KAMLOOPS - A Kamloops Search and Rescue member says luck and teamwork were the biggest factors in rescuing an avid outdoorsman lost near Clinton this week.
Mike Ritcey, a long time member of and dog handler with the local rescue group, says they were called out around 1 p.m. Tuesday when a caretaker failed to show up for an appointment with the property owner. The caretaker moved to the property in November and was known to frequently hike the area.
“We had no direction of travel, nothing to go on, we just knew the person wasn’t there to meet the property owner,” Ritcey says, adding, “He’s an avid outdoorsman, very reliable, very punctual. It was very out of character to not be there.”
Kamloops Search and Rescue joined members from 100 Mile House as well as RCMP to search for the 57-year-old man. On day one the 20-person team focused on the Marble Range area just west of Clinton with RCMP providing a second search dog and helicopter. Groups were flown in to hike the higher terrain in search of tracks and many ATVs and UTVs were used to cover the lower terrain.
The snow at the higher terrains allowed rescuers to quickly rule out the area because no human tracks were found. By the end of the first day RCMP were able to narrow the search area down.
“The last point he was seen was by the ferry operator at Big Bar,” Ritcey says. “He had told the operator he was going across the river to hike. He headed up west of the Fraser River into the timber.”
The rescue team moved to the opposite side of the Fraser River.
By Wednesday evening rescuers focused the search to what they felt was a pinch point, an area narrowed down by previous searches and sheer cliffs. Ritcey and his dog Juno went in with a tracker to comb the area, looking for tracks and smells.
Ritcey says he saw a guy in the distant sagebrush. They identified him as the man they were looking for and the helicopter was brought in to pick him up. The man pointed to a far off snow-covered mountain he knew was close to his home and said he was headed in that direction, though Ritcey says he was still another three or four days away and would’ve required help to get there.
“He was tired and sore, he hadn’t eaten for a couple days, but he had water that morning,” Ritcey says. “He was in rough country and couldn’t get back down. He was pretty happy to see us, he didn’t know anyone was looking for him. He was very apologetic, he felt so bad.”
Ritcey says while the man was able to walk he was quite slow and he was crawling with ticks. He was taken to the hospital to be checked out.
He notes the search would have been impossible without the help of the helicopter on both days because of the vast and rugged country.
“One day we're up in the snow in the high country, the next we were in the desert,” Ritcey says, adding though the man knew what he was doing, “You got to let people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, at least then we’d have a starting point.”
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