Laurence Philippsen. (Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, Facebook)
Family and friends are remembering Laurence Philippsen.
The body of the 65-year-old hiker was found on the south side of Mount Laing, nearly two months after he set out alone for a 40-kilometre trek through the mountains at Strathcona Provincial Park.
An experienced and skilled hiker, Philippsen left on the solo expedition June 29th. After he failed to return when expected on July 2nd, search teams from across the province, along with Philippsen’s hiking companions and the RCMP went looking for him.
They were unsuccessful, and wondered for weeks what had happened to him.
His friend, Lindsay Elms, said a hiking acquaintance came across Philippsen’s body while on a day trip earlier this month.
Andy Watson from the BC Coroners Service has not confirmed the body of that of Laurence Philippson, but confirmed that they’re investigating a death from the Strathcona Park area near Mount Laing from earlier this month.
“Our fact-finding investigation to determine cause of death is in its early stages,” Watson said.
Elms said there were no trails where Philippsen’s body was found.
“This is a wilderness area, not a frequently visited area where he was going. The friend found him in the location, and then we superimposed on Google Earth our tracks from the search and we realized that during our search we were probably just metres away from where he was lying, and we couldn’t see him.”
Elms said the discovery of his friend brings closure to those who knew and loved him.
“It’s a relief. When there’s no sign, no nothing out there,… and Laurence was a very safe climber. I want to climb with people who are safe and skilled, and Laurence was that person. We’ve done a lot of climbs together. For him to go missing and not be found, it was hard to comprehend.”
He added that if Philippsen got to the alpine where there is good cellphone coverage, he would have likely texted home.
“When I heard that he was missing I knew straight away that he hadn’t reached the alpine. Something had happened on that first day, more than likely in the forest, before reaching the ridge, and usually the forest is relatively safe terrain. But obviously there was some sort of bluff in the way that he was scrambling up and something happened and he fell.”
Elms remembers his friend as a very adventurous soul.
“I went out with him because he loved the adventure and was wanting to explore remote, obscure places on the island. We did a lot of climbs of peaks that there were no reports of anyone having been there before. He just loved being out there, loved being in the woods. He had the natural ability to find his way through the bush. He was just a great guy to be with in the mountains.”
Elms climbed regularly with Philippsen over the past five years so when his friend went missing, he got a call from search and rescue to help look for him.
“I knew the terrain that he was in, intimately, from travelling through it many times myself and they’re asking me if I had any idea of places he might have gone, or might be,” Elms said. “The next day I went in with them and searched through some of those areas without any success.”
Four days into the initial search, there were “no clues, no signs of him, nothing,” Elms said.
“That’s when they called the (initial) search off.”
Elms said he and others came up with a couple of areas that hadn’t been searched, which helped reopen the investigation.
“In the meantime we started organizing our own private search,” Elms said. “I put a message out through the mountaineering Facebook pages and then there were 45 of us volunteers from the climbing community, we organized our own search.”
After a second search was called off, Elms said a lot of people were wanting to look for Philippsen on their own.
“I know of three groups that contacted me, that went in there, did their climbing objective, and never across Laurence.”