A pair of hikers from the Okanagan made almost every mistake in the book when they embarked on a hiking trip in the Stein Valley Nlaka-pamux Heritage Park, but were found alive and well Sunday — after 18 days — by a Pemberton Search and Rescue crew. They had not eaten for three days when they were discovered, but were otherwise unharmed.
According to Search and Rescue, the couple did not tell their families where they planned to hike or when they were supposed to return. They appear not to have researched the trip very well, and did not have a map of the area or a compass. As well, they were not equipped with the proper outdoor gear for the difficult hiking conditions.
The pair were found on Aug. 10, three days after a 60-year-old man and 52-year-old woman were reported missing by their families in Salmon Arm and Peachland respectively. At the time they had been out for 15 days, after leaving for the hike on July 24.
Once they were reported missing the RCMP used helicopters to search for their vehicles at various trailheads, and found their cars parked on either end of the main trail of the Stein Valley to confirm they were in the wilderness area. However, search crews were not sure which side they entered from. It can take experienced hikers eight days to cross the 109,000 hectare (1,090 square kilometre) wilderness area, so it was a large area to search.
Pemberton Search and Rescue were brought in on Saturday, with members accompanying two RCMP dog teams and searching by two helicopters. At the time the lost hikers were found, on Sunday at 4 p.m., a massive search was ramping up for Monday, with search and rescue teams en route from around the province.
Dave Steers of Pemberton Search and Rescue doesn’t have all the details about the hikers or what happened in the 18 days after they left on their trip, but said they were generally unprepared. By not giving the details of their trip to a friend or family member, SAR teams had very little information to go on in a huge area.
“Probably the first thing they should have done is research their trip a bit better,” he said. “They didn’t realize that the Stein is a wilderness area, they thought it was a provincial park and they were expecting something different.”
The hikers did do a few things right. At the point they realized they were lost they hiked backwards, even though it was uphill. They would likely have gotten out themselves, said Steers, providing they didn’t take any wrong turns.
“The real shame is that if they had hiked another day in the direction they were going they would have made it out,” said Steers. “They started on the Lytton side of the trail and hiked almost all the way to Pemberton before turning around and hiking almost all the way back.”
The hikers were hungry and had lost weight after going three days without eating, but were otherwise in good shape.
SAR teams have had several searches in the Stein this year, which Steers attributes to the fact that it’s the 20 th anniversary for the wilderness area. The trail is also becoming more well known, he adds.
He was happy this search ended as it did. “Going in, when you hear that somebody has been missing for 17 days, and you don’t know what end of the valley they went in and you have a big area like that to search with limited information to go on, it’s never a good feeling,” said Steers.
In July, Search and Rescue crews found the body of a 48-year-old man from Coquitlam who was heli-hiking near Pemberton.
Steers said that anyone entering the back country should file a trip plan with a friend or family members telling them exactly where they are going and when they expect to be back. Other items to bring include maps, compasses, a cell phone, and proper gear if the weather turns bad.