On Saturday, August 3, a group of hikers made it to the top of Mt. Elizabeth in four hours, without any injuries.
Not big news, right? Plenty have done the same since people first started climbing the mountain.
What makes this ascent special, however, is that it was done by a group of Rio Tinto BC Works’ employees, part of a bigger group of 52 hikers who set out to climb to different stages along the route up to the summit, organized by BC Works’ Baptiste Dethune.
The group, taking part in the BC Works Reach Your Summit team-building exercise, included young and old and consisted of hikers of differing fitness levels, and ranging in hiking experience from novices to more experienced.
The group managed this partly due to good organization and coordination, but mostly because they were accompanied by experienced, fit ‘guides,’ six members of Kitimat Search and Rescue (KSAR) who shepherded the hikers up and down the mountain.
KSAR rescue coordinator Kelly Marsh said the group was approached by BC Works and asked if they would coordinate the Reach Your Summit exercise.
“Initially we were looking at 35 hikers at most, requiring three or four KSAR members to guide them up the mountain,” said Marsh.
However, on the Friday before the exercise, 58 BC Works employees and family members had signed up.
“We put a call out to our volunteers and ended up with seven KSAR members, six on the mountain and one support member down below.”
Marsh said organizing the exercise was a mammoth task, with immense emphasis placed on safety and the ability to get a hiker down should there be an injury.
The KSAR volunteers were equipped with satellite tracking devices, satellite phones and radios, just in case.
In addition, KSAR arranged for a helicopter to be on standby in case someone needed to be airlifted off the mountain.
Weather conditions were monitored by the hour beforehand – had the weather turned nasty the day of the hike, it could have been called off.
“We knew it was going to be a nice day, but the situation can always change,” said Marsh.
To provided added layers of safety, KSAR had coordinated with the Kitimat Fire Department and Terrace Search and Rescue, whose rescuers are trained in longline rescues (the rescuer is lowered from a helicopter to hoist the patient up for evacuation to a medical facility).
With a detailed safety plan in place, the hikers gathered on Saturday morning and set off to conquer Mt. Elizabeth, which is also known by the Haisla as Laxuxw (Boulder Mt.) and Mt. Bolton (after Hemas chief John Bolton).
The hike was separated into three stages, and the hikers got to choose which of the three they wanted to attempt – up to the Viewpoint and back down, up to Little Lizzy and back or up to the summit and back.
The three groups were accompanied by their own KSAR personnel to guide them up the mountain.
“Even though there was a huge skill and fitness differential, we had a lot of hikers decide to carry on after they reached the viewpoint,” said Marsh.
At the second stop on the way up to the summit at Little Lizzy, there were enough hikers wanting to summit for two groups to finish the hike. Both groups made it to the summit by 1 p.m., without incident or injury, apart from a lot of bug bites.
“I was overjoyed at the success of the exercise – on top of that when we returned there was talk of another hike up the mountain,” said Marsh.
To show their appreciation, on the return to Kitimat KSAR was presented with a cheque for $3,000.
“We weren’t expecting anything for our efforts but are very thankful for the donation,” said Marsh.