Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Alpine Accidents in Canada: Entry for Brian

I don't remember seeing this before. It's an entry in the Alpine Club of Canada's database of climbing accidents. I don't know when it was written, it is remarkably well done. I came across it via an email from someone who'd hiked Rainbow recently. One caveat is that we never knew for sure that Brian actually started up the Rainbow Lake trail, only that he seemed to be headed that way when he left the Hostel. The search by friends and family was actually in the same week as the official search. I didn't remember anything about a post-melt aerial search but that's certainly plausible. I've copied it here for the record.
Alpine Accidents in Canada

Date: 12 Jul 2002
Location: Rainbow Lake - Whistler
Province: British Columbia
Park or Region: Whistler

Topo Map: 92 J/2 Whistler; 92 J/3 Brandywine

Route: unknown (16 km. return, 825 m. gain)
Type: Hiking
Persons Killed: 1
Persons Injured: 0
Type of Injuries: unknown

Search and rescue efforts, Grouse Mtn.
Photo by: BC Search and Rescue Association

Description: B.F. was last seen Friday July 12, 2002 in the vicinity of the Shoestring Lodge, Whistler, BC Canada. On Thursday afternoon, near Brandywine creek, he discussed the Rainbow Trail with Steve, his tour bus driver. He showed Steve the Brandywine topo map, and Steve described an ascent to Rainbow peak as a very enjoyable 9.5 hour day hike. Later that night. On Friday July 12th B.F. told this roommates that he would go out seeking a peak and snow, and might not return for the next day's bus departure. A security video recorded him leaving the Shoestring Lodge at 0957 with a full day pack. At 1030 he asked directions of Steve (bus driver) to the Valley Trail (and not the Rainbow Trail). He likely had crampons and an ice-axe with him, but was not carrying a sleeping bag and was likely not carrying a tent. He was probably carrying the 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia book, the Brandywine topographic map (See 103 Hikes Information), and a photocopied portion of the Whistler Area Topographic and Street Map. The weather was sunny and pleasant that Friday, as it had been for a few days. By 0300 Saturday July 12th the weather changed to rainy, cooler and overcast. It remained that way until July 18th. The tour group left for their next destination Saturday July 13th at 0800. B.F. was not on board. Lodge checkout was later in the day. His gear was found in the room at that time. He left behind his passport, his day planner, his sleeping bag, clothing, and a diskette with some of his film writing work on it. The hotel checked with the adventure tour company, and when they learned he was not on the bus they contacted the RCMP at 1516 on July 15th (see contacts, below). His family was notified Tuesday July 16th, 2002 that he was missing. On Wed July 17th the RCMP activated the Whistler Search and Rescue team after his brother traveled to Whistler to meet with the RCMP. A search and rescue effort began Wednesday, July 17th 2002. It was as intense as the weather allowed, but the helicopter flights were limited by a low ceiling. On Thursday, July 18th, the Search and Rescue team and his brother spent the day interviewing people, reviewing data, checking purchase records and planning. On Friday July 19th the most intense search began under improving conditions, focusing on the Rainbow/Sproat Peak area with no findings. The RCMP then placed the search on hold. On Sunday, July 21, a limited search in the same region was triggered by reports of a footprint, but that was determined to be a false clue. On Sunday July 21 the RCMP terminated the search but maintains a missing person file. Later that summer friends and relatives commenced their own search of the trails and terrain in the area, but were unsuccessful in finding further clues. A further aerial sweep of ice covered areas around Rainbow Peak was planned during this season's maximal melt time, in case his body had been exposed. UPDATE:The search for B.F. was futile and has been officially terminated. A memorial service is planned for September 28, 2002.

Analysis: The overwhelming likelihood is that B.F. experienced a fatal accident while hiking alone and off trail and that his body is inaccessible....

Rescue Mode: still missing


Notes from a recent explorer of Rainbow Mountain

I received a surprising note today from Matt C, who has just returned from an overnight at Rainbow Lake. I almost missed the email, the title was a single word and I didn't know the author -- that's typical of modern spam. It was a bit by chance I happened to read it.

Matt sounds like someone Brian would have recognized as a kindred spirit. Happily Matt did not run into any problems on his solo exploring. Like Brian, he was surprised by the lack of trail registration.
... I noticed you updated your blog recently, I had a nice overnight at Rainbow Lake. After returning tonight, and reading your website, I'll definately be more careful in my solo camping/hiking style, specifically leaving an iternerary (always!) and being more cautious about what I'm getting into, my #1 concern solo-hiking is a fatal fall.

I camped at hanging lake last night and in the morning ventured towards madalay lake, but turned back noting the sharp decent, (yes, it would be 600m elevation loss that would have to be gained back..). That's why they call it hanging lake?

I headed not directly back to Rainbow Lake, but up the valley on the left instead. About half way up the valley I heard a rustling noise, and got a good view of a bear's butt. It turned briefly for a picture then continued to scurry off up the other side of the valley. I continued up the valley taking the left route thinking it would spit me out in a better position to do rainbow mountain. Eventually I got to a beautiful lake, maybe 1/8 the size of hanging lake, and not on the main maps. I hiked out of this dished area and was greeted with views to rainbow lake.

I hiked down to meet the stream/trail that goes North from Rainbow Lake, the trail one would supposedly take for doing rainbow mountain. Along the way I sighted a route through the vegetation. As the 103 [jf: 103 hikes is a well known book of hikes in this region, I think Brian used it] was back in the car, it wasn't much help stating the trail would go up the valley a while or whatever. I must have missed crossing over the trail sowewhere anyways. Heading up my chosen route things became more steep, at times I was using my hands which suggests to me it was getting difficult.

I arrived at the waypoint below for lunch. There's a standing deadwood tree a little down from there that I used for balancing the camera. Deciding thre was no way I'd make it to the top I headed back down, this time a different route, but just as annoying. More trees/shrubs/rocks, but still steep.

ELEV: 1842m
N 50 09.813'
W 123 03.811'

About 300m or so from the bottom/trail/stream, I found a metal snow shovel, no handle. I picked it up, perplexed. It was blue, the blade was well worn, and it was stamped "survival on snow" in jagged letters, with Edmonton, AB, Canada also stamped in caps. I hiked down another 20 ft and put it upside down on one of two huge boulders. Hiking down a little farther, I met up with the trail that I hadn't found earlier, and it looked as if it would have taken me to the peak. Shrug. I was a little ways down from the standing deadwood tree perched on the tall narrow rock.

Anyways, I guess my point is the 103 hikes should maybe re-word their description for rainbow peak. I was a little out of my comfort zone. The 5th edition says:

"the energetic could ascend rainbow mountain. It is an easy ascent if you continue along the length of the lake before striking upward to the ridge south of the peak."

Granted I wasn't on the trail to the peak.. if it went that far, but it was also not clear if there was a trail all the way to the peak or if the peak would be done off trail. I did "strike upwards to the ridge south of the peak." But there's no way it was an "easy ascent". Looking at the 103 back at the car I probably should have been farther North before striking upwards... though on the trail all the words I remember were "easy ascent".

I was also surpised there was no registration box at the trailhead.. (as at lynn headwaters).

Anyways, thanks for your story and what it has taught me. I got to your site from a google search to alpine club of canada --
It was great to receive this note. Matt probably wondered if he would open old wounds, but Brian is never far from my mind. I liked hearing from someone who would understand Brian, and it's also good to hear that Matt is weighing the risks of off-trail solo scrambling. It is not bad to take risks, but it is bad to miscalculate the risks one takes.

I hadn't known of (or perhaps I once knew and forgot) about the Alpine Club database entry, but I'll blog on it next.

Was the shovel Brian's? I didn't hike beyond Rainbow Lake, but of course it's conceivable that he would have followed a similar route to Matt. I think Andre and some of the Outing Club (now Outdoors Club) might remember this route -- it reminds me of one of the inaccessible approaches Andre might have explored. I don't know of any reason to suspect it was Brian's but I'll ask his friends if they remember this piece of equipment.

Thanks Matt C.