Dish soap and brute strength: Crews rescue Squamish climber with knee wedged in cliff face

A rock climber has been released from hospital after a terrifying ordeal on the face of Squamish’s Stawamus Chief on Friday.

According to Squamish Search-and-Rescue, the woman fell while climbing a route known as The Apron, and got her knee caught in a large crack — kicking off a five-hour rescue operation.

“We were able to move a rope team in via helicopter and rappel down to her and with some dish soap and a lot of work we were able to free her leg,” said search manager BJ Chute.

“It’s a first for us in a long time. It is an unusual thing.”

Crews were alerted to the fall around 10:30 a.m. Friday morning, and it wasn’t until around 3 p.m. that the woman was handed off to waiting paramedics.

“There’s always a risk of getting things stuck, and she was very, very stuck,” added search manager Tyler Duncan.

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“(It took) just brute strength and force and her grinning and bearing it and we were able to get her out.”

Already an incredibly complex and technical rescue operation, crews were faced with an additional challenge: fatigue.

This was the fourth call out for the Squamish team in 24 hours. On Thursday, the crew was deployed to rescue a group of lost hikers, the occupants of a vehicle that went into the Squamish River, and a group who had become trapped on an island.

“Our team has gone from being not busy to being extremely busy,” said Chute.

“It is unusual historically for us to do this many calls mid-week.”

BC Search and Rescue Association manager Dwight Yochim said the Squamish team is not alone in dealing with a surge in call outs as the province lifts its COVID-19 lockdown.

Yochim told Global News that search and rescue calls across the province fell by about 50 per cent during the early weeks of the pandemic, but have now returned to seasonal averages.

That has him concerned for the safety of rescue volunteers, who need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for many rescues, particularly those involving injuries where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Yochim said PPE caches have been distributed around the province for SAR teams, but that some crews have already had to resupply.

He’s appealing for people heading into the backcountry to ensure they are well prepared, and where possible, not to put themselves in dangerous situations.

“Stay on safer trails, stay closer to the towns, to your community,” said Yochim.

“Anything you can do to avoid risk, at this time, and probably through the summer, we really need the public to take that extra caution.”

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