A Ross River woman who went missing last week is lucky to be alive after spending two nights alone, without shoes or a coat, in the bush.
Thirty-two-year-old Rose Caesar was reported missing on Oct. 30.
She was last spotted by a road crew as she travelled south on the Robert Campbell Highway towards Watson Lake, riding a blue all-terrain vehicle.
Police officers and Ross River residents initiated a search for Caesar on Friday evening, while more than 20 Yukon Search and Rescue members joined the effort on the following day.
YSAR President Cam Beemer said wet snow and freezing conditions made it hard to look for Caesar.
It took one team of volunteers about seven hours to drive a mobile command trailer from Whitehorse to the area near kilometre 336 of the highway on Saturday morning, he said.
Beemer and another group flew up to Ross River on the RCMP’s Pilatus PC-12 plane and arrived in the early afternoon.
That evening, reports came in that Caesar’s ATV had been found not far away.
“The searchers were quite a bit wet by the time they got back to the command post around 2 a.m.,” he said.
“The snow was coming down pretty hard and it chilled down that night after 3 a.m.”
The searchers were also distracted by light from their headlamps bouncing off snowflakes, he added, which led to mental exhaustion.
Some people stayed on site in tents while others went back to Ross River to dry off.
The next morning, Caesar was found walking along the highway, heading back towards Ross River.
Temperatures dipped to -24 Celsius over the weekend in the area. Caesar was wearing a sweatshirt and had no gloves, Beemer said. She’d lost her shoes.
“She was smart to pull her leggings over her feet and tie them in a knot,” he added.
Beemer said Caesar didn’t have much to say when she was found.
“She was pretty quiet – I don’t even know if she remembered what had happened,” he said.
“But the important thing for us is to get her stabilized and ready for the chopper. It’s really amazing, she’s a tough person to be able to survive that night.
“On top of wet snow it was freezing and that’s a worst-case scenario.”
She was given hot tea and bannock, and basic first-aid to warm her up.
Volunteers used axes to clear an area big enough for the helicopter to land and medevac Caesar to the Whitehorse General Hospital, where she was treated for injuries sustained from cold exposure.
Flagging tape was also set up to help the pilot land and gauge wind direction, Beemer said.
“One other thing I’d like to mention is the sacrifice made by families of the searchers,” he said.
“There were YSAR members who were not able to take their kids trick-or-treating, for example. Families are left behind to pick up the slack.”
Tim Colwell is one of the community members who assisted with the search. He also helped out by bringing food to volunteers along the highway.
He said the vastness of the search area was another challenge for rescuers.
“YSAR started from the point where the ATV was found and combed between 50 and 100 yards down both sides of the highway towards Watson Lake,” he said.
“We were also searching the First Nation cabins in the area because there are a lot of them, and we thought she might have gone into one to warm up.”
Colwell said the community was still reeling from the loss of a young man and didn’t want to lose another member.
People helped out by dropping off food at the Ross River Hope Centre, searching for Caesar in the own vehicles and helping out-of-town volunteers.
“We were all out in force – it was really nice to see the community band together,” he said.
Contact Myles Dolphin at