On a Saturday in mid June, the weather at the 1,400-meter level on Mount Brunswick where six hikers were gearing up for the last 300 meters to the summit looked promising. A mixture of sun and cloud kept the temperature warm.
But on the peak 45 minutes later the weather had changed. Mist swirled around the black rock outcroppings and fresh ice coated the branches of stunted evergreen trees exposed to the wind.
Back down in a cull the sun came out again and, we decided to follow the trip plan, traversing the Howe Sound Crest Trail to Magnesia Meadows, climb Mt. Harvey, then descend to our vehicles parked at Lions Bay.
Things started out well enough. The sun was still warm. And our small group of hikers had expected the trail to be reasonably free of snow given the mild winter. But the terrain above 4,000 feet was still covered in deep snows from winter avalanches and windfalls obscured trail markers. Ice axes were required and within 20 minutes the clouds had moved in. Then hail started falling. It was only a matter of time before someone got into difficulty.
"Wait a minute," a woman called out from behind the others. "This is too steep for me. Im scared! And Im not having fun."
Instinctively the hiker directly ahead of her turned around and went back to assist.
"Lets do this together," the returning hiker said good-naturedly. Use your ice axe!" And really kick those steps in!"
Giving someone confidence is one thing, the second hiker thought as he returned to his place second to last with the group making the traverse. Being angry with yourself is a natural reaction to the disappointment one feels when you realize your abilities are not up to the challenge. But it was the tone of her voice that alarmed him- as if it were the groups fault for bringing her up here.
The second hiker firmly planted his ice axe and took stock of the situation. The weather was getting worse. The hail had turned to sleet and the group was stretched out across the traverse. The better-conditioned hikers were already out of sight in the trees. If one hiker started blaming the others wed have all kinds of problems. Those hikers who had gone ahead would have to come back. Wed have to regroup and come to a consensus about how to handle the situation. We were tired and already an hour behind schedule. A prime scenario for accidents was setting up.
Tim Jones, search manager for North Shore Search and Rescue, sees situations like this all the time in the backcountry near Vancouver and up Howe Sound.