One hiker was rescued and another is feared dead after an avalanche swept across Runner Peak on Mount Seymour Monday morning.
Two Surrey men were descending the mountainside east of Mount Seymour when the snowpack shifted and the avalanche pinned one hiker against a tree on the precipice of a cliff. The man’s friend, who had been hiking slightly ahead, went over the cliff.
“There was nothing . . . to stop his fall,” said North Shore Rescue team leader Mike Danks.
Danks had just finished Family Day breakfast with his three daughters when he got the call.
North Vancouver RCMP informed him there was an avalanche with a burial and another hiker “basically hanging from a tree,” he said.
North Shore Rescue immediately scrambled two Talon helicopters and assembled their team nearby.
“Thankfully for us it was a holiday so we had lots of people available,” Danks said.
Their search was immediately hindered by low thick clouds and a heightened avalanche risk.
“We were really stuck in a bad spot,” Danks said, explaining that getting to Runner Peak – on the border of Mount Seymour Provincial Park – would put their volunteers “in the exact same exposure” to dangers the hikers had faced.
Despite limited visibility, NSR dropped two volunteers at Runner Peak’s summit. The duo dug an anchor into the mountainside and tried to get a rope to the hiker, who was still wedged on an ice layer against a tree.
With a mass of snow hanging precariously above the trapped hiker, the rescuers were forced to change tactics.
Rescue team members were lowered to the hiker by long line, eventually securing him to the line and ending what had been a five-hour ordeal.
The hiker, a 30-year-old man from Surrey, was hypothermic and likely in shock, Danks said. “Given the situation that he had just been through, I think he was doing relatively well,” Danks said.
Due to darkness and avalanche risk, rescuers suspended the search Monday night. With better weather predicted, North Shore Rescue is planning to resume the search Wednesday with the aid of avalanche dogs.
“The dogs are going to be the key because we don’t believe the individual has a RECCO reflector on him and he does not have a transceiver,” he said.
However, the chances of a successful rescue are becoming remote. “It looks really bad,” Danks advised.
RCMP have identified the man still missing as 39-year old Remigiusz Michalowski of Surrey.
Hikers in the backcountry “absolutely need” a transceiver, probe and shovel, as well as the ability to use that equipment, said Danks.
The need has been particularly acute recently, he said.
“We’re seeing very unusual conditions here on the North Shore that are very concerning,” he said. “Even at lower elevations we were seeing widespread natural avalanches.” Avalanche risk on Monday was rated moderate in the area.
Due to its treacherous terrain and steep cliffs, Runner Peak should only be climbed in “perfect conditions,” according to one guidebook to the North Shore mountains.