” he said. “He basically stopped and thought about it and called 911. And we tend to believe that if he did not see the cache or if it wasn’t there, he may have been like several in the past and continued on.”
The cache and the helipad were paid for by the family of Tom Billings, a visitor from England who disappeared while hiking in the North Shore Mountains in 2014. His remains were found off the Howe Sound Crest Trail two years later. It’s the first time the cache and helipad have been used to save a live, Sovdat said.
It’s a tricky place to land, but Talon Helicopter’s pilots were able to touch down quickly and bring the snowboarder back to Cypress Bowl.
“He was fairly lucky,” Sovdat said.
The Montizambert helipad/emergency shelter.— |2yan (@RyanMorasiewicz) March 7, 2023
No, don’t go trying to find it. From personal experience, It’s the worst kind of nasty down there.
(It’s also at the top of a 200’ cliff/waterfall.) pic.twitter.com/1R5REQU90q
Our ride has left. On task at the Montizambert helipad/emergency shelter. A legacy of Tom Billings’ family, this infrastructure probably saved a life today pic.twitter.com/4XqHtUUk4F— |2yan (@RyanMorasiewicz) March 7, 2023
Soon after, the team was paged again, this time for a group of six tourists who’d become stuck on a steep section of the BCMC trail on Grouse Mountain.
“It was super icy and they totally did not have appropriate footwear,” Sovdat said.
While ground teams were making their way to the group about 600 metres up the trail, five of them decided to press on, leaving a 15-year-old visitor from Peru on his own.
“It’s never a good idea. We often get some real horrendous outcomes when groups start splitting up,” he said. “It often leads to fatalities.”
Rescuers met the boy on the trail and offered him some microspikes to safely walk back to the base of Grouse.
The last call of the day came in after 3 p.m. when a backcountry skier got lost on the east side of Hollyburn Mountain while trying to find his way to Cypress Bowl Road.
“He went a long way down before he saw Capilano Lake and realized he was totally on the wrong side of the mountain from what he thought he was on,” Sovdat said. “He had no clue that he was going the wrong direction.”
With the proper training and gear, it is possible for experienced backcountry skiers to make that trip, Sovdat said, but most people wouldn’t be qualified to do it safely.
“I wouldn’t advise it unless you know what you’re doing,” he said.
For him, the quickest and safest way back out was at the bottom of a helicopter long line, although it took some effort for rescuers to spot him wearing dark clothing in among the trees, Sovdat said.
North Shore Rescue volunteers delivered the man to waiting family members at the Capilano Gate search and rescue station.
By the time all the volunteers had gone home, it was after 7 p.m., an uncharacteristically long day, Sovdat noted.
Call volumes for the team have been picking up lately. On March 2, North Shore Rescue was out twice, for people outside of the controlled recreation areas in Cypress Provincial Park, including one for another snowboarder who wound up in Montizambert Gully. The team has been urging visitors to the mountains to do proper research and stay out of avalanche terrain while the risk remains high.