Callum Montague will hunt again – just not this year.
The 18-year-old and his friend Kean Peterson, 19, are basking in the love of their families and friends, thankful to have survived a misadventure on the mountain.
In the afternoon of Nov. 3, the two young men headed up Perry River Road near Malakwa in Peterson’s truck, embarking on an afternoon of fishing and hunting. At 38 kilometres, Peterson successfully navigated his truck through a washout. Their luck changed six kilometres later.
“There was a landslide, but still a trail and we got about halfway through,” says Montague, noting the pair then walked two kilometres along the road to see if it was passable and if there was a good place to spend the night in case they were stuck.
“We got back to the truck, went over the top of the rock and as we went… the road gave way on the other side.”
Montague says the only thing holding the truck from a steep, 200-plus straight-down, gravel slide into a raging river was the rear trailer hitch.
“It was scary; if we had gone over, we wouldn’t have survived it,” says Montague, noting the time as 4:30 or 5 p.m.
The men secured the truck as well as they could and, gathering their survival packs and guns, hiked back to the cave they had spotted earlier.
“We were really lucky, as pack rats had been living there and there was lots of dried brush,” Montague says. “We lit a fire, laid a tarp out and our emergency foil blankets, candles and glow sticks and went out in the rain in search of dry firewood.
That was at 8 p.m. By 10, they were dried out, warm and hungry.
“We didn’t want to cook because it’s grizzly country,” he said, noting they were out of cell phone range and efforts to communicate with a hand-held radio were fruitless. “We knew Kean’s mom would start calling by 10.”
By 10:30 the men realized they would not have enough firewood to last the night and, venturing back out of the cave, discovered it was snowing. Thus began a night of planning what to do to extricate themselves from their predicament and fitful sleep in 10-minute increments.
Instead of keeping him warm, moisture condensed on the foil of Peterson’s blanket.
“Kean woke me up and said ‘get the hell out of that blanket,’” says Montague, who positioned himself by the fire. “I was steaming, pretty close to being hypothermic.”
The men stoked the fire with all the fuel they had left, hoping it would last the night – it went out at 4:30 a.m.
“We got the fire going again around 6 and dried out,” Montague says. “We were joking if we couldn’t get the truck off the road by 9 a.m. we would have to start walking the 44 kilometres back down the road.”
By 7, the pair were packed up and heading down the road, wondering if the truck would still be there. Relieved to see it still hung up on the rock, Peterson and Montague began the task of building enough of a road to get themselves out.
“We jacked the sides and the axle up and propped rocks and sand under the back wheel,” he says, noting they took the jack apart and used part of it as an axe to remove pieces of a large stump. When the men thought they had created enough of a road, the next question was which way to go.
“Do we go backward or forwards, knowing back is good once we get over the hump,” Montague said, but the choice was made for them as they discovered a slide overnight had wiped out the road ahead.
“We backed the truck over the top, making several attempts, slipping and sliding,” he says. “It was a big relief when we got over the top of the boulder. We probably had to back up over another 200 feet of boulders to a point where we could turn.”
Montague says the men experienced a massive sense of relief knowing they would not be spending another night on the mountain.
Back down in cell service, the men’s phones called their attention to many messages and missed calls.
Montague says he spent 10 minutes on the phone with his mom Gaynor, simply reassuring her he was all right before alerting the RCMP they were safe.
Gaynor and her husband, Ian, put hundreds of kilometres on their car, during a night of frantically trying to find their son.
“I was getting sick, feeling just so emotional, crying and, it’s really hard to describe – we honestly thought they were dead,” says Gaynor.
The next afternoon, Ian was talking to the police on his phone when hers started ringing.
“When I saw it was his number, I just kept saying ‘it can’t be, it can’t be him,’ and then ‘thank God you’re alive,’” she says, her voice thick with emotion.
While Gaynor says the men are “good kids,” she believes they do have to think a bit before heading out.
“They went off later in the day and they need to tell more people exactly where they are going to be – and maybe buy a satellite phone,” she said. “Or maybe that will be his Christmas present.”
Montague, meanwhile, says that upon seeing their pictures, the RCMP officer in Sicamous told them they were lucky to have made it out alive and pleased they had the sense to pack survival kits. And that is what Montague would like others to take from the misadventure – the old Scouts motto – “Be prepared.”
“The biggest thing I want for people to realize is how important the survival packs are – be prepared for the worst but hope for the best,” he says. “I’m just glad we were both prepared for the worst.”