The June 21 flood brought summer in with raging force. The freestones in the Elk River were scoured out and redeposited, shifting the entire river channel. Massive trees undercut by the meandering channel swept downstream are now beached and trapped on corners and shallow braids.
These corner log jams are deadly to river floaters. Imagine a group of friends on a hot summer afternoon. Dusting off their floaty toy, inflating it, launching at the end of Dicken Road, planning to drift to the Coal Creek boat launch. Flip flops threaded through fingers as paddles. Warm sun on the front; cool Elk River moderating the heat from behind.
Round the corner just upstream of the Fernie golf course, sun blazing in your face, flushed from a cool beverage on the shore, you notice the entire river is racing toward a pile of trees and branches tangled in a log jam. Last minute you notice the slack water in the eddy on the inside of the corner. Frantically you kick and pull towards the shore but your strength is no contest for the mighty Elk.
A fun day floating on the river turns into a nightmare. You grab onto the sharp sticks and try to scramble on top. Your floaty toy punctured and is sucked under. Unable to get out, hanging on for dear life calling for help, your friends cannot get to you because they are also in peril or meters away from reach. Strength waning, you too are sucked under. Lifejacket and bathing suit are tangled in the nest of branches. Pinned by a strong river current, without air you lose consciousness.
Rewind – phew, what crazy thought! This is never going to happen to me. Right? Not if you use your head. First, this summer avoid floating sections and corners of the Elk River you haven’t scouted for log jams or at least were warned about from fishers or paddlers. Second, if floating, read the current carefully and always think about an escape route to the shore if an obstacle like a sweeper, log jam, or sharp metal object appears. Third, pick a safe section to float like from the North Fernie Bridge to the Stanford.
Have fun everyone. The Elk River is a beautiful free flowing freshwater jewel. Be safe swimming. Respect the power of the Elk!
Elk River Alliance