Last week was scheduled for our annual wilderness canoe trip and indeed we started on the adventure. Let’s just say that I’m pleased to be here to tell you about the trip that nearly was…
The Big Berland is born out of melting glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. Normally it is a mildly exciting river with frequent bends and twists, populated by “rock gardens” or shallow rapids. Record rainfalls have savaged the landscape across the country and our little mountain river was not exempted from Mother Nature’s designs.
Double the water volume and once sandy shores disappear as the river grows to swallow the forest. Log jams and rock piles normally visible from afar, and thus safely avoided, now lurk just under the surface while the potent current urges you relentlessly forward. Unwittingly, our three canoes had landed on the back of a dragon for a brief but terrifying ride!
It wasn’t a half hour from the start of our week-long trip that two of our three canoes were upended by rocks. Now separated, people and boats were carried over a 4 foot rock ledge beneath a bridge. Bruised and battered, the occupants made it to shore while one canoe disappeared downstream like the headless horseman.
My most vivid memory is feeling the canoe rolling and suddenly being under water, looking towards the light through brownish waters. My daughter was in the bow and briefly disappeared from view until we both popped to the surface. As the waterfall became apparent, I screamed for her to stay on her back with feet forward for minimal protection as we bounced down the rocks. My leg was caught in something but a ferocious pull set me free. Now I could see her bobbing ahead, gathering speed. “On your back, kick to shore” triggered a response and soon we were in shallow waters and able to crawl out.
The other upturned canoe was pinned by hydraulic forces against the bridge pier. Three times my friend waded into the torrent with a rope around his waist, trying to reach the boat, only to be pulled under by the force of rushing water. The last attempt saw him go down long enough that I contemplated releasing the rope so he could escape with the current. Luckily that wasn’t necessary and eventually the second boat worked itself free only to scoot away after its companion.
Although wet and cold, everyone escaped without serious injury. Most of our gear was gone and hypothermia was a real risk. The silver lining was that our driver and good friend was waiting with camera in hand on the very bridge that marked our undoing. His presence meant a change of clothes, a vehicle for transportation, and extra help while we hiked downriver to try and locate our missing craft. Funny enough, with the shock of it all, he never did take a picture!
Nothing was found so the next day we travelled to a point some 200km down river in hopes of spotting the upturned craft. Again no success, but at least we can hope that somewhere between the two points they may be lodged against a log jam or snagged in the trees. Perhaps in a week or two the river will settle so we can return; should take about three days to thoroughly search that section. Then we must puzzle over how to recover the boats if found. These are truly isolated places and it may be months before another boater stumbles across the remnants.
Of course my biggest concern was for my daughter. We have many adventures under our belt and I look forward to many more, but how would she take this event? I shouldn’t have worried as a few days later she announced that a group of friends were going canoeing on a lake and she was excited to join them. I dare say it will be as a slightly more mature and experienced person…
Our 2010 Canoe Trip near Jasper