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'Stay out of the mountains' if you're not ready for avalanche danger, says searcher

"If you don't have the experience traveling in that type of terrain, you shouldn't be there."
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A party of 12 — including seven rescuers — descend Swan Falls trail. Photo by @MKELLASDICKS/TWITTER

Snowy weather has increased the avalanche risk in the mountains around the Tri-Cities and even the most experienced hiker should think twice before venturing into the back country.

That was the message from Coquitlam Search and Rescue search manager Al Hurley, who led a rescue of five stranded snowshoers on Mount Beautiful, on Eagle Ridge, over the weekend.

He said treacherous conditions made it difficult for crews to reach the lost hikers, who were were rescued Sunday morning.

"People should be paying attention to the avalanche reports," he told The Tri-City News Monday. "If they don't know what they are doing and they don't have a trip plan, they should stay out of the mountains."

Last week's snowy weather has created a high risk of avalanche below, at and above the tree line, Hurley said. He added that the first few inches of snow that arrived early last week were dryer and came during colder temperatures while the second blast of flurries was wetter.

"It doesn't bond well together to make a cohesive slab," he said. "You get runs that come in one big slab. It has the potential to do some serious damage."

Hurley said the hikers rescued Sunday were poorly prepared, wearing thin clothing and carrying two aluminum space blankets for warmth. When searchers found the group, they were nearly hypothermic from being out in the rain.

"Every time they texted our guy, they were getting colder and colder and almost unable to move," Hurley said.

The trail the group was following takes between eight and 10 hours to complete in the summer, Hurley said. In the winter, you can probably double that, he added, noting that when the group phoned rescuers at around 5 p.m., they were only halfway through the trip.

He urged people to check Avalanche Canada's website before heading out into the back country — and when the risk is high it is better to stay home.

"If you don't have the experience traveling in that type of terrain, you shouldn't be there," Hurley said.

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