On hot summer days the Elk River is an inviting refuge for hundreds of recreational enthusiasts. People float, canoe, kayak, paddleboard, raft or use some other craft to enjoy the Elk’s cool, clear, clean water. But fun can quickly turn to tragedy with near misses and intense rescues becoming more common.
Logjams are responsible for many stories of misfortune. The most recent incident occurred last weekend when a couple nearly drowned at a ‘monster’ logjam upstream of the golf course in Fernie. Logjams occur when large woody debris collects in a river usually during a flood, forcing the flow of the water down under it. Even the strongest swimmers can get trapped beneath a logjam. Strained underneath, swimmers can be trapped on branches and drown. It is critical to know where they are and how to avoid them.
Each year the Elk River changes: new logjams appear, giant rocks emerge creating hydraulic holes and new channels open up. It is important to follow a few safety guidelines to have a good experience on the Elk River.
Here are a few tips:
• Wear a properly fitted personal floatation device (PFD) or life vest and hard sole shoes (not flip flops).
• If you fall off your craft, defensively swim back to your boat. Distances can be deceiving and hard to estimate in a flowing river. Also the cold temperature can slow down breathing.
•If you get separated from your boat, float on your back, sculling with your hands with your feet facing downstream. Avoid hitting objects like big rocks, by bouncing off them with your feet.
• Never underestimate the strength of a river current and do not attempt to stand up in the river unless the water is below your knees.
• Smaller tubes and canoes that collide with logjams can flip and puncture easily. The safest place to be is on top of the logjam, so if your boat has given way to a logjam prepare yourself to jump on top of the woody debris and avoid going underneath.
Educating yourself and being prepared is the best way to mitigate hazards on the river. Local rafting and fishing guides or the Elk River Alliance can share safe routes with you and warn you of the latest hazards in the river. If you have concerns or discover new hazards please call the Elk River Alliance at 250-423-3322 or post your experience on the Elk River Watch Facebook page so everyone can benefit from your experience. We will do our best to inform others.