S T R A N D E D ; left without the means to move from somewhere.
What started out as an amazing day snowboarding on a beautiful glacier West of Radium, BC took a drastic turn for the worse.
We started our day at about 7am leaving our home in Golden, BC equipped with the necessary gear to snowboard in late June and do glacier-travel. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. The drive in was pretty good, a couple spots on the road where an avalanche has buried most of the road leaving us just enough space to pass the slide path without worrying too much about losing my truck down the slope. We drove as far as we could until yet another avalanche path covered the road- this one, impassable. We parked the truck on a steep slope and headed up the rest of the way to the base of the glacier by foot. It was hot.
We applied and re-applied sunscreen numerous times in fear of the late June sun and its reflection of the snow burning us to a crisp. But, we had an amazing day on the Farnham Glacier; built a jump, jibbed some exposed rock, practiced our glacier travel, and enjoyed snowboarding in late June! Such a fun day. We made it back to the truck safe and sound, tired and hungry from the day's activities and ready for dinner by 8pm. First thing we noticed was that the truck had a flat tire. A hassle, but the 3 of us had been in this situation before together and we were confident in our abilities. I had parked my truck on the steep slope to avoid having to walk up it, so I backed my truck down the slope to get to some flat ground so we could safely change the tire. As I was turning the truck around in the flat spot, it made a really loud squeal and this horrible smell came pouring from the hood. I was a little worried so I just quickly turned the truck off in hopes that it wasn't a big deal or made worse at all by having it running still. The boys thought nothing of it, but they weren't really there to experience the sound and smell. I was worried, but I kept that to myself. We changed the tire, high-fived, and hopped into the truck smiling. I go to turn it over and nothing. Tried again and it made some noise, started a bit, gurgling, and then turned off. So we looked under the hood and tried again. A lot of noise, smoke, and a bad smell were coming from the truck. Then almost right away the fan belt started flinging chunks from it and eventually snapped.
Being the optimists we are, we remained calm. "Okay, we can deal with this. Let's call (Jessie's dad). Oh. We don't have service. Okay. Not so bad. We just have to get service." There was a cabin at the foot of the glacier that was equipped with a wood stove, beds, sleeping bag, and even coffee. We were tempted to spend the night there, but ultimately knew that wasn't going to get us anywhere as we'd still be left with no service and no one to come help us. And aside from half a bag of chips and a couple granola bars, we had no food. We decided to stick together and walk down the road until we got service. The road we were travelling happened to be on the overlap between 2 pages on the topographic map we were judging our journey by. We knew that the road we were on was very seldom travelled. There was a fork in the road where the road we were on met up with a much more popular tourist destination; The Lake of the Hanging Glacier. We figured once we got to that fork, we'd find help soon enough. Oh how naive we were.
We took off on the road with the little food we had, full water bottles graciously provided by the glacier runoff, and very inappropriate footwear and clothing choices. I only flip flops. Or my soggy snowboard boots and maybe in hindsight I should have worn the snowboard boots, but we were still delusional optimists at this point. Jessie didn't even have a coat, but then again, it was a hot day.
The journey to the fork was mostly a great time. Honestly. We were chatting. laughing, telling stories, ticking off the landmarks we'd remembered from the drive in, and staying really positive. We were killing it. Or so we thought. Then it seemed like the fork in the road was a lot further than we thought. The markers on the road stopped at the 50k, and because of the overlap in the map, we pretty much were estimating how far it was till that fork in road. And we were way off. It wasn't until we'd already walked about 8km that we saw the first marker, but it was down another road and really hard to see, couldn't make it out and we didn't dare walking further than we had to. The next marker was obvious: 49km. 49KM! We thought for sure that we were coming up soon to that fork and couldn't believe that even after walking for 2 hours already, that we were more than a marathon away from civilization. It was getting dark, but we kept walking towards that fork. Terribly optimistic that once we got there, maybe there'd be help. At about 12am, we finally reached the fork in the road, sat down for the first time since starting our journey 4 hours ago with creaky hips, sore feet and backs.
We had a better understanding of the map at this point and were able to see that there was a campground 5.5 km from where we were. By now it was pitch black, but we knew we'd regret it if we didn't keep moving. What if someone was there? We'd remembered seeing a couple RVs parked there on our way in, but then again, that was Sunday morning. That was certainly the crux of our journey; walking 5km under the darkest sky, exhausted, on a road filled with rocks. In flip flops. Fuck my feet and shins and legs hurt but I didn't dare complain about it. That wouldn't have helped any. We had our phones, but were trying to save our batteries so we avoided using our flashlights. I almost felt like I was dreaming when we finally reached the campground. Although no one was there, THERE WAS FIREWOOD. And lots of it. Hallelujah. Grateful that we were to have a fire without having to scrounge the forest for an hour, we lit a fire and curled up beside and tried to sleep. Freezing cold, even with the fire, we weren't really able to sleep. I slept a bit but the boys didn't sleep a wink. After an eternity of exhaustion and coldness, the sun started to rise over the mountains and I realized, what a beautiful place we were camped at. A river beside us, big mountains towering above, but too bad there was no way I could enjoy this place. Not like this. Hungry. Cold. Tired.
6am rolled around and we figured that as tired as we were, we had to get going. Sore af, we started back on our lonely road. Not so chipper this time around. We walked about 10km before we allowed ourselves to take a break. Exhausted and hungry, with no food left, we didn't have much to say to each other anymore. But there was a deep understanding between us that we'd be fine. Still 30km from town, with no cell reception and no sight of cars at all, and no food, we still knew we'd make it out alive. No doubt. Then suddenly, my right foot started to hurt. It wasn't a blister or anything, just a little pain on the sole of my foot. It wasn't bad enough to mention for the first 2 kms, but eventually it started to get worse and worse to the point where I started to limp and drag behind. Then the limp got really bad as my foot started hurting more and more. And our 6 km/hour pace was turning into more of a 2 km/hour pace. This was the first point where I realized that we needed help.
The boys stopped for a snooze break in the sun and I joined them, but actually stopping made my foot feel worse. Much worse. After that 1/2 hour nap, I could barely walk at all. About 1 km later (AN ETERNITY!) Chris' phone buzzed with the hopeful sound of cell reception. Oh. My. God. He tried to send some texts and make a call but it wasn't enough. The reception was intermittent and not enough to do anything with for the next 20 minutes of walking. Then finally Jessie was able to reach his dad who's not only a mechanic, truck wrangler, but also the kind of guy you could rely on anytime/anywhere who'd do ANYTHING for his kids. A goddamn hero in our story.
He was in Golden (about 100km from Radium) and let us know that he was getting the car trailer and coming to our rescue. But he was sill probably 2 hours from being able to help and we were starving. Not to mention there were plenty of road choices to make on the FSR and with our bare minimum reception, it was practically impossible to communicate that. We racked our brains for who to call. In Canada, we have a great Search and Rescue system, but that applies to people who are at risk of losing life or limb: not us. Who is there to call? None of us have friends in Radium who could help us, and there's no real system in place for people aren't dying, but still need help. We decided to call a cafe in town and ask them if they had any friends or family who could help us and as the phone was connecting the call, a truck came around the corner. No way! Two forestry workers were on their way out to work and knew when they saw us that we either needed help or we were going to murder them (as they so jokingly told us). We probably looking pretty strange walking down the road so far from town in the summer heat wearing snow pants and flip flops.
These 2 strangers so graciously offered us a ride into town and it was surreal. After having been on this road for about 15 hours now and not having seen one vehicle, we were really having our doubts. I was beginning to think that literally no one drives down this road on a Monday morning. From that point on, things went as smooth as butter, we had breakfast and coffee at a cafe in Radium where we met Jessie's dad, Lloyd with the car trailer. Within an hour, we had her loaded up and ready to head home. Although our worries weren't totally behind us yet. Remember that avalanche part that we barely were able to cross with the truck? We still had to pass that, this time with a truck loaded on the trailer. The terrifying thought occurred to us that if the weight of my truck on the trailer pulled Lloyd's truck down the slippery slope, that'd be in this same shitty situation again only with more people. No cell reception. No spare food. 55 kms from town.
Luckily for us, everything went smooth. Lloyd is an expert when it comes to wrangling machines. Thinking back to earlier that day, I didn't think we'd be home until 8pm that Monday night with the truck still miles away from being saved. But miraculously, and much to our surprise, we were home by 4pm with the truck. We couldn't be more grateful. Apparently the power steering pump seized on my truck which is why the belt melted and snapped. And the fan belt unifies a lot. It allows the alternator to keep spinning and the fan and some other things which honestly, I don't know that much about cars so I don't know what else. But there's like 5 pumps that work together and this belt allows them to keep spinning. Anyways, it was an easy fix for Lloyd. Again, hero.
So because everything happens for a reason and in every situation, there is something we can learn from, let me tell you: we learned a lot those 2 days. We learned that:
1. If you're going to drive more than 20km down an FSR, you should bring a water filter, dehydrated meals, proper footwear, lots of warm clothes, possibly an alternative mode of transportation like a bike, and a satellite phone. At the very least. Probably even a sleeping bag and tent.
2. Always tell someone where you're going and what time they should be worried if you're not back by then. But you can't be the boy who cried wolf. You have to make sure you inform them e-v-e-r-y-t-i-m-e when you're back in cell reception or this won't work.
3. Always have a spare tire and a jack. And panty hose, because apparently we could have made a make-shift belt with a pair of nylons that would have allowed us to drive out of there (cringe).
And that sums it up. I hope that by sharing this experience you don't let yourself become complacent. As people who spend a lot of time out of cell service and deep into the woods, you have to be prepared for when shit hits the fan. Thank God no one was seriously hurt and that it was summer and that it didn't rain a drop. If any of those 3 things happened, I don't know how things would have turned out and this might not have been such a funny story to share now. The pain in my foot ended up being Peroneal Tendonitis caused from: overuse (check), improper footwear (check), previous ankle sprains (check), and extremely tight calf muscles (check). But I'm hopeful that it will heal up fast and honestly, I can't count our blessings enough.
Have you had a close call like this before? What did you learn from it? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I think this is something we should talk about more so people take it more seriously.