Survivor Club

Rescue Map

Backpacking, Humongous Boulders to Climb, and Weather Changes to Rain

Name Barb Wiginon
Product Name ResQLink™ PLB
Date of Rescue 05/09/2018
Saved By Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue, 19 Wing Comox
Beacon Purchased From GPS Central, #8 711 48 Avenue SE, Calgary AB, T2G 4X2
Lives Saved 1

“You’ll be fine. You guys are older”. It was the park ranger speaking and she was almost right. Before backpacking the West Coast Trail everyone is required to do an orientation session with the ranger to learn of dangers: bears, cougars, other animal sightings and trail conditions. The weather had changed to rain and we were warned to go carefully as conditions could be slippery. As we left, heading for the trailhead a fellow just coming off the trail looked at our group of six 50 and 60 somethings and said; “You’ll be fine. Just watch every step.” And so we began our eight day, 75+ kilometer adventure.

The trail was soft underfoot with beautiful rainforest views, root steps and undulating terrain. Shortly afterwards we encountered mud puddles that only increased as we slowly inched toward our first campsite. It was only 5K to the campsite but the rugged terrain meant we took almost twice the time we would normally. We arrived, pitched our tents and downed our supper. The next morning…..

The book had said that the inland trail was challenging but the beach trail was more difficult. We took the beach trail, with a series of humongous rounded  boulders to climb over. While we slowly made our way across the boulders a group of 20 somethings passed us, checking to make sure we were OK. Several of us chatted as we waited our turn to tackle a bolder. Paige turned to say something, when her foot slipped and one leg slid between the rocks. She was able to extract herself and continued on. When we were over the boulders we saw that she was limping. The slip had aggravated and old knee injury and walking was painful. At this point the group had become spread out. I ran ahead to catch our leader and let him know that Paige was in trouble, and Ann had taken her pack so they could keep moving. Time was limited as the tide was coming in and we had to get far enough along the trail to be able to move to higher ground. I reached the leader and we agreed to set off the Locator Beacon but keep moving. Three of us made it to higher ground and waited nervously as the remaining three raced the tide to safety. Finally together again we made new plans as we rested and ate lunch. We watched as a helicopter rescued a hiker with possible broken ribs and arm, then finished the few kilometers to camp. Arrangements were made to evacuate Paige with another injured person late the next morning. Now five, we continued our hike for several days without incident.

Carmanah beach is an almost idyllic campsite. The river is broad at the trail, the beach is deep and spacious with scattered logs of varying size that can be used to buffer the wind and provide seating or a table. To get across the river hikers must climb up to a platform and bring a small cable car to the platform. Typically one hiker with their pack gets into the car and coasts to the middle of the river. A second hiker stands on the platform and pulls the cable to propel the car to the other side. Then roles are reversed. It is hard work! On July 10, we had succeeded in crossing the river. The rain had given way to sun and we supped while basking in the sun enjoying our surroundings. We were sitting quietly when we heard two hikers approaching from the north behind us. We watched as the first began to move across the river whooping delightedly. She climbed out taking her pack. Next she pushed the cart (which would otherwise have moved to the middle of the river with the aid of gravity) but lost her balance and fell. We heard the dull thud as her body hit the sandy beach. Her friend screamed and was soon running across the river. I set my beacon off once again. Four other hikers who were a part of their group suddenly appeared, running to the river on our side. A shouted sent one of them running to Chez Monique’s (a hamburger restaurant under canvass) up the beach to call for help. The victim hadn’t moved. The girl first with her had some medical training and checked her over. We told them we’d set the beacon off and offered help. Meanwhile Monique had called the lighthouse who in turn called Search and Rescue. A woman, carrying first aid bag, came from the lighthouse with the last hiker. The victim was breathing and conscious. We all waited. Before long a military Search and Rescue helicopter from Comox was landing on the beach. At this point I turned the beacon off. After examining the victim they put her on a stretcher and carried her to the helicopter. Three of the hikers in her group went with her. The remaining two hikers chose to continue their hike.

I wish I could tell you everything was fine in time. Unfortunately we didn’t have any names. We asked if anyone had heard of her but only learned that they took her to the hospital and that she was from Ontario.

Later in the hike I talked to the RCMP who wanted more information. They were good enough to ask me if I wanted them to call my husband and let him know that I was all right. I thanked them and asked that they do that. When I got home I learned that my husband had received three phone calls as my primary contact. The last one was to let to him know I was OK! Not the adventure I had imagined!