John Huybers is out of intensive care and recovering well after a climbing accident at Fang Mountain nearly claimed his life on Saturday, according to friend and rescue team member Dave Read.
The veteran climber and outdoorsman was with three other climbers exploring the Fang Cave complex, in George Evanoff Provincial Park two hours drive east of Prince George. Huybers was about 10 m down a vertical shaft called “The Corkscrew” when a large section of rock collapsed, crushing him.
It took a heroic effort by 50 members of Prince George, Vanderhoof, and Quesnel Search and Rescue, B.C. Cave Rescue, the Prince George Alpine Club, and Canadian Forces 442 Squadron to get Huybers off the mountain alive, Read said.
“On Saturday night and Sunday morning he was in grave danger of not surviving,” Read said. “They kicked him out of the ICU (Wednesday). He is bright and cheerful and has a tremendous attitude. He’s more concerned about how his rescuers are doing, rather than his own injuries.”
Huybers suffered nine broken ribs, broken collarbone on both the right and left side, broken right shoulder and had one finger crushed.
“John is overwhelmed with his recognition for the individuals who took part in his rescue,” Read said.
Huybers, 46, is a professional forester and is a highly accomplished mountaineer, rock and ice climber, back-country hiker and skier, canoer and white-water rafter. Since moving to Prince George in 1996 with his wife, Catherine Whelen, he has served as chairman of the Prince George chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada; taught climbing and self-rescue courses; organized avalanche awareness programs; and volunteered with several recreational organizations.
“He’s done a lot to ensure he’s got the skills to be there,” Read said. “As a technical climber he is very accomplished.”
Prince George Search and Rescue president Ron Alton was with the first team of rescuers to reach Hubers on Saturday.
“It was a tremendous task, ” Alton said. “By the end, we had tapped all the resources and physical energy of those 50 (rescuers) it was grueling.”
Prince George Search and Rescue received the call shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday. Alton and four other members of the volunteer society who are also members of B.C. Cave Rescue, flew out to the scene by 5:30 p.m.
It took until 7:30 p.m. to reach Huybers through the rugged terrain, steep final ascent and challenging cave.
“He was in very poor condition, very shallow breathing,” Alton said. “A couple of his companions were able to get the rock off of him. I’m not sure how, the size of that rock was huge.”
Another team of climbers, including a member of B.C. Cave Rescue, were nearby and had come to assist Huybers’ companions.
“To have two parties in the same cave, let alone the same entrance, was an extraordinary piece of luck. We had eight people in that cave when it only sees 12-15 people a year,” he said.
After stabilizing Huybers, the rescue team began roping him out of the caves through a series of chambers and steep vertical ascents including a 30 m rise to the cave mouth from a large chamber called “The Coliseum.”
“It was midnight by the time we got him out of the cave,” he said.
The five-person team, along with other rescuers who arrived to assist, spent six hours roping Huybers down slopes, some near-vertical, in the dark.
“People were going hand-to-hand to move the stretcher along. It’s difficult terrain to get yourself through, especially in the dark,” Alton said.
Halfway down Fang Mountain the volunteers met with the search and rescue technicians from 442 Squadron who had parachuted in. With help, they were able to load him into a Canadian Forces Cormorant search and rescue helicopter.
“It was an amazing feat and incredible result.”