National Post

B.C. hikers plunge off Mt. Harvey summit

- Douglas Quan

Solo hiker Alastair Ferries knew the situation was grim when he reached the summit of Mount Harvey, north of Vancouver, Saturday afternoon.

The tracks belonging to a group of snowshoers he’d been following had simply vanished “over the side.”

“There was nobody there,” he told the National Post.

Sunday afternoon, search and rescue personnel conf i rmed everyone’s worst fears: They had found the bodies of five missing hikers.

It was believed they had plummeted 500 metres when a cornice — an overhangin­g mass of snow — at the summit had given way.

“This is not the outcome which we had hoped for,” Squamish RCMP Cpl. Sascha Banks said in statement after the first four bodies had been found. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the hikers and the search and rescue teams in Lions Bay who are still working tirelessly to find the fifth individual.”

Ferries said he was trudging up the steep trail Saturday afternoon — the weather had changed from rain to sleet to intermitte­nt light snow with limited visibility, he said — when he came upon a lone hiker who told him he was with a group of five snowshoers who were up ahead.

Ferries said he passed the lone hiker and followed the tracks of the larger group. Near the summit, which sits at an elevation of 1,650 metres and, on a clear day, offers breathtaki­ng views of Howe Sound below, he came upon a pair of snowshoes and assumed a member of the group had ditched them to do the final scramble to the top.

But when he reached the summit, it was deserted.

In his mind, there was only one conclusion: a portion of the snow had collapsed under the weight of the hikers. “Tracks indicated they had fallen. They had been on a cornice and fallen off the north side … which is a huge vertical drop.”

Ferries said he waited for the lone member of the group to reach the summit and broke the news to him.

The hiker was Asian and spoke limited English. “I told him, ‘ I’m sorry, I think your friends have fallen.’”

“I verified there was virtually no chance of anything else happening — them playing a practical joke or coming around a different way.”

They tried to make a 911 call from the summit but got no reception. Ferries told the other hiker they needed to get back to the bottom.

“I was a faster hiker. I went down as fast as I could. … When I got to the bottom I met another person coming up and I used his iPhone to phone search and rescue.”

The call came in just before 4 p. m. Saturday, police said. A search and rescue mission got underway but was hampered due to the instabilit­y of the snowpack.

Dozens of searchers from multiple agencies resumed the search Sunday morning.

Social media boards lit up with prayers and hopes for the best. But the gravity of the situation was clear.

“This is as grave as it gets,” Brent Calkin of the Lions Bay Search and Rescue team told CBC News.

Martin Colwell, Lions Bay Search and Rescue manager, later confirmed Ferries’ account, telling reporters it appeared “the group stepped on this overhang, which is not easy to see when you’re on top of it.”

Aerial footage from CTV News showed searchers climbing in steep, knee-deep snow and digging with shovels with the help of avalanche dogs.

Back on the ground, Susan Choi stood in tears as a helicopter landed in the soccer field of Lions Bay Community School, waiting to learn the fate of her sister, Iris Choi, 50, a hospital caregiver.

Choi received a call in the middle of the night from her brother- in- law who said the RCMP had told him there was no hope his wife would be found alive.

“I stayed up all night praying for her,” said Choi, her voice barely audible.

Kisun Yoon of the Vancouver Korean Hiking Club said he believed two members of his club joined another club, MJM Hiking Club, on Saturday’s hike.

About a week earlier, someone had posted on a hiking message board about the dangers of snow giving way at the summit of Mount Harvey. “Be careful of the cornice along to top ridge to the summit. They will be breaking off soon,” the message on read.

James Floyer at Avalanche Canada said these precarious snow ledges typically form on the downwind side of ridges and can take on a wavelike shape. Cornices present hazards to hikers below as well as to hikers on top of them because of the potential for them to break off. When the visibility is poor, it is hard to judge where the rock stops and where the overhangin­g snow begins, he said.

“Staying well back from the edge is the key. Don’t get lured into wanting to peer over the edge,” Floyer said.

 ?? ARLEN REDEKOP / POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? Family members wait with a search and rescue specialist Sunday for news of the hikers in Lions Bay, B.C.
ARLEN REDEKOP / POSTMEDIA NEWS Family members wait with a search and rescue specialist Sunday for news of the hikers in Lions Bay, B.C.

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