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True Story - Rescue on the West Coast Trail

The following story is written by Meredith, an experienced West Coast Trail trekker whose riveting story of perseverance and determination lead to having to activate her PLB (personal locator beacon) . This story tells that even with experience, planning and preparation situations can arise that will require assistance. This emergency situation was averted by realizing that they required help to avert the serious consequences of Hypothermia.

Read on as Meredith tells her story first hand.

“This was my third time on the WCT over the past 4 years. I have hiked it through great weather and not so great weather, but never anything like this. I made the decision to hike the WCT again this year as it had been closed in 2020 due to COVID and I had the hiking itch. I asked a girlfriend of mine to join me as it has been on her bucket list. While she is very fit, she has never done overnight hikes. However, her mother is an avid hiker and would, hopefully, offer her some great gear and tips. We knew that we were expecting rain on about day 3 or 4. The Weather Network was predicting anywhere from 20-25mm of rain, so we made sure to pack the necessary essentials - rain jacket, rain pants, gators, warm clothing for camp and a tarp.

We set off on September 1st with the intention of completing the trail in 6 days.

I feel like the universe was telling me to call it quits well before the rain because on the first night one of my tent poles broke, the filter on my platypus failed (it worked fine at home when I tested it) and we discovered on the first night that my girlfriend’s sleeping bag was entirely insufficient for the temperature drop at night. Her sleeping bag was literally a shell. I have never seen anything like it and it couldn’t have been rated for anything less than 15 degrees Celsius; but, we persisted and managed through all the setbacks. I had a pole repair kit, she had water purifying tabs and made it through the first 3 days.

We set out early on day 4 so that we could get off the beach and hike inland so that we could attempt to stay better sheltered from the rain. The rain started off light at first. nothing to be bothered by; sure. it made things a bit more slick, so we slowed down and took our time. I should also mention here that I had tweaked my left knee the day prior climbing over logs and roots, nothing I couldn’t handle, but it made traversing the twisted tree roots a slow go. After about an hour or so on the trail the rain started to pick up, so we stopped to put on our rain jackets and pack covers. As we continued the rain got heavier and heavier and my once dry rain jacket was completely soaked thru. Shortly after, I could feel that water had made its way thru my gators and had soaked my socks which in turn soaked both my boots. All of this was made worse by the fact that the trail was now flooding from the extreme amounts of rain.

As our pace slowed with the difficult terrain and flooding so did our hopes of weathering the storm and finishing the trail. We initially had a conversation as to what steps needed to occur first when we got to camp - set up the tarp and tent, get out of wet clothes and into dry warm clothes and get warm. To our knowledge, the fire ban was still in effect. I didn’t know how to justify starting a fire during a year where fires had decimated much of the BC landscape.

The reality set in that getting dry and warm wasn’t much of an option without a fire as my girlfriend had accidentally put her pack cover on upside down allowing water to enter her bag as well as the sleeping bag she brought would do absolutely nothing to warm her. The risk of hypothermia had become an all to frightening reality and knowing full well what lay ahead in terms of trail difficulties and flooded terrain, I knew it was in our best interest to pull ourselves off the trail.

As there was no ranger present at the Guardian Cabin at Campers Bay, I reluctantly used my PLB to call for assistance. This decision proved correct as the creek we crossed to arrive at the shoreline was soon a raging river. We had been warned about flash flooding by Parks Canada, but I never anticipated how real it can be and how quickly things can change.

As we waited on the beach, shrouded by our tarp and my sleeping bag we shivered ourselves into a light sleep while we waited for someone to arrive. I didn’t know who was coming to get us or where they would take us, but we would be safe.

Parks Canada showed up about 2 hours later by boat and helped us off the trail. They checked our vitals and gave us heated vests to warm us up as apparently my lips had turned blue. Safely on shore we were able to take a warm shower, change into dry clothes and update loved ones of our status.

Looking back, I am glad I made the decision I did. I would later hear the horror stories of those that chose to stay. Broken ribs from the fall of misplaced foot, stranded campers on the wrong side of a flooded river and near drownings. My choice to leave before we were in irreversible trouble had proven to be the right one.”

Lessons Learned

This is an incredible story; these ladies did their best to continue on, even soaking wet, cold, shivering - fortunately Meredith knew when to become humble and activate her PLB ultimately being rescued by Parks Canada Rangers.

I like to conclude this story with learning points about preparation - this goes without judgement of these ladies but simply things to think about when planning a trip in this type of terrain and conditions.

Gear Selection: Carefully select the gear and equipment you will need for the trek you are planning; don't cheap out buy top quality gear. Some things to consider in gear selection include:

A) Boots - Goretex or very well treated leather boots - see my blog on boot selection

B) Waterproof backpack liners - waterproof backpack liner to ensure everything inside stays dry even if completely immersed in water.

C) Fire Starter, waterproof matches, tinder - In an emergency and survival situation you can start a fire no matter if a fire ban. You are authorized under the law to do whatever it takes to survive an emergency.

D) Leave a trip notification plan with a responsible person.

E) Carry a PLB - It can save your life, imagine a fall, serious bleed, broken bones, unconscious due to head injury - A PLB with give your exact GPS coordinates to provide you the fastest rescue. It's like calling 911 in the wilderness.

F) Incorporate the 10 essentials list for multi-day trips - signal devices: 1) Whistle 2) Flares or smoke 3) signal mirror.

G) Gear check for all persons in your party - this will ensure everyone has the right gear for the trip - finding out on the trail is not the time to find out.

H) Wilderness First Aid course - will give you the knowledge and training to give you more confidence if something goes wrong.

Meredith - Thank-you for having the courage to share your incredible story with all of us.


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