Wednesday, November 16, 2016

2003 Flood Revisited.

   There has been some high water in the Lillooet River this past week, causing some flooding up in the Pemberton area you've likely heard about on the news, but for the most part it just drains out of this part of the lower valley here, well within the normal flood banks, and nothing too out of the ordinary for a Fall high water event. Certainly nothing like the one we had 13 years ago, a once in 200 year event that really raised hell with the country. On the night of October 18 2003, 650 mm. of rain had fallen in the upper Lillooet valley, causing severe flooding around the Pemberton area, flooding homes and farms, and raising havoc with the roads.
A bridge on the main highway had washed out in the middle of the night, with the subsequent loss of several lives. Despite the forecast for rain there were quite a few people drove out that Friday for a weekend of camping at the hot spring, whom as it turned out were in for a little more adventure than they had bargained on.
By morning the rains had subsided but the damage had been done. Over the hand-held radio I heard of the state of the road, which had blown-out at several creeks that had crested in the night.

A few km down the road was an issue with the Rogers Ck. bridge for starters, cutting off the route to town. This kind of thing has happened over the years and was no great hardship to me,  I'm high and dry and actually I kind of enjoy the isolation myself, but it can sure bugger the plans of folks camped-out down at the hot spring, and this looked like it was going to be a bit bigger deal than in the past.
At the Rogers bridge a couple loggers I know from the camp down at the head of Harrison Lake pulled up, Don the superintendent, and Louie, an equipment operator. They had driven up-valley inspecting the road damage along the way and were curious if the bridge at Rogers had held. 
There was a pretty good turn out at the hot spring that weekend, probably about 30 people. Several had tried to head out early but were turned back by the bridge out at Rogers, so people had lots of questions when Don and Louie and I wheeled into the hot spring campsite that morning with the news. 
   We rounded everyone up and explained the situation, the bridge out at Rogers being the least of it. There were further problems down the road, a section along Lillooet Lake was under several feet of driftwood choked water, and even if you could get out, the main highway was closed.
A hush fell over the group, "How long could we be stuck here?" someone asked.
"Hard to say," said Don, "hope for a few days at least, but figure on a week at worst."
The campers remained quiet, thinking of their weekday responsibilities at home, work, and school, and calculating the amount of food they brought along.

Waters rising.
The river along the hot spring campsite was right up to the brim, with more rain forecast, and water from the flooding up-valley to come down in the next few days. Anyone camped-out along the river packed-up and re-located to the campsites on the upper bench.
Just in time.

Within hours the Lillooet had come over it's bank and began to flow freely through the lower level of the campsite.
   According to the loggers, the rugged road out the south down the west-side of Harrison Lake was still open as far as they knew, other than a nasty spot before camp where the water was over-flowing the road. They offered to escort anyone interested as far as their camp at Harrison, helping them across the flooded road section with the grader, then from camp on, they were on their own. Several parties determined to be back at work Monday morning and having an off-road vehicle with lots of clearance took the loggers up on the offer.  Anyone else driving cars that really needed to get out were given the option of leaving their vehicle in my yard, then squeezing in where possible and riding out with the larger vehicles. We ended up running a half dozen or so vehicles of all descriptions over to my place, which were lined-up in the front yard here like some back-woods car lot. Led by the loggers, waving out the windows and loaded to the gills, the convoy headed off the south route to what logger Louie guaranteed would be an 'interesting drive'.
"But we better get the hell to it" he had said, "The goddamn day was wastin!"
Those that chose to take their chances at the campsite hunkered down under a large tarp at a community fire-pit, and spent the remainder of their considerable spare time soaking in the hot tubs.
   Down the road quite a ways the group of adventurers led by the loggers arrived at a section of the forest service road that led off into lake of deep, swift-running muddy water of undetermined depth.
Louie, I'm sure having the time of his life, towed the vehicles across using the great huge grader, with water seeping in around the doors, and flooding engine compartments. It was reported several of the vehicles were never the same again since. The soggy expedition arrived in the logging camp at the head of Harrison Lake, and were put up for the night to continue the rough west Harrison road in the next days light.
   Back at the hot spring campsite, I think some of the novelty had worn off by day two of being marooned, especially by the smokers in the group, and that afternoon one of the many helicopters that had been flying over hovered-in and landed. A young RCMP member and several volunteer search/rescue guys had been sent out to see who was probably stranded at the hot spring.
The officer took down every one's name, and inquired about any emergencies or medical issues.
There was one person running low on badly needed medication, and a few other requests.
"No liquor, no cigs." says the cop.
   The next day another machine hovered in and landed, bringing the medication, bottled water, and leaving behind a box or two of groceries, followed by another machine a couple days later to check on everyone.
   It turned out our estimation of a week to open the road to town was pretty close, and heavy equipment had been at work clearing the Lake Road of logs and driftwood, and repairing several water damaged areas. The loggers got the go ahead for a quick patch on the Rogers Creek bridge, bringing in a large excavator to temporally fill-in the washed-out end of the bridge enough to get traffic moving. The hot spring maroonies, after being stranded, although somewhat comfortably at a hot spring, were lined-up at Rogers Creek as Louie put the finishing touches on the repair, and headed for town as soon as it was deemed safe to cross. Travelling in convoy, they reached the section along Lillooet Lake. The waters had receded exposing the road, Sharlotte was at the head of the line, following a bull-dozer pushing aside the last of the debris left behind, and they all got home in time for another weekend.

The hot spring survivors, 2003.
Those brave souls that stayed behind, at the hot tubs.
A helicopter had just lifted-off, and a quick group shot was organized. There was talk of an annual reunion camp-out, but I don't know if it ever happened or not. But for sure, none of them will ever forget the time they got marooned at the hot spring for a week.
Sometimes you got to watch what you wish for.


  1. I was up there a month ago and that river was the highest I ever saw it. Its a scary river. You fall in and your gone. We drove along side it and it was going 25kph. Please don't let your dog swim in it. Casey

  2. I enjoyed that recollection, Robin. 650 mm or rain in one night is quite a downpour!

    My family was living in Hope in 1980 but we were visiting family in Boston Bar when the Boxing Day flood happened. It was a mix of "Pineapple Express" and heavy snow-melt. The effects were swift and harsh.

    Railways and highways were closed. Hope was cut off from the rest of the world, despite having four routes and two railways out of town. The Coquihalla Highway was just a dream at the time — but even it would have been hammered.

    Power was knocked out and even the water supply was compromised — though we could collect rain water. Bottled water was not a "thing" in those days and our newborn son was on formula, so I set up a rain-collecting device. He did fine.

    The family is big on tea, so we made tea out of rain water. Once.

    I'm sure you eaten (clean) snow and tasted that sort of sour 'dirty' taste. That was the main message in the tea — so beer and wine became the favoured adult beverages.

    Once things had calmed down, the men and some kids piled into the Jimmy and headed down the canyon to Yale, where the Gordon Creek bridge had been completely removed. The CP Rail tracks were still intact… though they were stranded high above the creek, with nothing supporting them for 50-100 metres.

    We made the best of our stay, playing games and venturing outdoors when the rains subsided. A hotspring sure would have been nice...

    As I recall, it took 3-4 days before we could make it back home, our hosts likely very glad to see about 20 "overnight" guests head down the road.