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Halifax woman shares hiking preparedness tips after being rescued from woods
Cecilia Khamete's friend Nenyo poses with volunteers from Halifax Search and Rescue after being lost in the Blue Mountain trail woods for more than six hours. (Photo: Cecilia Khamete)
HALIFAX -- A Halifax woman who was lost in the woods for more than six hours last weekend is telling her story in hopes that others will be more prepared when they go out for a hike.
On Sunday, Cecilia Khamete and her friend Nenyo decided to go for a hike on the Blue Mountain hiking trail near Halifax.
“We are in each other’s social isolation bubble and hang out on Sundays,” says Khamete. “We really wanted to get out in nature and explore a little bit, so we decided to go hiking. We were looking at the Salt Water Marsh Trail, but saw Blue Mountain was closer.”
Khamete and Nenyo both had some experience hiking, and did some quick research on the Blue Mountain trail before heading out.
“We thought we’d hike for about two hours. If we had looked a little harder, we would have known that the conditions on the ground there weren’t ideal,” she says.
Khamete says they were dressed warmly and wearing hiking shoes, had snacks and water, and fully-charged phones. But it was a place they had never been before, and the terrain quickly surprised them.
“It was a warm day, but it is still spring, and there was dense vegetation and lots of water collected in the soil that was still thawing out,” says Khamete. “It was very wet, very muddy, and we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with no exit. The patches of ground were so wet and we were sinking into the water, up to our knees.”
The women entered the trail through the Lakeshore Drive entrance, which is a small, narrow entry that can’t support vehicles. Khamete says the trail is intended for advanced hikers, and there was no visible signage around them.
“My Google maps kept saying we were close to the entrance, but it didn’t make sense,” says Khamete. “In my mind, I thought, we’ll find our way out, let’s walk for another 30 minutes."
Khamete says, at that point her hip began to hurt and her friend was getting upset and wanted to call for help.
“At first we called 311, not 911,” says Khamete. “They were very nice, they spoke to us and calmed us down a bit, but they directed us to 911, who we should have called right away.”
They called 911 at around 1 p.m. An RCMP officer tried to help them use an app to share their coordinates, but there were communication issues, and the women kept walking to what they thought would be a more identifiable area.
“We found ourselves on an ATV trail, and we thought if we just follow that, it would somehow get us out, but we kept going farther and deeper into the wilderness, and I think we actually ended up on Nova Scotia Power land."
The officer tried to help them for more than two hours, before eventually calling Halifax Search and Rescue.
“We started talking to Blair from Search and Rescue. He assessed condition through the phone, my hip hurt, my friend was completely wet and upset, and he asked what we needed when they would get to us. He kept calling every 30 minutes and giving us progress on where the teams were, which gave us a lot of reassurance that help was on the way."
Search and Rescue received the call at 3:45 p.m. Nineteen members of HSAR’s Remote Rescue team responded to the area with two all-terrain vehicles and an Argo amphibious vehicle, as well as three teams searching on foot.
“They arrived first on foot, and we are both nearsighted, so it just looked like orange blobs moving towards us, we were so excited. When the ATVs got to us they said the route they used to get to us was so incredibly difficult terrain and wet, that they couldn’t get us out."
Search and Rescue describe the conditions as "significantly challenging" and determined the best course of action was to call a helicopter to get the lost women out of the woods.
Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry dispatched a helicopter to the scene. The helicopter had trouble finding a landing spot, which forced the women to walk through more wet terrain, but this time they had the help of Search and Rescue.
By 7 p.m., they were out of the woods and back to Khamete’s car, on Lakeshore Drive, nearly six hours after first calling for help.
“I am so grateful to the search and rescue team, the RCMP and the Department of Lands and Forestry,” says Khamete. “I was in awe of how they worked so seamlessly together. They were so polite, so professional, they even offered to make us soup as we waited for the helicopter. It’s so great to know that people do that on a volunteer basis. Because of my terrible experience, I couldn’t volunteer to do that type of work, but I’m so grateful that people do dedicate their time to do that volunteer work.”
Khamete posted her story to Twitter that night, and says she’s been overwhelmed with the response.
“I posted to Twitter when I got home, just saying thank you, and I just went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, that was the most notifications I’ve ever gotten on Twitter. I was surprised how much that resonated with a lot of people who are so interested in a story like this."
Khamete also wants to share some important advice to amateur hikers who are thinking of heading out in the Canadian wilderness.
“I have a friend who is a huge hiking enthusiast who I have hiked with before,” says Khamete. “I used to think she was over prepared, but now I realize that it isn’t possible to over prepare for a hike."
Cecilia's hiking preparedness tips:
- Proper footwear: “We had proper hiking shoes, but not for these kind of wet and muddy conditions; we were sinking to our knees and even our waist.”
- Extra supplies: “You should carry way more snacks and water than you think you’ll need, because it’s way better to bring extra snacks home than to get lost and be waiting for hours and getting hungry. Also, bring a basic first aid kit and pain medication, because even tiny injuries can really slow you down.”
- Paper map: “Get a paper map. HalifaxTrails.ca gives you access to a bunch of maps of trails, print one out because if your phone dies you have a backup.”
- Fully charged/multiple phones: “Having multiple phones is really recommended. Even if you want to get off the grid, you should always bring your phone in case things go wrong. We started using my friend's phone first because hers had lower battery, and when it was at about 10 per cent, we told the RCMP we were switching phones because hers was dying and mine was at 80 per cent. Your phones should be fully charged, and if you have a charger bank, that is great.”
- Call 911: “Call 911 the minute you realize you are lost. If you’re an adult, and it’s daylight, you may think you can find your way out, but it truly is an emergency and you should call 911.”
- Stay put: “If you do call for help, and you share your coordinates, don’t be tempted to move. Based on how far we had gone, it was going to take hours to get to us, no matter how fast the search and rescue team moved. If you have to wait hours, you may be tempted to move, but that’s a terrible idea, if they have your coordinates just wait.”
Khamete says she does plan on hiking again, and using some suggestions that search and rescue volunteers provided of simpler, dryer trails.
“It was a hike that I’ll never forget. I don’t intend to get lost again because now I know how to hike better.”
However, she admits she may be hiking alone next time, as her friend Nenyo is still not sure she will want to go hiking with her isolation buddy anytime soon.