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Investigators puzzled by hiker who plunged to death at Stawamus Chief

Views from Stawamus Chief, overlooking Squamish, attract thousands of climbers and hikers every year.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Police say an apparent accident in which a woman fell to her death while horrified mountaineers looked on shouldn't deter people from visiting the popular Stawamus Chief, a granite monolith that looms over Squamish.

"We don't want people not to come, thinking it's a dangerous area," RCMP Sergeant Wayne Pride of the Squamish detachment said Tuesday. "I haven't had one of these [incidents] since I've been here and it's two years.

"Search and Rescue and the other officers say it is few and far between when you get this kind of fatality," he said, noting that the tourist site 60 kilometres north of Vancouver attracts thousands of climbers and hikers annually.

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Almost all of them make the journey to the top and back safely, either by hiking a steep path that zigzags up the backside of the 700-metre-high mountain, or by scaling the challenging cliffs looming over the Sea-to-Sky Highway, where generations of mountaineers have established climbing routes.

But on Sunday – on a day when Squamish Search and Rescue held a safety blitz on the mountain and spoke to more than 500 hikers about safety on the trail – the woman plunged to her death from somewhere near the summit of the Chief Trail. The woman's identity has yet to be confirmed by police.

"I was at the top of split pillar when it happened, and was about the worst thing I could imagine seeing," a climber identified as 'underworld' posted on the Cascade Climbers website.

"We spoke to the first rescuers on the scene … and we directed them to where she fell. We didn't see specifically where she came from," the climber wrote.

Sgt. Pride said a number of people saw the woman falling and called police on their cellphones.

But he said none of the witnesses noticed the woman until she was actually in mid-air, which gives investigators the difficult task of trying to find the exact point from which she fell.

He said it appears she was a hiker, not a mountain climber, but the area directly above where her body was found is not on the main hiking trail, indicating she was off the well-marked path.

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"Everything I've seen to this stage looks to be that she was a hiker," Sgt. Pride said. "Nowhere on her person, where she landed or on the possible path, was there any climbing equipment or indicators that she was climbing."

"Many are asking do we know the exact spot she fell from? We can't say with 100 per cent here because there are no scuff marks, [or] clothing [left] at a point," said Sgt. Pride.

He added that police are trying to trace the deceased woman's route to see if there are any unmarked trails that led her the wrong way.

In a statement Tuesday, the B.C. Ministry of Environment described the incident as "a very sad story."

The government said BC Parks tries to ensure visitor safety by providing "well established trails" for hikers to follow, but the Chief Trail "is a steep and difficult climb" that requires hikers to be in good shape and properly equipped with sturdy footwear, food and water.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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