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How to avoid dangerous situations in the Squamish backcountry

Prevention team co-ordinator Christine Strub lays out some basic advice
Squamish SAR June 2022
Squamish SAR members on a recent rescue.

The first thing to understand is that accidents happen.

When the Squamish Search and Rescue (SAR) team gets a call to rescue somebody, they don’t stop to ask if the person wasn’t following the rules or didn’t bring the right gear. They don’t care if you strayed off the path or even if you did something stupid. All they want to do is help you, as quickly as possible, which means they want you to pick up a phone and call them. Don’t wait.

“One of the big things some people don’t realize is that as soon as you venture out of Squamish, past the Chief toward Garibaldi Provincial Park, you’re losing cell phone coverage very quickly and for a lot of people from the city that is hard for them to understand,” prevention team co-ordinator Christine Strub told the Squamish Chief.

“For lots of people these days, the phone is their lifeline for everything and they don’t see the danger of what will happen when they lose that communication lifeline.”

This is why she encourages all adventurers to have a trip plan, and to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you get lost, it will be them who’s calling SAR to trigger the search.

Right now, as the season hits full swing, the SAR team is beginning to see a number of injuries due to mountain biking and other outdoor activities. Strub said often people coming out of the winter may overestimate their abilities after a sedentary winter, and may not be aware of how the terrain and landscape may have changed since they were there last.

When the accidents do happen, it can be gruelling to respond.

“With many head and neck injuries, it depends on where it is, we usually have to carry them out and there is a lot of manpower involved in that because we have to be extra gentle and keep them immobilized and stable until we can find a place to extract them and get them out by helicopter,” she said.

The Squamish SAR also has drones at their disposal, as well as the equipment necessary to do a water search. SAR boasts over 80 volunteer members and they’re able to complete rescues at no cost to the patient — another reason why Strub feels people should not hesitate if they feel like they’re in trouble to call them.

It’s better to call sooner than later.

“It can happen that people can get stuck. Not just climbing, also hiking. They find they can’t move forward or backward. Sometimes it can happen in an inland water area that in the morning the water levels are lower. Then with the warmer temperatures, they rise during the day and then your way to land is cut off,” she said.

“That’s the right moment to call SAR, before you get into further trouble. Don’t feel uncomfortable. Just stay put and wait for us to come and get you out. Make that call right away, don’t wait.”

The number, just like for any other emergency, is 9-1-1.

“These things can just happen, and they happen quickly. What we want to make sure people understand is you should make yourself familiar with where you’re going before you go out. Look at the weather, figure out what you need to pack, how much time it will take, what elevation you need to conquer,” she said.

“Then there’s what you need to bring, and who you need to bring that has knowledge of the area.”

If you do get lost, you should have packed enough to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable for a potential overnight stay while rescuers are locating you. She said nearly every patient they work with is cold by the time they reach them, sometimes hypothermic, so packing extra blankets and clothing could potentially save your life.

Another piece of advice she has: preserve your phone battery, and do not use it for other functions such as flashlight mode. Instead, bring an actual flashlight for that purpose.

“We want people to use that phone for communication,” she said.

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*Please note that this story has been corrected since it was first posted to remove an inaccurate phrase about funding. 

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