• Hunter Cresswell

Three days, two rope rescues

NCC: Stay on official Gatineau Park trails

A woman with a broken ankle stranded 650 feet up the Eardley Escarpment for seven hours and a near-hypothermic man stuck on a small ledge just off the Wolf Trail vista point has the National Capital Commission urging people to stay on designated trails.


“The NCC frequently reminds visitors of the importance of remaining on official trails during their outings in Gatineau Park for conservation and for safety purposes,” NCC spokeswoman Maryam El-Akhrass wrote in an email when asked about both these incidents, which took place last week. “Using unofficial trails or going off trail increases risks of getting lost in the park or encountering difficult terrain.”


Chelsea Fire Department Captain John Pomeroy was there for both rescues, and spoke to the Low Down about what he saw.


Around 3:20 p.m. on Nov. 11, the fire department got a report that a woman was hurt near Lusk Falls. It took an hour and a half for rescuers to locate the woman. It took over 50 rescuers from across the region to safely bring the Ottawa woman down the steep slope to an ambulance. Dispatchers eventually had to get GPS coordinates from the group of hikers because the lost group thought they were at the falls but were partway down the Eardley Escarpment near the rock climbing crags and cliffs.


Pomeroy said that the woman was using a rope that was already there to get down, but it broke, causing her to fall.


“I saw the rope, it was a little thicker than a shoelace, basically. They were certainly not equipped to be where they were,” he said.


Ropes are strung between trees in this area not to be used as railings or for descents down steep sections, but to guide climbers to the bottom of cliffs.


“They were using an unauthorized app and walking on an unofficial trail,” Pomeroy explained about the woman and her four hiking companions, who stayed with her while waiting for rescuers.


There are multiple websites and smartphone applications that allow users to log and map walks and hikes that they’ve done using GPS. Near the escarpment, only one open trail where summer hiking is authorized is shown on the NCC’s online Gatineau Park trail map. On the website AllTrails.com – which isn’t confirmed to be the website the hikers were using when the woman got hurt – that same area is spider-webbed with all sorts of user-generated hikes and walks both on and off official trails.


El-Akhrass said that Gatineau Park visitors should: only use the official trail maps available online or from the visitor centre in Old Chelsea; share their plans with others not going to the park; plan to be back before nightfall; and plan for poor cell phone service in some areas of the park.


Ottawa Fire Services high-angle rescue team had to be called to get the woman down, Pontiac Fire Department director Kevin Mansey and Pomeroy said. That department is the closest one with the equipment and personnel trained to rescue people from slopes over 45 degrees.


“I’ve been firefighting with the municipality [of Pontiac] since 2006 and I’ve never seen a rescue as technical as this,” Mansey said.


The woman’s ankle was put into a splint and she was lowered by a two-rope system, which is used so there’s one rope acting as a failsafe in case the other breaks, Mansey explained. The terrain was so steep and varied that she had to be lowered five different times, which is why it took so long to get her down, Pomeroy also explained.


“There’s a reason people go rock climbing there,” Mansey said about the terrain. “The Gatineau Park is beautiful, but it’s not without its risks.”


She was transported to a hospital around 10:30 p.m., Mansey said.


And, as if that wasn’t enough action for Pomeroy, Chelsea Fire got called to a similar situation on Nov. 13.


In the early afternoon, a man at the Wolf Trail lookout, in an apparent effort to get a better view, climbed down the steep side of the vista point. When the man went to turn around, he realized that he couldn’t climb back up and was stuck on a small ledge, so he called for help.


“He was borderline hypothermic,” Pomeroy said.


Pomeroy said that, though Chelsea Fire has eight firefighters trained to perform high-angle rescues, it doesn’t typically do them. But in this case, a rescuer was lowered to the man, hooked him into a harness system, and the two were lowered to the trail below.


“If his condition deteriorated any further, we were afraid he was going to fall,” Pomeroy explained.


The stranded man was lowered to the trail around 3:30 p.m. and assessed by paramedics, but didn’t need to be taken to the hospital.


“This is the first time we’ve had two high-angle rescues in three days,” Pomeroy said