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Coquitlam SAR called to 4 rescues in less than 24 hours

One man was forced to move throughout the night to avoid two bears in a series of rescues that punctuate a warning to stay safe in the mountains and water as we head towards the B.C. Day long weekend.

Coquitlam Search and Rescue teams are looking to catch up on their sleep after mobilizing for four rescues in less than 24 hours. 

The marathon began Monday at around 6 p.m. when the team got a call about a man led up Eagle Ridge by a haywire cycling app. By the time he had gone up Swan Falls, the terrain had turned “steep and nasty,” according to Jim Delgrande search manager for all four rescues.

The cyclist was at the start of the ridge, exchanging messages with his partner, and just before his phone died, he sent her his coordinates. 

Coquitlam SAR teams were lifted up to vantage points by a Talon helicopter to expedite the three-hour hike. In a series of Tweets, the missing man’s partner said he had been forced to move around throughout the night to avoid two bears.

“Something that helped?” she wrote. “When I gave SAR [his] description, I mentioned he was wearing shoes for cycling. As night fell, they found his footprints, as they are very distinctive and were able to follow him. [He] had moved throughout the evening to find water and to avoid two bears.”

Meanwhile, two young women from Vancouver went for a hike in the same direction. But when they didn’t return to meet their friends at Buntzen Lake, the friends called in another rescue. That team was gearing up when the two girls arrived back at the trailhead safe. 

Across the Tri-Cities, another man had slipped and fallen along a slope at Minnekhada Regional Park. Coquitlam Fire and Rescue sent their high-angle rescue team and called in Coquitlam SAR to help them pull the man out.

“It was a slope rescue, 30ish degrees. So if you fall, you can hurt yourself and bang yourself around,” said Delgrande.

By all the teams returned to their command vehicle, it was approaching 2 a.m.

“People were going to bed at 3, 4 in the morning and then getting up at who knows when to go to work,” said Delgrande.

And on back-to-back rescues, they gear up again — the fourth coming after an elderly woman fell and injured her hip near Crystal Falls in Coquitlam. She too was pulled out safely and handed over to BC Ambulance attendance.

The whole series of episodes is a sobering reminder of the kind of pressures being put on search and rescue teams across the province as people look to the outdoors after a housebound spring. 

Delgrande said Coquitlam SAR had been predicting an uptick in rescues across the Tri-Cities for the last few years as the North Shore gets crowded and developments push up the mountain in Port Moody and Coquitlam. Then the pandemic came and the municipal and provincial response in some cases has been to limit parking and access at places like Sasamat and Buntzen Lakes or at the six provincially-administrated parks now requiring passes. 

Combine that with sunny, warm weather and the urge many Metro Vancouverites have to get outside, and many are being pushed into places and situations they’re not familiar with, said Delgrande.

“It’s unfortunate. I don’t mean this is as a criticism,” said Delgrande, sympathetic to recent efforts to limit park attendance. “They’re just zoos, they get so badly overrun.”

Like any first responders, the pandemic has forced Coquitlam SAR to put tight protocols in place to protect themselves from the people they rescue and each other. 

And while the upcoming B.C. Day long-weekend is regularly one of it’s busiest — like everyone, Coquitlam SAR members also often look to go on vacation in the summer — the team is gearing up for an especially busy weekend.

For anyone heading out into the mountains, the standard backcountry reminders still apply: Make sure you’ve got the 10 essentials; tell someone about your route, duration and return; and plan for the weather. 

“And enjoy yourself, of course,” said Delgrande.