Two snowmobilers have been rescued after surviving a night on Sterling Mountain north of Terrace over the weekend.
On Saturday, Feb. 8 at approximately 8 p.m., Terrace Search and Rescue (SAR) received a call that two local men had not returned from their day’s activity which led to a search operation the following morning.
“The guys up there weren’t planning to spend the night and they should have been back home but when they didn’t, [their family] drove up and confirmed the truck was still there,” says Terrace SAR vice-president Dave Jephson.
“So they knew they were stuck in the backcountry and we were contacted, but we can’t respond in the middle of the night to the snowmobile area and we had to come up with a plan for the next morning.”
The next day Feb. 9 at approximately 8:30 a.m., about 15 Terrace SAR members converged on Sterling Mountain’s trailhead to begin the search, equipped with two SAR rhino vehicles, a mobile command vehicle and some personal vehicles, along with a team of four scouting the site below from above in a helicopter.
Before embarking on their mission, though, SAR members processed a hazard assessment which involves an avalanche technician to ensure their safety in the backcountry.
“We knew that the subjects checked into the first cabin but did not check into the second cabin so that gave us a working area,” Jephson says. “A couple of the first thoughts were that they were up on the rows, which they weren’t, so they worked their way over to another high probability area and flew down into the valley.”
Jephson says the team at the trailhead was set up to monitor access to the area as many snowmobilers were showing up to help with the search. Eventually, the plan was to set up a rescue base at the first cabin on the mountain if the search intensified and needed to expand. A team in Terrace was also on stand-by in case more volunteers were needed.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the two men were located by the helicopter crew in a gully. Jephson says the air team was familiar with the mountain and quickly spotted two snowmobiles tucked under the trees.
They learned that the two men had built an overnight shelter to survive the conditions and kept warm using the fuel from their snowmobiles.
“One of their machines broke down and wasn’t running properly so they made that decision to stay. They weren’t 100 per cent familiar with the area, such as how far the cabins and trails were, plus it was getting late and dark,” says Jephson. “They had some provisions with them so they got down into a tree well, made a little shelter, had a fire, ate some food and spent the night.”
He adds the snowmobilers made the right decision to stay in one location and he applauds them for having their survival tools with them. If they had not been rescued that morning, the two men were apparently ready to start sending smoke signals.
They were then picked up by the helicopter and brought down to the mountain base but did not require hospitalization. The snowmobiles had to be left behind but Jephson says the men are working with another helicopter company to retrieve their machines.
This SAR operation was one of three missions over the weekend – the other two included locating a missing skier on Shames Mountain and three missing hikers on Mount Hayes near Prince Rupert.
All operations ended positively, the rescued skier and hikers in good health when they were found.
Jephson says that although he’s glad to see people enjoying the outdoors, he emphasizes to the public how important it is to be prepared in case of an emergency situation that requires overnight survival, adding that they should also inform someone of their plans and leave a visible note in their vehicle on when they plan to return.
The two snowmobilers were later identified as plumbers from Acadia Northwest Mechanical, which publicly posted on Facebook to thank SAR for their employees’ rescue. Alongside their gratitude, they’re encouraging people to come out for a fundraiser organized by the Skeena Valley Snowmobile Association that will be coincidentally held at Sterling Mountain on Sunday, Feb. 16 to help raise money for SAR’s new headquarters.
The public is invited to attend the event, which will begin at 9 a.m. and then followed by a BBQ at the first cabin at noon, along with a 50/50 draw. Donations can be made at the Sterling Mountain trailhead parking lot that day, at Ken’s Marine or given directly to SAR.