Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. You can bike, hike, ski and paddle, becoming overwhelmed with the options it offers!
As we watch the rivers “wake up,” we see the ice break, the first little trickle, then more flow enters and soon enough the river is high and brown, game on!
This is when it gets fun! Brown, high, fast, and cold water is my powder season and church all rolled into one. Where else would you want to be? However, this isn’t for everyone, and it does come with a unique set of hazards we (you and I) are all prone to. I hope my first article ever will help you see the river in a different light, and to stay safe for another summer of swimming, tubing, fishing, canoeing, SUPing and kayaking.
High water and floods are two different things; high-water stays within the banks and floods do not. The only thing they have in common is that you should respect each as you do a high avalanche risk hazard. Would you have a picnic in a slide path or let your dog jump off a cornice?
As any river’s water level rises, so does its speed, often doubling without getting much higher. It doesn’t take much to be swept away, and it’s much stronger than you. The current is a very excellent excavator, strong enough to change the landscape. If you do get knocked off your feet, don’t try to stand up, try to swim to shore.
High water brings change and growth to a river environment. Logs migrate down river, get stuck, create new baby jams, which create a new hazard. Fish hunker down and make more fish. Riverbanks erode and cause soil to darken the colour, rain saturates the soil, and hillsides can fail, causing landslides. This can happen right at your feet, in the form of bank erosion, when the river undercuts the riverside and it’s only held together by roots and grass! I’ve seen a lot of dogs fall in the river this way.
Finally, high water also can also begin to change a river’s flow, or direction. It won’t make it go in a circle, but it can wander between the shores. This can lead to a quick swim if you choose to step into the river. To stay on the safe side, stay away from the river when it’s high, and please, don’t throw a ball in for your dog.