‘No one gets left behind,’ SAR says as B.C. woman claims she was left by hiking group

A woman from Vancouver claims she was left in a dangerous situation, alone on the trail, high up Mount Baker because she couldn’t keep up with an online hiking group — and search and rescue groups say this isn’t the first time a situation like this has played out.

Jade Santucci admits she’s not an elite hiker and she should have done more research on the route, but the online social group had indicated the hike was intermediate level, so she thought she’d give it a shot, carpooling with others to Mount Baker in Washington last weekend.

“What I should have done, in hindsight, is I should have had a conversation with the organizer before leaving and maybe asked more questions and maybe got a better idea of exactly how long the hike was going to take and what we’d be doing. I just kind of went for it and put my faith in the organizer,” she tells CityNews.

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The group left the trailhead and Santucci says she was fine at first, but started to fall behind after lunch and claims that no one stayed back to make sure she was okay.

That’s when she says she “hit a wall” and noticed she was starting to lose the group completely.

“There was no checking in with me. It was kind of like every man for themselves and was just not what I thought it would be.”

Eventually, Santucci says she reached the high alpine.

“By that time I’m so sore, I have three blisters and I thought my toenail was going to fall off. I was so tired and I had no one.”

That’s when she spotted the group descending from above, but decided she would try to push on and see the glacier.

“As the group’s coming down, I’m climbing up, and you’d think the organizer would say ‘Jade, don’t bother, just come with us.’ She didn’t. She didn’t say boo and the group just kept going down the mountain.”

Santucci admits she should have turned back at that point because once she got up to the glacier, she started to panic.

“It hit me, I shouldn’t have done this,” she says. “I lost my bearing while taking pictures. Thank god I saw this couple and their dog and they helped me get back to the trail. I was crying, I had a full blown panic attack, and I’m like ‘they left me they left me!'”

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She says she eventually made it back down the trail and confronted the group.

“I talked to the organizer and said what she did was extremely dangerous. I didn’t get an apology, she justified it … she can’t keep track of everybody.”

Santucci says she was questioned about her experience and ability and felt even worse afterward.

No one should be left behind, search and rescue says

Ian MacDonald with Coquitlam Search and Rescue says scenarios like this are nothing new for SAR groups.

“I don’t know who first said it, but no man or woman gets left behind. If someone is a slow hiker, is having issues or is injured, you don’t leave them behind and continue on, hoping for the best for that person. You stay with them, and if that means calling off the hike, you call off the hike.”

MacDonald asserts the leader of any group hike needs to determine the abilities of everyone taking part before hitting the trail.

“If someone is clearly not going to be up to doing the hike in question, then you need to respectfully say they can’t go. But if a mistake is made and someone maybe misrepresents their level of fitness or experience … you can’t leave them behind. It’s not wilderness ethics.”

Jim Loree with North Shore Rescue agrees — regardless of the circumstances, no one should ever be left behind in the backcountry.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time we’ve seen that with these meet-up groups. It seems to be becoming a little bit more common,” he says. “With social media and things like that, there are quite a few groups and, surprisingly enough, we’ve had rescues as a result of this kind of thing.”

Both MacDonald and Loree urge anyone joining an online group for a hike to do their research before tackling a route to ensure they have the right levels of fitness and experience.

Hike organizer responds

Meanwhile, a woman claiming to be the organizer of the hike has approached CityNews offering per perspective on the outing, suggesting Santucci overstated her fitness and skill level, and that the group waited for her 45 minutes down from the turnaround point, performed first aid on her blisters, and then hiked together for the remaining two to three hours down the trail.

“While hiking towards the endpoint, we waited for everyone to catch up and, in fact, took multiple breaks. We also took multiple breaks coming back,” she writes in a Facebook post, responding to the story. “During the hike, I told the hiker that she could stop anytime she wanted and that she shouldn’t push herself. We would catch up to her when we came back.”

She says while she is sorry that the hiker feels the way she does, “I think it is important that everyone who goes hiking exercises good judgment and common sense.”

For her part, Santucci says she left the group and reported it to the social platform.

“I’ve never in my life felt like that before. It was like they were very elitist, some of these hiking groups — who’s fastest, who’s done the most hikes, they are all comparing stories about travelling the world and doing these crazy hikes. It was very much a lot of ego and that’s not why I hike.”

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