Heading into the weekend, one of the few of the summer, a swiftwater manager with Kimberley Search and Rescue would like to extend a message of caution for any who plan to do some rafting or other river activities.
“The St. Mary’s River is not the lazy river everyone thinks it is,” they said.
“The flow level is definitely higher than it normally would be at this time of the year in August. We had snow levels that were 119 per cent above average, and then of course with the cool spring, melting has been delayed and there’s still snow in the alpine, so it’s still coming down this year and the river is cold and quite a bit higher.”
Part of what tricks people into believing the river is relatively lazy, they added, is that there are nice smooth sections where there’s no boils or white water, and then areas that appear shallow due to visible sandbars and rocks, however it is the outer area where the flow is greatest and the water deepest.
“And that’s, I think, where people take it for granted and don’t recognize the danger in that outer flow. And that flow is where it will take somebody, because that is the primary flow.”
This isn’t to say that people should avoid river activities all together. Our source from SAR has some helpful advice for anyone thinking about going on the river this weekend.
“What you need to do is some research on the river you’re going to go rafting on,” they said. “Talk to the local raft companies because they will know where the log jams are. And they will be able to say, for example, ‘you know what do not a good idea unless you’re super experienced.’”
Bringing a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) might go without saying, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
“Definitely PFDs, oh my gosh,” they said. “People drown so often because they don’t have PFDs even in the rivers.”
“We have seen groups of people, adults and children, floating down both the Kootenay and the St. Mary’s and only some have PFDs and it freaks us out completely, it really does.”
“Our team unfortunately, we’re exhausted and we’re sad because we’re picking up people, deceased people, out of the rivers.”
SAR’s calls for service are up at least 50 per cent, if not more, according to our source, with many of them coming from people from out of town.
Unfortunately, there have been several fatalities in recent weeks.
There was the Edmonton man who attempted to rescue his dog and drown in the Kootenay River on July 30.
There was the body removed from the St. Mary’s River on August 3 that SAR assisted RCMP with.
There was also the person from out of town who died in a mountain biking accident on Bootleg Mountain in July.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, SAR urged the public to use extra caution when entering the bush to ease the burdon on them and our hospitals.
“I think early on [the message of stay home was headed] and now we’re into the hot summer everybody wants to get out and for the most part are sticking around home,” our source from SAR said. “I was camping and it was mostly locals. But like I said, we’ve got people coming in who are trying to social distance, they’re trying to maintain that and they’re headed out into the bush and the rivers and the mountains here are scary dangerous.”
They also recommended that before people plan a trip to check their search and rescue prevention website www.adventuresmart.ca
Another strategy is to contact local rafting or fishing guide companies.
“They are happy to talk to people and let them know where to go, where not to go, the conditions, the levels of the river, they will definitely talk to people.”
One could even just post on something like the Kimberley Cork Board on Facebook, and ask if anyone knows about river or trail conditions.
The source added that before SAR even starts conducting a swift water operation, one of the first things they’ll do is get a helicopter in the air to do a water hazard assessment.
“We need eyes on to find out where the hazards are and that’s before we put a team in the water,” they said. “Unless it’s something that’s right in front of us, but if we have to do a search on the river or anything like that, we do a hazard assessment quickly because conditions change and we have lots of people who are on our rivers on a regular basis but like I said even us we don’t take that chance.”
The Bulletin will also have another story next week with a member of SAR, who got into some trouble rafting on the river last week.
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