Cassie Gibbons and Damon Brodeur were prepared for a long trip — but they didn’t expect it to actually happen.
The couple, who live in Fairmont Hot Springs in southeast B.C., were coming back from a day trip to Fernie last Thursday when they got stuck in an alpine storm.
They weren’t found until a week later, when a RCMP plane spotted the word “HELP” scrawled in the snow next to Gibbons’ vehicle, which was frozen in a creek east of Wasa, B.C.
The days in between saw the pair — who only began dating two months ago — hunker down first in the car, and then in a remote cabin up the road where they were finally found.
But with lots of food and supplies, Gibbons and Brodeur say they were prepared enough that they never had doubt they would survive their ordeal.
“I wasn’t really worried,” Gibbons said. “I was a little nervous at the fact that nobody knew exactly where I was…. I knew it was just a matter of time.”
Nights spent in car
The couple had planned to camp the night at Lussier Hot Springs after stopping in Fernie for food and gas. Family and friends were aware of their plans.
According to RCMP, Gibbons’ family in Ontario knew she often slept in her car in the backcountry, which is why she wasn’t reported missing until Wednesday.
“My car is set up for me to live in it. I’ve been living in it for five months now,” Gibbons said.
“It really wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to be back there . It was just out of the ordinary for me to be back there in an alpine storm with not great tires.
“So it was just a little bit more than anticipated.”
After getting stuck, the couple spent three nights inside the vehicle, spending the days keeping themselves busy and doing what they could to make themselves visible.
“We made sure that there were smoke fires lit, usually on the hour, every hour,” Brodeur said. “The only thing we were missing was an emergency beacon, so we had to do everything else we could.”
Gibbons said the car horn eventually ran out of air after honking it every half hour. The pair also hung their fire blanket in a tree in the hopes someone would see it.
With roughly 10 litres of water and enough food for three or four days, the couple never feared they would starve or dehydrate. But it was definitely cold.
“The alpine storm dropped in temperature, I would say between minus 10 to minus 20 at nights,” Brodeur said. “We were prepared for it though, thank gosh.”
Shelter found before help arrives
After discovering a road leading to a cabin, the couple set off for a day hike to reach the shelter. Before leaving, they wrote “HELP” in the snow and drew an arrow pointing up the road.
“We only had one shot at that walk,” Gibbons said. “When you’re way out in the valley, everything’s bigger than you and it wants to eat you. So you’re just kind of trying to keep track of what’s going on.”
After making it to the cabin, the couple started a fire, wrote “HELP” in the snow, and waited for help to arrive.
The next day, they finally got the sight they had been waiting for: a RCMP plane, flying low overhead.
“ flew low enough to make sure that we knew he was coming, coming to save us, and made actual eye contact with us in a plane,” Brodeur said. “And then we knew that we were we were going to be all right.”
Twenty minutes later, helicopter blades could be heard approaching the cabin, and crews took the couple into the air and to a local hospital for precautionary treatment.
“Wish they’d been there when we were in the car,” Gibbons laughed. “We were pretty, pretty, pretty good in the cabin. But, yeah, chopper blades sounded pretty good.”
Both Gibbons and Brodeur say their ordeal is proof of how important it is to be prepared for any kind of camping or road trip, no matter how short.
“Now we just know simple day trips can lead into week-long trips,” Brodeur said. “As long as you have the right gear.”
They’re now focused on getting Gibbons’ car out of the creek and back onto the road for their next adventure.
“We’re going to be getting right back into it,” Brodeur said.
“I’ve got a camping trip planned for as soon as I’ve got the car,” Gibbons added.
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