To the editor
I’m writing in response to the recent article and comments about safety at E.C. Manning Park, shortly after two men recently lost their lives there, including my son Jordan.
With so many risks and hazards along the hiking trails, I believe that a stronger safety culture is needed at the park.
I have personal experience of hiking and snowshoeing about 1,600 km from over 80 hikes through Manning Park, both on-trail and off-trail, from February to July this year, while searching for my missing son Jordan, along with many experienced volunteers.
There are dozens of publicized hiking trails at Manning Park. Other than the trail-heads, however, there are generally very few or no signs along trails to point hikers in the right direction. Only a few exist at junctions crossing multiple trails. Some distance markers on a couple of trails are hardly visible and often dislodged from a tree. Flagging tape on trees is confusing and not well explained (might be a trail, or close to a trail, or search and rescue, or something else).
Some observers might say that signs on trails aren’t needed since the trail path on the ground is obvious. However, unexpected snow conditions, or overnight snow while camping at a higher elevation, can quickly cover tracks to lose a trail. Also, the park has many false and spur trails off the main trails that can deceive and endanger hikers. Several posted trails on maps are not maintained or no longer exist.
For example, tree blowdown is not cleared sometimes for years, leaving up to three or more layers of accumulated blowdown, such as the East Similkameen and Boyd’s Meadows trails, among others. Broken tree branches that cover a spur trail, while perhaps intending to block the path, can be misleading because there is also similar blowdown on the actual trail that is not cleared away.
If a hiker accidentally loses the trail, the terrain can quickly become treacherous and unforgiving. There are no cameras along trails, parking lots, or highways at the resort, to my knowledge, to help find someone who may have gone missing.
The security camera in the store doesn’t work or at least wasn’t working when it was needed for Jordan. I was told that a fake camera was placed there “just for show.” I was unable to find any documentation to inform hikers of the lack of cell phone signal on most trails, or a sporadic signal depending on location or cell phone carrier. A cell tower exists at Manning Park, but without nearby double tower coverage, a signal is not properly triangulated if/when a person’s location needs to be found.
Published weather reports at the resort indicate the weather at a low elevation (at a parking lot), but do not accurately reflect the risks of possible severe weather changes such as snow at higher elevations on the trail. Hikers prepared for the reported low elevation weather can find drastically different conditions once they reach a higher elevation and open sub-alpine areas of the trail.
When backcountry camping passes are filed by hikers to notify the park of their hiking plan and campsite, there isn’t follow-up to confirm whether those hikers have actually returned back or not, or at least there wasn’t for Jordan. For the safety of all concerned, a basic check can be done at the parking lot with corresponding passes that were filled on the previous day.
Although two deaths have been recently reported, what isn’t reported is how many people have been lost in the park, and the horror of their experiences, before their good fortune of luckily finding their way out. Getting lost in Manning Park happens to even the best and most experienced hikers. I hiked with an expert hiker, with over 30 years of mountaineering experience, who got lost on the Frosty Mountain Trail due to snow cover and lack of signage.
Staff members at the front desk are friendly and hard-working, but unfortunately, from my experience, few have actually hiked the difficult trails or have the knowledge to be able to advise guests on safety issues such as the risk areas of going off-trail. On the map given at the front desk, it’s noteworthy that a brief statement about “personal responsibility for their own personal safety” has a very small font size, much smaller than “SUMMER INFORMATION,” and barely readable.
I think that safety should be a “shared responsibility,” including both the hiker and the park. It is not reasonable, in my opinion, for the park to entirely absolve itself of any responsibility for the safety of its guests. There are signs of EC Manning Park along the highway from Vancouver that mention “family-friendly” and “where the adventure begins.”
Unless a stronger culture of safety is adopted, I can’t see how these slogans accurately reflect the true situation. Safety should be priority number one at Manning Park. I hope that more and better safety measures, such as those that I mentioned above, among others, and a stronger safety culture, can be adopted at Manning Park, so that no other family has to endure the painful hardship of losing a loved one in the park.
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