Williams Lake Tribune
Thanks to the quick, skilled response of the Bella Coola Valley Search and Rescue (BCVSAR) team, valley resident and hiker Rob Nelson is on the mend after a 60-foot fall down a granite slab. Recovering from serious injuries sustained in the fall, Rob and his wife, Angela Morris, are extremely grateful for the team and the local individuals who came to help.
Rob and Angela went for a hike and a climb, along with their two dogs Reef, 7, and Calvert, 1, on July 18. They hiked up Snootli Trail toward a climbing wall near the Bella Coola Airport.
“It was a Class 4 scramble route up a steep granite slab, and just into the route, Rob lost his footing on the slippery rock,” Angela explained. “He slid 60 feet into a pile of boulders and was knocked unconscious.”
She knew right away his injuries were serious.
“He was unconscious, there was some blood and I knew he hit his head,” she said. “My main concern was having to move him to get an airway; he was groaning but not coming to.”
Getting help was her top priority. She found his cellphone in his pocket, but it was badly damaged.
“Time was of the essence. I knew I couldn’t get him off the mountain myself and had to leave him there to go get help,” she said.
“I wasn’t at all sure if it was the right decision – I wasn’t sure about spine or brain injury – but I needed to get help.”
Leaving Rob’s dog Reef, a Karelian Bear Dog/Border Collie, behind with him, Angela and Calvert, her young Border Collie, ran back to the bottom of the trail and called 9-1-1 with her cell phone.
“They had no clue where we were and kept asking for a street address where we were, and I got pretty frustrated.”
Angela hung up and started calling friends who could hike and had some medical background.
“I waved down some vehicles and sent them to find Steve [Hodgson] from BCVSAR. His wife Caitlin Thompson arrived and let me know that Steve was getting the SAR team together,” she added. “It started with six people and grew from there.”
BCVSAR and others met at the community parks office, then met Angela at the trail head.
“I was pretty anxious to get back to Rob but had to stay down on the road to direct them,” she said. “People were so good waiting with me, helping me stay calm and assuring me I had done the right thing.”
When SAR got to the trailhead, Angela took them to where Rob had fallen.
“When we got there one of our good friends was lying beside him, along with our dog, keeping him warm,” she said. “Steve Hodgson identified the environment around Rob and was sure they could make a pad for the helicopter to land.”
The team did some clearing with chainsaws, stacked some granite boulders and used a couple of trees, supported by the boulders, and made a skid for the helicopter. They put Rob on a spine board and loaded him on the chopper.
Fortunately, there were wildfire helicopters in the valley, and it took only about three hours to get him out, and fly him to the hospital in Bella Coola overnight, and then to Vancouver the next day.
“We really want to thank Steve and the search and rescue team, who did such an amazing job,” she said. “There aren’t thanks enough.”
Hodgson, who is the president of Bella Coola Valley Search and Rescue and also serves as a conservation officer and BC Parks officer, said he’s proud of how well everyone worked together to help Rob.
“The rescue went extremely well in challenging terrain. I’d like to thank the dedicated members of the BCVSAR team and the local people who assisted.”
Rob, who is at home recovering, suffered head, shoulder and hips injuries in the accident. He received a concussion and still suffers from a swollen ear drum and brain bleeding which is likely behind the cause of continued hearing loss in his right ear. He also suffered a broken scapula and iliac crest but is expected to fully recover in two months.
“The doctors are pretty happy because I am walking. There’s a lot of good news there,” Rob said.
Rob recalls briefly coming to while on the hill, and seeing a few faces during the rescue but that’s it.
He knows, however, that his rescuers, including his partner Angela, are true lifesavers.
“All the response was spot on. For Angela to make that tough call and for everyone to get there so quick, I was pretty fortunate.”
Both Rob and Angela are both very active in the outdoors and plan to continue that lifestyle.
Rob is a seasonal worker in the valley, but feels a deep connection with the area and the people.
“I shared my blood with it,” he said, laughing, adding he hopes to thank everyone who helped him both through the Coast Mountain News newspaper and also in person.
“I just really want to say thank you to everybody that helped out that day,” he said. “They really helped me out of a jam.”
The couple said they won’t let this mishap stop them from enjoying the outdoors with their two “fur babies.”
“This won’t stop us from another climb,” Angela said. “We’re looking forward to getting back out there.”