Rangers stick together. (Submitted)

Rangers stick together. (Submitted)

Hiker and dog safe after losing trail

A hiker and his dog are safe and sound after getting badly lost in some thick woods west of Lawn Hill.

Luckily, the hiker was able to use his cell phone to report his co-ordinates to police, who then called local volunteers with Archipelago Search and Rescue.

“That’s really the only reason we were able to find him,” says RCMP Sergeant Terry Gillespie

“The forest he was in was so dense and thick.”

The hiker, a visitor from Alberta, set out last Thursday morning to hike Pretty John Meadow Trail, which follows an old settler road from the end of Lawn Hill Road.

About 10 km from the trailhead, his dog Ranger got lost.

With only a one-bar signal on his cell phone, the hiker phoned to report the lost dog.

But soon after stepping off the trail to try and call him in, the hiker had to phone again to say that he was lost, too. He called 9-1-1, even though Haida Gwaii doesn’t have a dedicated 9-1-1 service — while it doesn’t work for landlines, cellphone users who dial 9-1-1 on Haida Gwaii get their calls automatically re-directed to an emergency call centre.

At that point, the hiker did exactly the right thing, says Chris Ashurst, a ranger with BC Parks and member of Archipelago SAR.

“When he realized he was lost but that he had a cell signal, he decided to stay put, call for assistance, and make shelter,” Ashurst said, noting that the man had a whistle, food, and water but no gear to overnight in the bush.

Most important, he added, was that the hiker knew how to use his phone to find his coordinates — something smartphone users can do using free compass, GPS, or topographic apps — and saved his battery power by switching off unnecessary features and powering down the phone except for hourly checks.

“Everyone should know how to get their co-ordinates from their phones,” said Ashurst.

Even with those co-ordinates, two police on ATVs and the SAR team members in a helicopter, it took four hours before Sgt. Gillespie and Constable Adrianna St. George were able to find the missing hiker.

At one point, the helicopter was right overhead the waving police on ATVs, but they didn’t see each other — that’s how thick the woods were.

“You couldn’t see the trail from five feet away,” Gillespie said.

Finally, police walked to the coordinates and started yelling — the hiker was a couple trees over.

Back at the trailhead, the hiker got a surprise — his dog Ranger had found its way back to the truck, where one of the SAR volunteers was keeping him close with a bit of deer jerky.

“That was a nice happy ending,” said Gillespie, but noted how lucky it was the hiker could pick up a cell-phone signal. Going into the backcountry, he said it’s a good idea to carry a satellite beacon or a GPS device.

“And don’t wander off the trail looking for the dog, because you’ll become lost yourself,” he added, noting that police can work with the local SPCA to try and find a lost dog without putting people at risk.