Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BRRRRRRR!: VANCOUVER: Midsummer snow a danger to hikers

The North Shore may be sweltering in the summer heat, but North Shore Search and Rescue is warning hikers on the mountains to be wary of snow.

Most years, the trails on the mountains are clear of snow by mid-July, said Tim Jones, spokesman for North Shore Rescue, but on a trip up Seymour earlier this week he watched hikers in shorts and running shoes tackling trails covered in hard, icy snow.

“We’ve had fatalities in this kind of weather before,” said Jones. “They’ll ascend a steep snow slope and then they’ll descend it and that’s when they’ll slip and fall and go several hundred feet.”

“Knock on wood, we’ve been very lucky (this year). But I was astounded yesterday by the number of people who were hiking, totally unprepared, totally oblivious.”

He described the conditions as “full winter,” adding that any rescue crews would use crampons, poles and ropes.

Another factor to look out for is the rising water level of local streams, especially later in the day after the sun melts the snow. While a stream may be easy to cross in the morning, by late afternoon it could be a raging torrent. Last weekend, two hikers got stuck outdoors overnight after failing to cross a creek near Lynn Headwaters Park.

Metro Vancouver measures the snowpack at Orchid Lake in the Seymour River watershed, which is usually snow-free by sometime in July. The latest measurements showed 30 centimetres of snow on the ground, said Bill Morrell, spokesman for Metro Vancouver.

While he said the snowpack numbers fluctuate every year, he put this year as in the top three years for the size of the snowpack.

That’s a much more positive story for the metro, which runs the water system and is recording reservoir levels at 90 per cent, well above the two previous years.

“It’s a very nice cushion that gives us great comfort when we get into the August, September of the year, where there’s very low rainfall time of year and very high water demand.”

Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist said the unseasonably snowy conditions are a result of the cool spring the Lower Mainland experienced this year, followed by a late start to summer.

The weather is likely a lingering effect of the La Nina cycle, which tends to bring colder weather to B.C., according to Lundquist.

“It was certainly a delayed snowmelt at the higher elevations and I think that’s one of the main factors,” he said.

“We saw a very cool spring, then the earlier part of summer was cool, so that delayed the snowmelt in the higher elevations of the North Shore Mountains.”


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