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Missing climbers rescued from Grouse Mtn. area
Two rock climbers are shaken but safe after a dramatic helicopter rescue plucked them from danger north of Grouse Mountain on Monday.
North Shore Rescue coordinator Tim Jones said the two young men from Kamloops were facing a daunting second night huddled together on a mountainside after a violent rockfall severed their climbing rope earlier that day.
"On night two — after having already spent a night on the mountain — that's where you run into trouble with hypothermia, and they were looking at that," Jones said from Victoria, where he had just received his Order of B.C. award for his work with North Shore Rescue.
The ordeal began when the two men in their mid-20s failed to make it back from a climb by 9 p.m. Sunday, as expected and were reported missing. They were known to be climbing in Hanes Valley behind Grouse Mountain and just east of Crown Mountain, in an area known as the Widowmaker for its steep cliff faces and unpredictable rock falls.
Calls went out to North Shore Rescue by 1 a.m. Monday, but rescue teams were hamstrung by what Jones called "abysmal" wet and windy weather in the valley.
"Luckily the climbers were able to find a cave and they cuddled together to keep warm in there with just their small climbing backpacks," Jones said.
By first light a team of North Shore Rescuers were hiking up the Hanes Valley while two helicopters dodged in and out as the low cloud ceiling broke and sealed in again.
"We had field teams around them," Jones said, "but we couldn't get into this climbing area because it was being hit by monsoon rains and you just can't operate in those conditions. It's not safe for anyone."
In all, more than 40 rescuers including RCMP, Metro Vancouver parks workers, North Shore Rescuers and other volunteers were involved in the search for the two men at a cost that Jones conservatively put in the "several thousands of dollars" for the helicopter rentals alone.
But, the twin chopper approach paid off as, on one run up the valley, a helicopter rescue team spotted the climbers descending a rock face.
"They gave our guys the thumbs-up to say they were okay but we knew they weren't on the right route and were still in danger from falling rocks and it was slippery so we had one helicopter loiter around," Jones said.
"We were afraid that if we dropped down to rescue them right then that the helicopter would trigger a rockfall," he added.
As the chopper hung back, rocks did fall, one boulder snapping the mens' climbing rope just as they prepared to scale down another face. Retooling their gear, the men were able to continue their descent.
"We're not talking about a recreational hike here," Jones said. "It's a technical climb."
By 4:30 p.m., the men had reached a spot under a clearing in the cloud cover that allowed the helicopter team to dangle a rescuer down on a long line and pluck the two climbers up and away to safety.
"In a way they really forced our hand to come and get them," Jones said. "They said they weren't lost but that it was just a time-management issue but the problem is it's a time-management issue in a remote setting where because you can't communicate and because they were off-route, we had to launch a rescue. From a public due-diligence standpoint what would the public expect? You guys would expect us to do something."