An afternoon hike for group of young adults near Cowichan Lake turned into an all-day affair after they came across a woman and her severely injured hiking partner on Monday.
David Piatkowski, 22, his girlfriend Ayden McKitrick and three friends were about an hour and a half into their trek to the Bear Creek Caves deep into the mountains near Skutz Falls when they came upon a frantic woman on the phone with 911.
“She said her partner had suffered some pretty bad injuries,” Piatkowski explained on Tuesday. “She had to go hunt for service.”
They estimated the woman had to travel about a kilometre from her companion in order to find spotty cell service on the mountainside.
What that meant was her partner was waiting alone, injured, on the forest floor.
“My girlfriend, she started running ahead with our dog. She was the first one to get there,” Piatkowski said. “He’d had to crawl out of the cave quite a bit on his own to get back to the main road so he was able to be seen.”
McKitrick set to work providing first aid.
“He was in a lot of pain,” she said. “He was conscious and talking when I first found him. He was in shock at first and after a few hours [the adrenaline] started running out and he was in a lot of pain.”
The group of young adults huddled around the injured man in an attempt to generate some heat.
“We gave him all our clothes to keep him warm because he’d been on the ground about an hour before we got there,” Piatkowski said. “I went off to try to get his backpack and his belongings that he’d lost when he fell because he had some first aid stuff in his backpack that we were able to recover and use.”
Piatkowski also started a fire for warmth and to use as a beacon should a helicopter rescue be required.
The terrain was steep, rocky and uneven making it hard for first responders to get there.
Cowichan Search and Rescue’s first crew arrived with ATVs just after 4 p.m., just over an hour and a half after the young adults first found the hikers.
“When they came to see how bad the situation was they left and went to get more help right away,” Piatkowski noted.
McKitrick said hypothermia was a concern because of the setting sun and rapidly dropping temperatures.
“It was very, very cold. We tried to make a fire closer to him but it wouldn’t start. It was so dark and icy up there,” she said.
The group didn’t want to move the man closer to the first fire they’d built for fear of exacerbating his injuries. They had concerns about his back and neck.
“We just gave him all our clothes and tried to keep him as warm as we could,” he said.
It ended up taking until roughly 9 p.m. to extract the hiker safely.
“We had to walk with a stretcher most of the way because the terrain was so rough,” Piatkowski said.
The young adults are hoping to learn of the man’s condition and possibly would like to check on him in hospital.
They’d bonded quite a bit in their time together.
“We stayed the whole time. We couldn’t leave him,” Piatkowski said. “If we hadn’t shown up it would have been him and his one travelling partner so he would have been laying there alone in the cold for quite a while because she was going for help. This was definitely a first for all of us. It’s definitely quite shocking.”
Messages left with the RCMP and Cowichan Search and Rescue had not been returned by post time.