Nanaimo man reflects on rescue after getting caught in New Years storm

Photo courtesty of Evan Paterson

Strathcona Park was a white-out of falling snow and poor visibility on Jan. 2 and that’s exactly where Nanaimo’s Evan Paterson and his brother-in-law Luke from Ontario found themselves battling the unrelenting winter storm.

“Yeah, the weather definitely caught us off guard, we weren’t expecting anything like that,” Paterson told CHEK News Friday.

The two men are experienced hikers and snowshoers and had set out the day before to summit Mount Drabble south of Mount Washington but quickly realized in the blinding and deep snow that would be impossible so they settled instead on an overnight camp at Kwai Lake.

“It was just all white,” Paterson added. “It was really a bizarre experience to not see anything around you.”

Paterson had checked several weather forecasts that he says predicted about 30 cm of snow, not the 90 that fell.

They were prepared for the night with food, proper clothing and tents. But once inside their single-person tents, the relentless snow kept piling up outside.

“I recognized my breathing rate was increasing and my brother-in-law was getting a headache and he called out and we’re like yeah we’re buried under here,” Paterson said.

The next morning they set out to make it back to their vehicle at Raven Lodge on Mount Washington but in the new metre-deep snow they could barely move and by the time they made it across Kwai Lake, they knew they would not make it to Raven Lodge before dark.

“As we left the camp, we immediately realized we were in trouble. With every step into the snow, our snowshoes sunk waist-deep into the fresh powder, practically rendering them useless. The moisture of the West Coast snow held on to our legs like wet sand as we pulled out to step forward each time,” Paterson wrote in a blog days later.

“Over the course of an hour, we had only managed to cross Kwai Lake on our way back to Lake Helen Mackenzie, hardly travelling more than 300 metres, and could still see our camp from the night before.”

It was still before noon when they made the decision to call for help using a SPOT messenger device.

What they didn’t realize was that members of the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue team were already in the area searching for another overdue party.

“When we got the call for the second SOS, the satellite messenger, it turns out that we were actually pretty close, we were within a couple of kilometres,” said CVGSAR’s Gord Thompson who was with a secondary search team skiing to Divers Lake to find three other skiers.

Evan and Luke found their way to the Ranger’s cabin where searchers found them warm and dry. They all hiked out to safety together.

The key to the rescue was how early Evan called for help said, Thompson.

“First thing they did right was they had all the necessary essentials to spend another night in the wilderness if they had to, but they called us early, they recognized the trouble they were in and they paged us while there was still daylight left,” said Thompson.

“And they told us that conditions were so bad that if they weren’t already halfway out there they weren’t going to make it that night,” added Paterson.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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