Blackcomb Patrol spend night above Fitzsimmons Creek
A 15-year-old Seattle resident spent the night in the woods with two Blackcomb patrollers after heading out of bounds at the bottom of 7th Heaven.
"(He was) completely and utterly unprepared for anything other than a day of snowboarding on the hill and had a complete lack of knowledge of what a boundary was," said Wayne "Cog" Coughlin, manager of Blackcomb Patrol and the base leader of the rescue.
The rescue began late afternoon on Thursday, Feb. 19 after a Canadian Snowmobile Adventure tour down to Fitzsimmons Creek stopped to take a break. That's when they heard yells for help in the woods above.
"It was very fortunate for him or else he would have been stuck in the woods all night and who knows what would have happened," said Coughlin.
The CSA guide kick-started the rescue operation with a call to Blackcomb Patrol. Patrollers had already finished a sweep of the mountain and were just about to head home when they got the call.
By this point the teen had been wandering aimlessly for six hours over steep and dangerous terrain and was completely exhausted and disoriented.
Coughlin said patrollers lined up on Sunset Boulevard calling into the trees for a reply but to no avail. A helicopter was sent up and though the boy could see the chopper, they couldn't spot him from above.
A snowcat was also parked at the bottom of Fitzsimmons Creek with a big spotlight pointing into the woods.
"While we were doing that we had a couple of our senior, highly skilled patrollers head down from the bottom of 7th Heaven into the woods and try to track him down," said Coughlin.
Patrollers were able to figure out that the teen could not go up or down and so they advised him to stay in the same place. They also knew he wasn't injured and they didn't want to risk an injury by asking him to move.
Coughlin explained that the patrol wouldn't normally undertake a rescue like this in such a huge area with darkness fast approaching but they were confident they could track the teen down.
"We don't typically go into such a massive area as the Fitz drainage but (we had) voice contact... and we knew where he was with some reasonable amount of confidence," said Coughlin.
"We thought long and hard about the safety of our own employees before sending someone down."
By 11 p.m. the teen was found. He was exhausted and cold with two inches of water in his snowboard boots. He had been alone in the woods calling for help for 12 hours.
"I got to hand it to the kid," said Coughlin. "He was pretty calm throughout the whole thing. What was really reassuring for him was that he did have a voice contact."
Two patrollers stayed with him throughout the night. They made a fire, ate some chocolate bars and got him warmed up in a sleeping bag where he fell asleep. In the morning he was long-lined out of the woods via helicopter. Coughlin said it would have been unsafe to travel any farther down the mountain.
Patrollers had checked him out for any injuries and he didn't have to go to the health centre. Instead he fortified himself by devouring pizza when he got to the bottom of the mountain.
He was with his parents by 10 a.m. Friday. The family had been updated with the progress of the rescue every hour during the ordeal.
Now they are faced with a large rescue bill running into the thousands of dollars but they have a son safe at home again.
This rescue had a happy ending, said Coughlin.
"It's very evident that there's a lack of understanding of the importance of paying attention to the signage on any ski area and staying within bounds," he said.
"And if you are going to be going out of bounds, (you should) be familiar with self rescue and have the proper technique and gear with you."
In this case Coughlin said it was the teen's first time in the woods. He saw the boundary signs but believed he was following his friends' tracks into the woods.
"He had no idea where he was going," said Coughlin.
"He went right by the boundary signs with no regard to them."