High cost of rescue dissuades lost B.C. hikers from calling for help

Who should pay for a mountain rescue?


John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

There are a few reasons why hikers lost on B.C.’s North Shore mountains might object to being rescued: ego, perhaps, or not wanting to be a burden. But a young man trapped on Grouse Mountain in late July eschewed help for another reason entirely. The hiker, who bushwhacked for hours after becoming disoriented, called authorities to ask how to get on track—but made it clear he didn’t want them to start a search: It would cost too much.

“He said, ‘I’m broke, I can’t afford this rescue,’ ” says Tim Jones, team leader at North Shore Rescue, a volunteer search-and-rescue team in North Vancouver. Perplexed, Jones told the hiker that North Shore Rescue has never charged anyone for a rescue.

The incident highlights a debate in the province over whether to fine adventurers for rescue missions. In December, it took three days and tens of thousands of dollars to locate Sébastien Boucher, a snowboarder who went out of bounds on Cypress Mountain. Cypress intended to charge Boucher $10,000, to be donated to search and rescue, before relenting in exchange for Boucher’s participation in a public awareness campaign.

Jones says Cypress had good intentions, but such a policy can discourage those in trouble from seeking help. In another recent case, a mother with two children wandered Grouse dehydrated but fearful of being penalized for calling rescuers. In some cases, says Jones, people will wait until nightfall to ask for help, putting volunteers at greater risk.

“People come to our province and spend tons of money on tourism,” he says. “There should be a safety net when they get into trouble. We don’t believe that safety net should be something they should have to pay for.”


High cost of rescue dissuades lost B.C. hikers from calling for help

  1. It’s a tough call – clearly we want people to call for help rather than die. Still, there’s got to be some disincentive for the people who do stupid things they’ve been told not to do. Skiing or snowboarding out of bounds is prime example: they specifically go into areas marked as “out of bounds”, and then get in trouble. The rescue not only costs money, but puts the rescuers at risk as well. As for other misadventures, the North Shore is particularly risky because it’s so close to the city. You can literally step from a suburban neighbourhood into a steep, wooded ravine and wind up totally lost. That’s a low barrier between most urbanites and disaster.

    • I agree it’s a tough call. You don’t want to leave people to die, of course. I also think it’s important to note that there are degrees of culpability and idiocy, big-time. There are very capable experienced and knowledgeable people who unfortunately get injured out there, for instance. They haven’t done anything stupid, they’ve just drawn a short straw. On the other hand, especially in the N Shore mountains, you get a lot of epically stupid tourists who do epically stupid things — e.g., starting their hike at 15 minutes to sundown and the like. And you really wish that there was some way to deter that, but on the other hand, it’s clear that we haven’t found a cure to idiocy.

  2. If you charge for rescues does that mean the wealthy live and the poor die. That’s too much like American health care for my liking.

  3. It should be mandatory for anyone that goes in the back country to get insurance in case of a need of a rescue. Plain and simple!

  4. If buddy is covered by choosing a sedate lifestyle and driving everywhere (poof, heart attack) then people in the backcountry should be too.

  5. Charge for the fire department while you’re at it.

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