A young couple from Abbotsford is safe and sound after getting lost during a hike on Sumas Mountain Wednesday night.
But to find the pair, Abbotsford police deployed a number of officers, a K-9 unit, the RCMP Air One helicopter, and the Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue (CFVSR) team was called out.
However despite the scale and costs of the operation, CFVSR doesn't feel anyone should be charged for a rescue.
The couple, a 21-year-old woman and her boyfriend, 22, went for a hike on the Abbotsford peak around noon but phoned police around 5:30 p.m. to report they were lost, said Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald.
"They said they had no gear or extra provisions and were cold and wet and didn't know where they were," said MacDonald.
The couple had only taken their cell phones and a flashlight with them.
The situation was complicated by the intermittent cell phone reception on the mountain and a dying battery, said MacDonald.
Vehicles and searchers on foot had to navigate icy, snowy conditions, he added.
Noise from patrol car sirens and the helicopter were used so the couple could tell searchers when the sound got closer to their location.
The couple was directed towards and met up with a police officer around 7 p.m. in the 5400 block of Sumas Mountain Road.
They were transported to Abbotsford Regional Hospital for a precautionary examination, said MacDonald.
They were mostly wet and cold and released soon after.
The rescue of the ill-prepared hikers on Sumas Mountain follows multiple operations around B.C. and the Lower Mainland in December to save people in the bush, particularly of out-of-bound skiers.
The high number and scale of rescues for people venturing into the back country has sparked debate about whether individuals should have to pay for the resources called out to save them.
CFVSAR member Colin Wiebe, also vice president of B.C. Search and Rescue Association, was adamant nobody should be billed for a rescue operation.
"There's not a search and rescue team in the province that will advocate for people to be charged for their rescue," said Wiebe.
"We don't charge if someone needs help in a fire at a house or a car accident."
The loved ones of someone who was lost might hesitate to call for help if they knew there might be a hefty bill involved, Wiebe noted.
Worse, inexperienced family members and friends would endanger themselves - and later the SAR crews necessary to rescue them - by conducting a search on their own.
B.C. SAR crews are extremely cost-effective with expertly-trained volunteers who join the teams for selfless reasons, said Wiebe.
"We pride ourselves on providing a humanitarian service to help people that come across something they didn't expect," he said.
"Or maybe they should have expected it, but they didn't."
CFVSAR conducts a number of rescues on Sumas Mountain throughout the year, said Wiebe, adding people need to approach the peak with more respect.
"It's deceiving. People look at [Sumas] and it's so close and not very high," said Wiebe.
"But there is some nasty, dangerous terrain on there, and people need to take it a little more seriously."
The couple who went up Sumas Mountain Wednesday for a hike to Chadsey Lake were not properly prepared, he added.
"A cell phone is handy but it's not the only tool you should take with you when you are going adventuring," said Wiebe.
The trail system on Sumas Mountain is not as well maintained as others, and with the windblown snow and crisscrossing mountain bike trails, it's easy to get turned around, he said.
British Columbia and the Fraser Valley is a mecca for adventure and backcountry exploration and people should simply take measures to enjoy the outdoors as safely as possible, said Wiebe.
- For more information on CFVSAR and how to stay safe and enjoy the outdoors visit adventuresmart.ca and cfvsar.bc.ca.