A 52-year-old hiker was rescued Tuesday after spending several hours perched in a precarious position on Black Tusk, following a high-stakes operation that search-and-rescue officials say they would not like to repeat.
The woman called 911 for help after finding herself disoriented while hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park, said Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) president Brad Sills. WSAR volunteers were alerted to the call at around 1 p.m. on July 6.
“We would normally associate a call of that profile to be somebody that was on one of the hiking trails, perhaps on the Helm Creek Trail or in the general vicinity of Taylor Meadows,” Sills said.
But after failing to find anyone matching the subject’s profile in those areas and hearing the woman describe her location as a very steep piece of rock, crews commenced an aerial search of Black Tusk. WSAR ultimately located the woman stuck on an exposed, west-facing aspect about halfway up the iconic spire.
“It’s still a bit of a mystery as to how one would find oneself in such a precarious position,” Sills said.
Crews would typically opt for a long-line rescue in that situation, explained Sills, but due to the height of the cliff, didn’t feel they had clearance for the helicopter’s main rotor blades to get close enough to the terrain to reach the subject. That prompted WSAR to call upon their counterparts in Squamish for assistance with a technical, high-angle rock rescue, but that strategy didn’t prove feasible either—“simply because the rock face was just so unstable that there was a huge risk of dislodging a rock, both onto the subject or having one come down on the rescuers themselves,” Sills said.
“Black Tusk is not known as a place to go rock climbing.”
The tricky situation forced rescuers to get creative. They filmed one SAR member demonstrating how to put on a screamer suit—a hammock-style harness—and texted the video to the search subject. Once she acknowledged that she received the footage and understood what she was being asked to do, rescuers loaded up a helicopter with all the long lines in WSAR’s arsenal, amounting to more than 78 metres of rope. Pilots had to fly the aircraft above the height of the Tusk itself to get within arm’s reach of the rock face.
“We were able to hand the screamer suit to the subject and allow her to put that on, because she was in such a precarious position we didn't want to touch her, in case she were to fall,” Sills continued. “She was exposed to in excess of 200 feet (60 metres) of vertical.”
After the woman successfully donned the harness, “we came back in, and we had a few seconds [where it was] very tense for the rescuer in getting the carabiner back onto his line, because that necessitated coming in very close contact with her. And she was standing at this point, which made her position even scarier. [But he] managed to pluck her off the side of the mountain using that technique,” Sills said.
“It’s not something any of us would like to do again.”
The woman, who Sills said was visiting the Sea to Sky corridor, was uninjured when she was rescued shortly after 6 p.m.
Following the difficult call, Sills reiterated the importance of staying on marked trails while out exploring the backcountry. “The trails are there for a reason and if you stay on them, the chances of running afoul are a lot less,” he said. “And there will be people there to help you, if you do.”
As snow in the alpine continues to melt and hiking season continues to ramp up, Sills also reminded backcountry users that search and rescue is a free service that people should not hesitate to call if they’re lost, injured or in need of help.Before heading out for your next adventure, remember to leave a trip plan with a loved one, pack the 10 essentials, and stick to objectives that are within your skill and experience level. Visit AdventureSmart’s website for more know-before-you-go tips.