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Hiker was suffering 'severe effects' after eating wild mushrooms on B.C. trail, rescuers say

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A backcountry hike ended with a helicopter airlift for two hikers on the Sunshine Coast over the weekend, after they ate wild mushrooms they had found, and one of them got sick.

Two different search and rescue crews participated in the operation to extricate the man and woman, which took place on Sunday morning at a section of the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail.

Powell River Search and Rescue team leader and search manager Chad Honey told CTV News they received a call from Emergency Health Services just before 1 a.m., about a person in medical distress experiencing a “lower level of consciousness,” as well as some gastrointestinal symptoms.

“I would say they were lucky to be in an area where they could call out,” Honey said. “A lot of areas of that trail have no cell reception. Powell River does have a lot of hills and valleys, so you can be in a dead zone very easily.”

Honey said the terrain on that section of the trail is thick brush, with bluffs and hills. The SAR team mustered and drove to a trail access point, where two crews made their way to the Walt Hill cabin to meet the hikers.

“It’s still a 45-minute to an hour drive to the closest trail access, and then it’s still another hour hike in to that location,” he said. “You’re looking at at least a two-hour response time just to get to that cabin.”

Honey said when crew members reached the pair, one appeared to be OKO while the other was “having some severe effects.”

“We had the help of poison control and a toxicologist on the phone, because we did have cellphone reception up there,” Honey said. “They were very helpful. We did have a bit of a description of the mushroom that was ingested, which wasn’t confirmed, but it still puts it in a highly suspect kind of category.”

Honey said the hikers had picked the mushrooms on the way up to the cabin to eat with their dinner, and described them as bright red with white spots. The exact type is still unknown.

The pair were later airlifted out of the area with the help of North Shore Rescue. A helicopter brought the hikers to the local airport, where they were transported by ambulance to hospital in stable condition.

‘WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT’

Chef Robin Kort with Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures has been foraging wild mushrooms for more than a decade, and teaches others how to do so as well.

“You want to approach mushroom foraging slowly,” Kort said “I usually teach people to get to know a mushroom for a year before you decide to consume it. See it in its different stages of growth, get to know the habitat that it’s in.”

Kort said while the dry weather so far this fall has delayed the usual wild mushroom growth, when the rain returns they will spring up again, and those planning to forage should make sure they do research and get informed.

“As someone who is learning to forage, you want to start with basic ones that don’t have poisonous lookalikes, and move along,” she said.

“Number one is when in doubt, throw it out. If you don’t know what it is, just don’t eat it.”

Kort said a good rule of thumb when picking a mushroom to consume is to save one in the fridge as a sample for identifying purposes if necessary.

“I don’t like to make people too ‘fungi-phobic.’ It’s fine to pick mushrooms up, handle them, even if they’re poisonous mushrooms, but it’s about ingestion,” she said, and added there are very few “deadly poisonous” mushrooms. “If you choose to make that step from just looking at it to eating it, you just have to know what it is.”

Honey said the stalks of the mushrooms were sent in for lab-testing.

“Kind of being an amateur forager myself, I would recommend that you don’t ingest anything you’re not 100 per cent sure on,” he said. “They can have some serious side effects.”

He also advises people to have some means of calling for help if needed when going for a hike. Other than a cell phone, that could include a personal locator beacon, emergency beacon, or satellite phone. He also recommended having a contact who knows your itinerary and when you’re expected back, in case something goes wrong.

Honey added the hikers in this case were prepared.

“They were experienced, they did everything right,” he said. “Apart from just the one mistake of misidentifying some mushrooms.”

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