The Fraser River at the end of McSween Road on April 16, 2020. The river has come up considerably since then and the freshet means the water can be dangerous. (Jessica Peters/ Black Press file)

Harrowing rescue for woman and daughter on Fraser River in Chilliwack

Search and Rescue warn against paddleboarding during spring freshet

A Chilliwack woman and her daughter got the scare of a lifetime on the weekend while paddleboarding on the Fraser River.

The woman, who the Progress has agreed not to name, said her and her 12-year-old like to go agate hunting in the area. Agates are finely-grained quartz stones often sought by hobbyists, and both Gill Bar and Peg Leg Bar are popular spots.

The two had launched from Gill Bar many times before, easily paddling straight out and across to islands or other bars.

But with the river rising ever higher in the spring freshet, as the streams and creeks of the Fraser River run high and snowmelt makes its way to the ocean, now is not a good time for paddleboarding, as they learned.

The woman said that as they launched – the two of them in life-jackets and with their small dog not in a life-jacket – it was only about 10 feet out they realized they were in trouble. The strong current took them down river.

She’s not sure if it was 50 feet or 100 feet, but eventually she managed to get close to shore and grab on to a branch, but it wasn’t very sturdy.

“It was hooked on to blackberry bushes,” she said.

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Their car was the only one parked in the area, so she knew there was no one else around to yell for help. As she held on to the branch and her daughter who was holding the dog’s collar, she managed to get her backpack off and take out her phone to call 911.

“We couldn’t get out of the river,” she said because of an embankment and the blackberry thicket. “We almost capsized like 10 times. The current was so strong.”

Luckily, a man appeared at the edge of the river and she yelled to him. He went to his truck and came back with a tow rope getting her closer to shore, but they still couldn’t get out.

Eventually, RCMP officers arrived on scene and, using ropes, managed to get first the dog, then her daughter, and eventually the woman. She figures if that man hadn’t come, they wouldn’t have been able to hold on much longer and it could have ended badly.

“We would have hit debris and gotten pulled under for sure,” she said. “That water is not safe.”

Chilliwack Search and Rescue (CSAR) member Matt Goodyear, agrees.

“As with any time, playing around moving water requires extra caution,” Goodyear told the Progress.

In May and June the need for that caution intensifies.

“The power of the water is endless and unrelenting. Small mistakes can have massive consequences,” Goodyear warned. “Make sure the equipment you are using is rated for the application you are using it for. Using a stand-up paddle board in the Fraser River in the freshet season may not be the best use for this equipment.”

CSAR wants people to remain fit and active, but it’s important to plan, pack, and play safely.

Also 2020 is unique with the global COVID-19 pandemic having closed many outdoor recreational sites, provincial parks, and trails.

“That has many eager to adventure in our beautiful area. However, knowing your limits, planning ahead, taking and using gear/equipment correctly will help keep us all adventuring safety,” Goodyear added.

In the end, the woman and her daughter made it out safetly with some rope burn and blackberry thorn scratches. They are also upset about the experience, but hoping the trauma isn’t long-lasting.

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