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Tips from Quesnel Search and Rescue and rescued family on hike preparedness

Broken ankle after falling through a staircase leads to rescue extraction from overnight hike

A family’s recent overnight hiking trip was kibosh-ed when a member fell through a staircase at Groundhog Lake, east of Quesnel, resulting in a fractured ankle and a call for rescue.

According to Doug Zdanivsky, his wife, Svetlana, badly fractured her ankle late last month on an eight to ten feet staircase leading to an outhouse at a rec site maintained by the Wells Snowmobile Club. The stairs were particularly high to ensure access during winter months when snow poses access difficulty, he said.

After hearing her cry, the family rushed to find Svetlana lying beside the broken stairs. Doug said he could tell she was hurt pretty bad.

“It was gut-wrenching, we’ve been on several multi-day hikes in areas far more remote than this as a family, and we’ve never had anything happen like this.”

Doug sent his two sons, Nathan and Daniel, as well as their dog, to go find help back in Barkerville and contact the RCMP to get in touch with the Quesnel Search and Rescue.

It took the Zdanivsky brothers 30 minutes to pack up their gear and another hour and a half to hike back. Doug, who has a search and rescue background working in Mackenzie for ten years, knew his wife would need to be extracted.

As they awaited help, Doug said he made Svetlana as comfortable as possible and used his first aid kit to wrap her ankle in a bandage, elevate her leg with blankets and use sleeping pads so she could lay down.

Svetlana was in a bit of shock, so sugary beverages and comfort made the situation more bearable. Doug also found some snow left at the top of the trail, which he used to make an ice pack. They waited inside the shelter of Groundhog cabin at the rec site for help.

After about five hours, Quesnel Search and Rescue arrived at the spot around midnight with two ATVs, transporting Doug and Svetlana back to their truck in the Barkerville parking lot.

Doug says he was glad to have his first aid kit on him but wishes he had a satellite communication device which could have more quickly contacted the search and rescue team and saved his sons a trip.

“You don’t think on such a basic hike so close to civilization that you’re going to have to go all out. We had the four of us where we could have surmounted any obstacle, but you still have surprises like this.”

Doug said he is glad this happened in an area they could find help and that the injury was not more severe.

Tips he said he would share with other hikers to be as prepared as possible include:Leaving a trip plan with someone you trust before you head out even if you think it will be a straightforward hike.

Keep your guard up when you reach the destination.

Take your bear spray with you at all times.

Inspect railings and staircases before bearing full weight on them.

Keep your food and cooking area about 100m from your tent and have a bear hang or locker for your food.

Wear water shoes when walking in lakes and rivers.

Keep small children within eyesight at all times and make sure they are well hydrated and protected from the sun.

Check you have the medications you need for several days and that they aren’t expired.

Always travel in a group wherever possible.

Be prepared to shelter in place, and have food, first aid supplies (and knowledge) and water with you.

Have the numbers you need for the area written down on a hard copy, preferably waterproof paper and ink (any nearby friends and family, Park Service, local police, JRCC).

Know your location, preferably latitude/longitude, MGRS or UTM coordinates. The agency you reach may have no idea where you’re located, he said.

A CT scan revealed Svetlana fractured her talus bone and will start off wearing a boot for one month, followed by continued recovery.

Bob Zimmerman, president of Quesnel Search and Rescue, said this is a typical outcome of a rescue but emphasized satellite communication can make a huge difference when in need of help up on a trail.

Zimmerman explained that if only two people were hiking, the injured party would have had to have been left behind while the non-injured party hiked for help, putting people in a more vulnerable situation. He said it is beneficial to share with someone else when you are leaving and planning on coming back from a hike.

He recommends having an emergency plan that considers weather conditions in case something happens, and always trying to shelter in place so the team can easily locate individuals needing rescue. This can be difficult in colder weather conditions like rain or snow, which can pose the risk of hypothermia, Zimmerman said.

Doug is very grateful for the help of Quesnel Search and Rescue.

“I know what it is to drop everything and respond to assist strangers on days you were hoping instead to spend with your family and friends. I never thought I’d be on the other end of a call-out. Thank you for all that you do so that others may live.”