Cranbrook Search and Rescue is experiencing a spike in rescues off of Mount Fisher this summer, and the organization is urging hikers to be prepared when heading up the iconic peak.
SAR teams headed out on Thursday, August 16 and again on Monday, August 20 to rescue two parties in eerily similar circumstances. They were the fourth and fifth rescues off of Mount Fisher so far this year, and both involved local residents.
The earlier incident occurred when a mother and daughter took a wrong turn on their way down the mountain and became stuck on a ledge. They were unable to go up or down, so they called for help.
“They were afraid to come up. It was slippery,” said Jim Dezall, who acted as search manager for both rescues.
SAR members were brought in by helicopter and were able to use ropes and harnesses to remove the pair off the ledge and onto the main trail. Then, SAR members helped them down the mountain to a safe place where they were removed by helicopter before night fell.
Dezall noted that the mother-daughter team was not equipped with the proper gear to climb Mount Fisher. The mother was wearing hiking boots, but the girl was in canvass running shoes.
On Monday, the SAR team had déjà vu when another call came in from a party of three for assistance on their descent of Mount Fisher. Dezall said the circumstances were almost identical.
“They ended up in a spot where they were unable to go up or down,” he said.
Unfortunately, the team was unable to complete the rescue before they lost daylight and the group had to spend a chilly night on the mountain. A SAR team went up the peak with shelters, blankets and tarps to meet the stranded party, and again Dezall notes the group was ill-equipped for the adventure.
“Neither one of these parties was dressed for the weather,” he said, adding that the Monday group was wearing shorts and T-shirts when they were located. “They would have been in very serious shape if we hadn’t been able to get up to them. They were lucky it was so nice.”
These latest rescues are just two in a group of five this summer. Dezall said there has been a significant spike in SAR trips up the area’s most distinctive peak, and he worries hikers aren’t taking the climb seriously enough.
“People don’t realize Fisher Peak is a mountain – it’s probably five to six hours up,” he said. “If you don’t know your way up, find someone who has been up.”
Hikers should be in proper shape and should have at a minimum hiking boots, a jacket, long pants, a sweater, extra food and water, Dezall recommends. Emergency shelters and blankets are also compact and easy to throw in a backpack before beginning an ascent.
“Everybody should have that stuff,” Dezall said.
Not only is hiking while unprepared a risk to personal safety, Dezall said it puts unnecessary risk on his SAR teams that have to go pluck hikers off the 9,336-foot (2,846 metre) peak.
“They’re putting themselves in considerable risk,” he said of the SAR members. “They don’t need to be there.”
Dezall stresses that all SAR members are volunteers, and to participate in a rescue they leave behind their day-to-day life.
“These are all volunteers and we’re pulling them away from their family, jobs and everything else,” he said.
Dezall isn’t sure what’s behind the spike in Fisher rescues, but said it could have something to do with how popular the trail has become in recent years.
“There’s definitely more people using the trail,” he said.
It can be a wonderful hike, and the view from the top is breathtaking, but Dezall said it’s important to heed all warnings and hike with caution.
“People do not seem to be getting the message that it’s a tough climb,” he said. “It can start to snow even in this type of weather.”
The elevation gain on the trail is a whopping 4,400 feet (1,400 m).