Search crews were lumbering through the backwoods of Golden Ears Provincial Park overnight Saturday, hunting for two hikers who'd decided to bed down with friends at Alder Flats.
The distress call went out to police at about 10:30 Saturday night from two hikers in their early 20s.
They were on the West Canyon trail, returning from the peak of Golden Ears Mountain, when "darkness befell them," explained Rick Laing, search manager with Ridge Meadows Search & Rescue.
A dozen searchers were deployed, and given details offered from the hikers, Laing said the team had a "pretty good" idea where to find the missing women.
But, contrary to the advice of the 9-1-1 dispatcher - who told them to stay put - the young hikers moved on.
At some point, they met up with other hikers they knew, and the group continued on to Alder Flats to wait out the night. Their plan, apparently, was to get some sleep and hike out in the morning, said Laing.
Four hours after being dispatched to the mountainside, search crews stumbled across the missing pair hunkered down in a tent, sleeping at Alder Flats.
The search team was beginning its ritual of waking up any campers in the area - hoping someone had information about the missing women. That's when the searchers learned the so-called "stranded hikers" were among those being woken up.
"We did all this for nothing, but that's what we do," said Laing.
Admittedly, cell service is intermittent on the mountain. But obviously at one point the hikers were able to call out, Laing said. If they decided to move on, he suggested they should have notified authorities.
Not only would it have been courteous to make a call and let the members return home to their own beds, but Laing noted there's also a bit of an increased risk for members to be out searching at night, even though they're equipped and aware of the trails.
"It just would have simply been nice if they let us know," said Laing, noting team members got home by 4:30 a.m. only to have most of them awake again at 6:30 a.m. - heading back up the mountain.
TEAM REPAIRS LANDING SITES
Another dozen rescue members, more than half of which had participated in the overnight search, took part in a day-long effort to repair and maintain two helicopter landing areas in Golden Ears Provincial Park that are used frequently in cases of emergency.
The team met up at the old Woodlands camp, near the main campgrounds, just before 7:30 a.m. loaded up a helicopter with equipment, and headed to two landing sites, one at Alder Flats and another near a former landmark known as Hollow Tree.
The Hollow Tree chopper site had been damaged during a forest fire in the region last month, and required reconstruction and marking, Laing explained.
The team also had to do some repairs and more clearing at the Alder Flats landing site. They also had to repost signs, asking hikers not to camp in the clearing for obvious emergency reasons.
Needless to say, the team was tired, Laing said Sunday afternoon - on his way out of the park.
The annual cleanup efforts, which usually incorporates a bit of a training, is a costly proposition for the team, the manager explained.
At $1,700 per hour, the three hours of helicopter time spent on the annual cleanup proves costly, and comes out of the search team's coffers.
"A lot of people don't realized what's involved. There's a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, beyond us just heading out on a search or rescue mission," Laing said.
The team must raise funds for this and other maintenance projects, including the restocking of emergency supplies at the emergency shelter on Panorama Ridge.
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