Glare ice on Mount Benson stretches rescue to 7 1/2 hours

A man in his 20s is recovering after being rescued on Mount Benson, west of Nanaimo, as a snowstorm advanced on the area.

The hiker, who was with a friend, ran into trouble ­Saturday about 300 metres from the ­summit, said Nanaimo Search and Rescue member Eugene Touchette. The mountain is just over 1,000 metres high.

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“He had slipped and had an upper-body injury,” Touchette said Monday. “Essentially they had his GPS co-ordinates so they were able to give them to us over the phone.”

Two teams tried to drive in from the front of the mountain and one came from the back. About 900 metres from the top, they discovered glare ice that continued all the way up, he said.

Rescuers proceeded on foot, carrying all of their rope gear, stretcher gear, medical supplies and other necessities.

“Unfortunately, it was very slow going due to the conditions,” Touchette said. “With there being glare ice, it took us a long time to get to the subject.”

Once they reached the hikers, they determined that, with the snow coming in, the best course of action was to get the injured man out that evening rather than staying on the mountain overnight.

A call was made to 442 Squadron in Comox, which sent a ­Cormorant helicopter and a ­Buffalo aircraft.

The Buffalo dropped flares to help light up the area. The Cormorant “circled and circled” but couldn’t find a suitable location to perform a hoist rescue due to the weather, Touchette said.

At that point, a rope system was put in place to lower the hiker.

“The members hiked the subject down about a kilometre to a waiting [utility-terrain vehicle] that transferred him another kilometre to a truck, and then the truck transferred him the remainder of the way to a waiting B.C. ambulance,” Touchette said.

In all, the rescue took 71/2 hours, with the response starting around 4 p.m. and the man in an ambulance by about 11:30 p.m. The rescue involved 18 people from Nanaimo and 10 from Arrowsmith Search and Rescue.

Touchette said he was able to meet the rescued man the next day after he had been released from the hospital

“He was very exhausted when I talked to him. It was a big stressful night.”

Before the rescue began, people who happened to be in the area lent things like jackets and pants to the man, Touchette said. “It was great for them to do that.”

Touchette said the top of Mount Benson is one of the most popular hikes in the Nanaimo area, but unfortunately for the person rescued, the conditions “just put a variable in there.”

Someone rescued this summer from the same location was brought out in just two hours, including the drive to the scene from the unit’s headquarters, he said. “That just shows you how much that was heightened.”

The lengthy rescue effort was actually the second Mount Benson rescue of the day, Touchette said.

A woman hiking near the ­bottom had called for help about 2:30 p.m.

“We were able to drive up quickly to her location and load her into our truck and transfer down to the ambulance.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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