Ski Across BC - 2 - Raft to an Ice Dam!

My buddy Todd will soon share something about his experience on this river trip with me. I suggested he do an interpretive dance but I imagine he will write something. In the meantime I will pick up the story below from where we parted ways. 

As I drifted away from Todd on the bank of the river I was looking froward to a peaceful float down the Colombia valley towards Kimberly. Five minutes downstream I turned a large bend in the river and that peace was shattered. The river disappeared beneath an ice dam that stretched from bank to bank. I quickly went into high adrenaline survival mode and rowed as strong as I could to the nearest bank. I made it without problem onto a gently sloping sandbank. No worries.

I pulled the raft on shore and went on a reconnaissance mission. The river did open up again but it would be about a 500m walk in order to get to a suitable launching spot. I was grateful that Todd had left me so much food and extra supplies but now I would have to haul it all across the snow. The raft was also too heavy to carry assembled so I needed to take the solid and heavy steel frame out of it. It took five trips back and forth to move everything to the new launch spot. By that time, it was getting later in the day and I was happy to set up camp and relax.

I felt like I could have been in the middle of a remote northern Canadian mountain chain, but in reality I was only a short hike from the nearest highway. Thankfully I couldn’t hear it. The only sound I heard that night were the howls of wolves and the crackling of my fire. Pure beauty.

I climbed out of the tent the next morning and the reality of my next move struck me. In order to get the raft into the water I would need to push it out onto an ice sheet that bordered the icy and fast moving river. Apart from cycling on the suicidal highways this seemed to be the most dangerous move of the trip. If the ice broke or the raft was punctured, and I fell into the river, it would be paralyzingly cold and highly unlikely that I would be able to make it to the bank. Even if I did make it to the bank it was covered in thin ice or large chunky ice walls. Routes of Change just got real.

I managed to push the raft out with one foot on the ice and a knee on the raft. It seemed fairly safe in the end. Off I went row, row, rowing my boat down the icy stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, thinking of a sauna or steam.


I had only made it another kilometer or so before panic struck again. A fork in the river. Left went into a sharp bank with sharper dead trees sticking out of it like a death trap, certain to puncture the raft if not my head. Right looked more promising until I went that way and was immediately faced with another damn dam. This time the current was moving faster and no matter how hard I rowed I was at best able to hold my position. There was no safe looking spot to bring the raft to shore. Rowing frantically I decided I would try my best to ram the raft up onto an ice shelf on the near shore. It worked. Sort of. I was now half on an ice shelf, and wasn’t sure if it would hold me as I made a dash up on to the bank. With the bow line in hand I channeled my “light as a feather” moves as I scampered towards the meter high bank. I made it, and climbed up onto the solid ground.

The land was covered with brambles. I investigated my situation further and realized I was indeed on an island. Even if I somehow managed to get the raft back upstream and take the right fork, it looked as though it was not worth the risk of going through the death trap. I decided the best move was to relaunch on the other side of the island. As the island was heavily wooded and covered in brambles I would have to deflate the raft completely and reassemble it on the other side. It must have taken me two hours to move everything across the island. By the time the raft was inflated and ready to go again I was topless and sweating in -10 C weather.

At that point I contemplated the likelyhood of the river being dammed with ice a third time. The chances seemed high so I reluctantly called it quits on the river rafting trip and called in some assistance. My friend in Kimberly was quick to answer the call. He organized a bike for me to use and we planned to meet on the other side of the river. All I needed to do was row across and get to our planned meeting point.

Much easier said than done! The paddle across was smooth and fast but that is where things got tricky. The shore quickly rose up a steep bank to where we would meet. I again needed to take the raft apart and then scale the steep bank five times up and down. I was able to find some tiny goat trails that would meander and disappear as I climbed. The ground was a slippery consistency of frozen grass, snow, and ice. When it came to lifting up the main steel frame of the raft I was forced to create a pulley system with ropes in order to lift it up the steep slope.

It took an exhausting hour to get everything up. I had a few minutes to eat a snack and hydrate before my friends Randy and Cindy showed up with a very nice bike that Kootenay Mountain Works had amazingly hooked up. The raft would not fit in their car so unfortunately it was left in the woods for another buddy to retrieve. Some new friends did so without a problem the following day.

For me, however, the epic day was not over. I hopped on the bicycle for a 67 km bike ride as the sun began to set. It was by no means a pleasant bike ride as I was on a highway with many speeding cars in the middle of the Canadian winter. As it got dark my energy started to dwindle but I was inspired by the fact that good company, a big dinner, and a warm bed were waiting for me. I powered through the snow and rolled into Kimberly, somewhat numb and very happy to have friends in warm places.

Thanks again to MEC for keeping me warm and toasty on the river with my merino wool!