Over the years, Penticton reporter John Moorhouse has covered stories about lots of people stuck in sticky situations. But last weekend, he was the one who nearly made headlines. Here he gives a chilling account of being stranded:
The realization hit home late Sunday afternoon while my wife, Jen, and I were cross-country skiing in a popular area in the South Okanagan.
Ending up far off the main trails in the area known as the Vista near Nickel Plate Lake, we spent a chilling night in the woods, with only a little food and two frozen water bottles, before managing to hike out Monday morning. We felt sheepish, exhausted, but thankfully unhurt.
It all started with a series of fateful decisions.
We originally planned to go downhill skiing at Apex. However, noticing the blustery conditions on the mountain, we opted for cross-country instead.
The Vista is a scenic, two-hour loop rated for intermediate skiers. Jen and I have skied it dozens of times, including the previous weekend.
This time, however, we opted to push on and do the advance-rated Burn Perimeter trail, which travels around the site of a forest fire from years ago.
We've only skied the Burn a couple of times, but are familiar with the route. No problem.
Coming out at the main snowmobile road leading back to the parking lot, we opted to try (for the first time ever) an extension of the Burn, known as the Long Burn. It's a relatively short loop, so we figured there wouldn't be a problem.
Or so we thought.
The trail itself was fine. We followed a pair of snowshoe tracks that made the trail markings even easier to spot along the route.
Our big mistake came when we emerged onto another snowmobile road that hooks onto the main route. We spotted a "You are here" sign but failed to notice a parking lot directional sign on the other side of the trail.
Thinking it was downhill to the parking lot, we turned right and enjoyed a rolling, invigorating ski down to where the trail widened out to a logged hillside.
By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon and we were concerned about whether we'd be late for a dinner date with friends we had arranged for that evening. We had mistakenly left the cellphone in the car.
Skiing on a bit more, we soon realized we had taken (with all respect to Bugs Bunny) a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
Now we were most concerned about getting back. But the idea of turning around and trudging back uphill all those kilometres seemed out of the question. We found a forest service road that appeared to be heading towards Nickel Plate Lake.
If we could get out onto the lake, we reasoned, it would be easy to find our way back up to the Vista parking lot.
The forestry road was posted with signs every half-kilometre counting down from the five-kilometre mark. Just after the
1.5 km sign we came across another sign saying: "Nickel Plate 1.3 kms DOWN."
Perfect, we'll be there in no time, we told each other. A road leading downhill branched off the right. We took it. A half hour later, we came across another marker - "Three kilometres."
What the . . . ?
By this time, it was almost dark. Jen looked at me and said: "We've got to go back and find that sign." We obviously had taken the wrong routeâ€¦ another wrong turn at Albuquerque.
It was pitch black when we arrived back at the junction where the sign had been, but it was too dark to spot it. We ventured a short ways up and down a couple of nearby trails - with the white snow you could still see a bit. We had a lighter, but no candle and no flashlight.
Dog-tired and wondering if we had taken yet another wrong turn, we stopped and steeled ourselves for a long, cold night ahead of us. We broke off small pine boughs for bedding underneath a tree and then made a large "X" in the middle of the clearing in case a helicopter might come searching.
We spent most of the night trudging on our skis in a large circle around the "X" in a bid to stay warm. Fortunately the wind was calm and it wasn't snowing.
The hours passed, not as slowly as we had feared, and by 6 a.m. we shared our remaining granola bar for breakfast and looked around, trying to determine which trail might lead back to the sign. We lucked out. It was just around the corner.
We just had to retrace our route and head back to the Vista parking lot.
After five hours of mostly uphill trudging, we made it. It was 11 a.m.
We had just finished putting the skis on our car's roof rack when Lyle Thiede of the Apex Ski Patrol arrived on a snowmobile. A couple of minutes later Const. Joudy George of the Penticton RCMP
The alarm had gone out that morning, when Jen failed to show up to teach her kindergarten class at Naramata Elementary School. I wasn't scheduled to arrive at work until noon, since I had to cover a Penticton city council meeting Monday night.
Thiede made sure we were both OK, while George radioed in that we had been found safe and sound.
A full scale search had not yet been launched, although we later found out that family members and co-workers were getting ready to drop everything and head out into the hills to help look.
We were very lucky - and learned a valuable lesson. Oh yeah, did I mention it was my birthday?
John Moorhouse is a senior reporter at The Penticton Herald.
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