September 01, 2011 Features & Images » Feature Story

Missing in the backcountry 

Jonathan Jette, Rachael Bagnall and others remain lost in the mountains


Jonathan Jetté and Rachael Bagnall had just days left together before an upcoming yearlong separation.

With such a short time left they chose to spend it in the Sea to Sky backcountry - a place they loved.

It would have been a bittersweet weekend.

In the last blush of summer, with alpine flowers basking their final bloom and snow covered peaks to herald winter's fast approach, the couple couldn't help but think of their upcoming year apart, with Rachael in South America and Jonathan at his home in Vancouver. Though they had only been dating for a few months, Jonathan and Rachael had found in each other a certain soulmate, someone else who loved doing the same things - rock climbing, hiking, camping.

On the drive up the highway, the dark ragged peaks beckoning them away from civilization and into the beloved backcountry, there is little doubt that in the back of her mind Rachael was likely running through those last items on her to do list. Jonathan would also have been thinking about the upcoming trip, and about all the things he wanted to do for his girlfriend while she was away to mark the milestones of that year in a special way - her birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day.

They left Vancouver early, before 7 a.m., stopping at Tim Horton's in Squamish for a coffee and a hot chocolate. Then on through Whistler, Pemberton and towards Birken.

Jetté parked his car at the Spetch Creek Forest Service Road. From there it was about a five-hour hike into the heart-shaped Valentine Lake, nestled under the majestic peaks of Saxifrage and Cassiope Mountains.

That was one year ago, Saturday, September 4, 2010. Rachael and Jonathan have not been seen since.

It's a case that has perplexed seasoned searchers, stymied the RCMP and left a devastating void for the couple's families and friends.

Now, all that remains are the unrelenting possibilities, the scenarios that play over and over again - the "what ifs." That's why Jetté's family was back searching last week, looking for some answers, doing something, anything, to set their aching hearts and minds to rest.

But they didn't find what they were looking for.

Camping at Valentine Lake under a blanket of the night sky, the answers, like the stars, seem maddeningly within reach.

"They're never ever completely over, those ones," says Dave Steers who led the initial search with Pemberton Search and Rescue (SAR) last fall, referring to missing cases in the backcountry.

"And while you may suspend the searching on the scale that we were doing it at, it comes up in your mind every now and then: is there something else we can do?"

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