A hiker has recalled the terrifying moment her friend slipped and fell 30 metres from the highest peak at a B.C. ski resort on Sunday.
Fernie resident Elly Fleming believes the 27-year-old woman, who did not wish to be identified, is lucky to have survived the ordeal with only cuts and bruises after coming within a metre of a sheer drop off into the valley below.
The New Zealand nationals were among a group of nine friends who visited Fernie Alpine Resort on Summer Community Appreciation Day to tackle Polar Peak Trail, an advanced hike that reaches an elevation of 2100 metres.
The group had stopped for lunch at the summit and the woman had walked with two men further along the ridge above Richard’s Run when the incident happened about 1:15 p.m.
“She was standing there and the gravel below her just slipped out and she just lost her footing,” said Fleming.
The woman slid 30 metres down the mountain on her stomach before managing to grab onto rocks and prevent herself from falling any further.
“Our friend saw her first and kind of called out in alarm, and we all turned around and saw her sliding,” said Fleming.
“She disappeared from view for a bit then we got sight of her and she was clinging onto the rocks. She was conscious and breathing, but yeah, pretty scary.”
Two members of the group called emergency services, which tasked Fernie Search and Rescue to conduct a long line helicopter rescue.
The hikers could only watch in horror as the woman clung to rocks while they waited for rescue personnel to arrive.
“No one could really do much because it was so steep that if they went to go help her they might have fallen off as well,” said Fleming.
“The poor thing had to sit for ages by herself because no one could get to her until we had the right equipment.
“We just called out to keep encouraging her, just trying to keep her spirits up and keep her holding on. It’s just lucky she wasn’t really badly injured I guess, because she had to stay quite still on the rock and not slip down any further.”
By pure coincidence, a highly experienced and qualified ski and mountain guide was also hiking in the area.
He was able to use abseiling equipment from the Polar Peak hut to rappel down to the injured woman and bring her back up to the summit, with the help of members of Fleming’s group.
Fernie SAR arrived on scene just after 2 p.m. and airlifted the woman to the ski hill base, where BC Ambulance Service was waiting.
She was taken to Elk Valley Hospital and treated for significant abrasions and contusions to the front of her body.
“Some of her finger pads have gone, her hands are really cut up and her ankle is pretty sore but nothing broken, thank goodness,” said Fleming on Monday.
“She’s really cut up and obviously really tender… the whole thing was pretty traumatic because it could have been a lot worse than it was, so she’s lucky.”
Fernie SAR Manager Rob Lanthier agreed.
“It is very important to note that the rescue by the fellow hiker was not just a casual passerby, but a highly experienced and qualified ski and mountain guide who happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday.
“Fernie SAR, and I am sure the injured woman, are highly thankful to have so many talented and experienced Fernie residents who are able to help out in such a situation.”
It was the woman’s first time summitting Polar Peak but she was an experienced hiker, according to friends.
The group has thanked all those involved in the rescue, saying they remained “calm and professional” throughout.