Massive search continues for hiker missing in Gold River area

Update: The search for a missing hiker was called off on Tuesday. Read the full story here.

More than 100 search-and-rescue volunteers scoured the mountains around Gold River for the fourth day Monday, hoping to locate a 64-year-old experienced climber from Black Creek.

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Laurence Philippsen left home on June 29, leaving his family a detailed plan of his four-day, 40-kilometre climb through Strathcona Park, to a mountain range that includes Mount Laing, Mount Filberg, Mount Cobb and Mount Haig-Brown. When he did not return home the evening of July 2, his family called Nootka Sound RCMP, which triggered a search the next morning, said Paul Berry, search manager with Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue.

Campbell River Search and Rescue initiated the search, but because of the difficult terrain and the size of the search area, six more search-and-rescue teams were called in from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

Philippsen was well prepared, with plenty of food, warm clothes, a cellphone, a GPS device and an InReach satellite communicator, but Berry said there are no trails in the area, which made it more challenging for the searchers, who carefully traversed snow fields and cornices.

“We believe he was following a new route,” Berry said.

Lindsay Elms, who has been climbing with Philippsen for the last six years, said his friend is a very safe climber who carefully plans out every aspect of a route before he sets out. Philippsen was following the GPS coordinates of another climber who previously completed the route.

“He's not a risk taker,” said Elms, who was out searching the mountain on Monday. “He climbs within his abilities, which is higher than a lot of people.”

The two have completed dozens of climbs together and they have never run into trouble, Elms said.

“One of the things I love about Laurence is he is open to going to places that are off the beaten trail,” said Elms, adding the two would often bush-whack through dense forest. “Laurence was very good at finding his way through uncharted territory. Laurence is able to figure out where the dangers could be and avoid them.”

The search is concentrated around Mount Filberg because that’s where Philippsen intended to camp the first night.

“We are operating on the scenario that he never did make it to the first night camp,” Berry said. That’s because he did not send a message to his family the first night, as he had said he would.

“Certainly, there’s a huge concern for his well-being,” Berry said. “Today marks seven days since he failed to report in.”

His car was parked at the end of a logging road off Highway 28.

Philippsen is retired from a career in the logging industry, Elms said. That gave Philippsen an intimate knowledge of the Island’s geography and the web of logging roads that lead to back-country routes.

Philippsen is married with two children and two young grandchildren, Elms said.

On Monday, RCMP canine teams assisted with the ground search and RCMP and commercial helicopters searched from above. Searchers battled difficult weather conditions, with low-lying clouds preventing helicopters from dropping off the search teams high on the mountain, Berry said.

Philippsen is described as a 64-year-old with a fitness level of a 25-year-old, and is well-known and respected in the hiking and climbing community, Berry said.

He is white, five-foot-six and 160 pounds. He has short grey/silver hair, wears glasses and has a large scar on his back from a surgery. He was wearing a blue T-shirt, blue fleece sweater and beige hiking pants and was carrying a large beige hiking pack. He has a red tent for shelter.

RCMP are asking anyone who had conversations with Philippsen about this trip to contact Nootka Sound RCMP at 250-283-2227.

“Any detail may help narrow the search area of this very vast mountainous area,” said Island district RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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