VANCOUVER -- A young woman from Toronto who was lost on a B.C. mountain overnight has died, according to police.

The 21-year-old, identified by friends as Nikki Donnelly, headed out on the Howe Sound Crest Trail in Cypress Provincial Park on Thursday.

A search team found her Friday morning in a steep drainage area on the east side of the St. Mark's summit. Officials said she had posted a photo from the summit the previous day.

The young woman was transported back to the North Shore Rescue base but was "declared deceased by medical crews," according to Squamish RCMP.

"It's tough. It feels surreal, in a sense, because she's such an amazing person," said Dana Morvan, a long-time friend who met Donnelly when they were both lifeguards at a pool.

She said Donnelly is passionate about solo travelling and described her as someone who's outgoing and inspirational.

"She'd just love to go to places by herself. It helped her find a sense of joy, and basically, just find herself, just explore different situations and obstacles that she could overcome by herself," Morvan said.

Donnelly was an avid skier and snowboarder, according to Morvan, who was unsure about Donnelly’s experience snowshoeing in the backcountry. 

"Our thoughts are with the woman's family and friends, as well with all the responders and search teams to the St. Mark's area last night and today," Sgt. Sascha Banks said in a statement. "Please know this: if you are in the backcountry and need help, call 911 – ourselves and our very experienced search teams will do everything we can to find you."

Authorities said the hiker called her boyfriend to report she was lost on Thursday, about an hour after posting her picture of the summit online. Her phone lost connection after the call.

Crews launched a desperate search from the ground and air but were unable to find her. The effort was called off for the night at around 2 a.m.

Search manager Allan McMordie suggested they may have been able to find her in time had she called 911 directly instead of her boyfriend.

“We do encounter that fairly frequently where people who get lost, or are in trouble, their first phone call is to a family member and they use up their cell phone batteries texting and talking to friends and family instead of phoning 911 and getting us going faster," he said.

He said the call also would have given them her coordinates.

While search and rescue crews initially described the young woman as an "Instagram influencer," several friends reached out to CTV News to dispute that characterization.

They described Donnelly as an avid traveller who was bright and optimistic. While she shared pictures of her trips online, the friends said her posts were never sponsored.

Morvan said Donnelly wrote a few articles for travel blogs, and was likely preparing to write about her B.C. trip.

She said Donnelly had contacted her before this trip to ask for suggestions because she had been to B.C. last year.

"For her to go during the pandemic may not have been the smartest decision. I know that she was very cautious and took certain precautions that you would have to, to be safe in those situations, like always wear a mask and stay six feet apart," she said. 

North Shore Rescue said they found the hiker just before 11 a.m. on a dangerous part of the mountain.

"Classically if you go down off the ridge crest anywhere along here, there’s a lot of steep gullies and drainages and it could be quite slippery and icy at the top," Don Jardine, another search manager, told CTV News at the time.

Authorities said the woman had a small backpack and a black winter coat, but was not fully equipped to spend the night on the mountain. She also had white snowshoes and some spikes for her hiking boots.

McMordie said the number of calls related to hikers hoping to capture the perfect shot for Instagram is alarming.

“Doesn’t really matter how many photos they take, but sure would be nice if they went equipped and prepared," he said, adding that some hikers' lack of experience often leads them to trails that are too difficult for them to complete.

Squamish RCMP said it will be working with the BC Coroners Service to investigate the circumstances around the hiker's death.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Sheila Scott and Allison Hurst in West Vancouver


Rescue crews initially told CTV News Vancouver the missing hiker is 23.