The Vanishing Hikers

by Graham Conway


In January 1976, I think it was the 2nd, I had three taken three of my children, each with a friend, on a short holiday to a Youth Hostel, located in a fairly remote valley near a town called Chilliwack, in British Columbia.

Our purpose in going was to engage in some cross country skiing. The valley is very much a one way street, in so far it has a dead end so to speak. Steep mountains, thick forest on the slopes, and snow capping the summits. The end of this particular valley is a lake, then the border, although no official crossing exists. Our intention was to use the seldom travelled logging roads on the valley floor for fun skiing, as none of us were experts.

The day we arrived it snowed all night, depositing about six inches of powder snow. After breakfast we equipped ourselves ready to go. Knowing the teenagers wouldn't appreciate an "old" fuddy duddy parent along, I read the riot act on safety first and staying together, then I took off in the opposite direction.

My objective was Chilliwack Lake, about 1 1/2 miles from the hostel. As I headed south east, I found the temperature was rising and the snow was becoming wet and impeding my progress. On arriving at the lake I had a short rest, enjoyed the spectacular scenery, then looking at my watch realized that I was not going to be back at the hostel by the noon deadline. I decided that I would make faster time on the return journey if I carried my skis and walked back.

Shouldering my equipment I began the return journey using the same route. Coming down a short steep hill from the lake I rounded a bend and had an uninterrupted 1/4 mile view of the logging road ahead of me. Approaching in the distance, to my right were two youngsters who appeared to be skiing. Gazing at them I concluded that it was eldest daughter who quickly becomes worried if things don't go according to plan. My assumption was that she had become concerned about my non scheduled arrival, consequently persuading her friend to accompany her on a search for me. They appeared to be engaged in conversation, as they approached in the distance.

A few minutes later the road dipped slightly and I lost them from my field of vision. Regaining my previous viewing level I was in time to see the two teenagers begin to cross the road to my side, so that we were now facing and approaching each other. By this time we were of course closer and I had revised my assessment. Although still unable to clearly identify the couple I now felt sure it was youngest son and his friend, but I had decided they were not skiing, but were walking and still engaged in earnest conversation. Before they had come close enough to enable positive identification the two figures left the road, which was raised, crossed a shallow fire break ditch, and entered the young forest that bordered the road. At this point I assumed they had answered a call of nature.

Continuing my steady walk along the deserted road I was rather surprised when they did not emerge from the trees again. Having mentally marked the spot where they left the road I knew that no path existed at that location. The only entrance that existed in fact was a driveway to a cottage situated a short distance from where I turned off this particular road to go to the Youth Hostel. Any attempt to walk through such bush in summer is difficult, even when you can see the obstacles. In winter when the snow covers branches, roads and holes, its a formidable and quickly exhausting task. Only a fool or a desperate man would undertake such a useless trip. The only place to go was the river and crossing that would also be a major undertaking.

In a short period of time I reached the place I had mentally noted and then I began to casually look for the footprints in the snow that bordered the forest. Continuing my pace I was surprised to find my judgment had been greatly in error, no sign of entry appeared. My amazement increased as my progress brought me to the driveway of the cottage that I knew existed. Arriving at that spot I was dumbfounded to find an unbroken snow surface. Slowing my pace, I carefully continued to my turn off. Still nothing.

By now unable to understand how I could have possibly missed them I turned round and slowly and carefully retraced my steps. Deer and rabbit tracks were all I found. Nothing else left the road edge that I had walked. Then I had a brilliant idea. Crossing the road to the opposite side I traced the route that I had walked to the lake that morning. Now I found without difficulty my earlier traces, snowmobile tracks, and THAT'S ALL I FOUND! Not one single solitary footprint, and only my own ski's.

I returned to the hostel in a daze. Finding my brood of youngsters all present and correct, I explained my late arrival, ate my lunch and said nothing to them about my experience, other than to ask if anyone had been concerned enough to go out to search for me that morning. The answer was as I expected, NO.

Unable to believe my eyes or senses I returned that afternoon to the scene and again retraced the route. NOTHING.

After a good nights sleep I repeated the exercise in futility. Still the same results.

Now I may have imagined all this. I had not been drinking. Weather conditions were close to ideal for long distance viewing. The "people" appeared to be solid. I am convinced it was a "real" experience, if for no other reason, than I had the two figures in view for a period of at least ten minutes.

This story has, I think, a rather intriguing parallel.

As a footnote . . . . .

I have told this story a number of times. On one occasion a listener said, . . . . "How do you know they were engaged in conversation?" . . . . . "Because I could not see their faces, heads being down I presumed."

"Perhaps they were wearing opaque helmets", he replied.

"How did you know they were skiing, did you see the ski's or poles?" . . . . . "No, I saw no signs of equipment. My belief was based upon the arm and leg motion."

"Possibly, they were actually floating above the ground and moving in acrobatic manner?" . . . was his suggestion.

A very reasonable explanation I think.