Murray Naswell, 50, began his hike in Strathcona Provincial Park in fair weather on Wednesday, but the weather — along with his fortunes — took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Naswell was found alive and well midday Monday, after a massive search and rescue effort involving about 120 people from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.
After a harrowing few nights in the cold on a cliff’s edge, the Courtenay man managed to find a stranger’s well-stocked cabin on a lake, where he was eventually found.
“The cabin saved my life. If it wasn’t for the cabin I’d be dead,” Naswell said a few hours after his rescue.
Naswell wasn’t planning for a strenuous hike — he said an 11- or 12-year-old could have made it up Mount Albert Edward, about 30 km west of Courtenay as the crow flies. But he said he started a little later in the day than he should have, and didn’t pay close enough attention to the weather forecast.
On his way down the mountain, Naswell began to feel lousy.
‘The fog started coming in’
“I started coming down a little quick … I started kind of getting — my head was kind of like, “Oooooh,” and my gut was like — I was getting the bends,” he said, referring to the experience of divers who surface too quickly.
So in his light day-hiking clothes, packing just enough water and energy bars for the day trip, he slowed his descent.
That’s when the fog rolled in.
“Once the fog started coming in, you couldn’t see nothing,” said Naswell, who followed the wrong ridge and soon found himself up against a cliff’s edge.
“I ran out of food,” he said. “When I stopped on the cliff, I had my last meal.”
For water, Naswell took sips off of leaves that had gathered mist drops.
‘Nobody was coming’
The hiker assumed the fog would clear and search crews would come for him, but neither happened.
At one point Naswell said a lightning storm sent a bolt to the ground just 15 metres away.
“I sat there for three days and nobody was coming so I had to make another plan,” he said.
The new plan involved scaling cliff sides and sliding down steep river beds for hundreds of metres until he saw cabins in the distance across Moat Lake.
“The last thing I did was I jumped off a 20-foot ledge into the water and I swam about half a mile to the cabin,” said Naswell.
In the cabin, the 50-year-old got out of his wet clothes and piled under several blankets. He said he shivered there for about an hour before he got his core temperature up.
‘I’m not dead’
He found the cabin stocked with a first aid kit for his battered legs, and enough fuel, coffee, and canned food for a few days. The first thing he ate was chicken noodle soup.
“I was saved,” he said. “It was like, ‘I’m not dead.'”
Paul Berry, search manager with Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, said Naswell knew the area well, but he was supposed to be home by Friday. When they found him on Monday, Berry said he was in pretty good shape.
“He had a big fire going and had cooked himself some — I think he said some Kraft Dinner — so he was warm and fed and in some dry clothes,” said Berry.
Naswell was relieved and extremely grateful to be found. He was especially thankful for the owners of the cabin.
“I left a detailed message of what I took,” he said. “I’d love to go back up there and put a few things back that aren’t in place.”