British Columbia

Okanagan hiker braved heat, deluge and lightning before airlift from northern B.C. trail

Erin Creagh from Summerland, B.C., began hiking in the Mount Robson Provincial Park near the Alberta border with her husband on June 28, two days before B.C. Parks officials warned of flooding as a result of melted glacier amid the heat wave.

Erin Creagh entered Mount Robson Park before officials warned of flooded bridges and trails

A bridge near the Whitehorn Campground on Berg Lake Trail of Mount Robson Provincial Park in northern B.C. was covered by flood water on July 2 amid the heat wave. (Sean Allin)

Hiker Erin Creagh still remembers what she describes as the nerve-racking experience of being stranded on the Berg Lake Trail, which has been closed since July 1 due to substantial damage done by flood water. 

The world-renowned backcountry hiking trail — a stretch of 21 kilometres in northern B.C.'s Mount Robson Provincial Park near the Alberta border — is now closed until July 31, according to B.C. Parks. The park's Mount Fitzwilliam and Moose River trails are also closed due to flooding.

Creagh and her husband from Summerland, B.C., were among the dozens of hikers evacuated from the park over the Canada Day long weekend due to extremely high water levels on the Robson River caused by rapidly melting snow and ice during record-high temperatures in the region.

"It was really flooded — about four feet of water," the South Okanagan resident told Dominika Lirette, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak South, about what she saw near the Whitehorn Campground on the Robson River early in the morning of July 2.    

"The water was going over the bridge … We realized we're not making it out via foot."  

Creagh then had to walk six kilometres back uphill to an evacuation site near the southern tip of Berg Lake in order to take a helicopter arranged by B.C. Parks to leave the flood-affected area.

The couple initially started their hike on June 28, two days before emergency officials warned that the river was rising rapidly in the Robson Valley, as high heat melted snow and glaciers on mountains west of Jasper National Park. 

Creagh had to wade through some flood water on the second day of her trip, but she wasn't aware of the wide extent of the flooding until she saw an emergency evacuation notice tagged on her tent in the late afternoon of July 1.

"We were very confused at first — we thought maybe it was fire-related because there was some smoke," she said. "We chatted with others and we finally figured out it was due to flooding down below."

Creagh waded through the flood water while hiking on the second day of her journey. (Submitted by Erin Creagh)

Creagh aimed to walk more than 20 kilometres to an evacuation site, but later decided to walk only five kilometres in order to avoid heat exhaustion. 

She says she was barely able to sleep the night before the evacuation because of rain storms.

 "Lightning was happening every second. Thunder was insane — you could feel it in your chest," she said. "We found out there was 8.5 inches of rain in five hours … just to add to the fun, there was between dime-and-nickel-size hail."

"We had to keep waking up … to check outside. We were concerned if there were fires happening because of all the lightning," she went on. "We noticed at one point our tent was sort of swimming in an inch-plus of water.

"It wasn't a calm and restful sleep." 

Aerial view of the flooded Robson River taken by Erin Creagh from a helicopter that flew hikers out of Mount Robson Provincial Park in northern B.C. due to flooding. (Submitted by Erin Creagh)

Creagh says when she felt hopeless because they couldn't cross the flooded bridge to safety the morning after a sleepless night, she saw a park ranger approaching to tell her about an evacuation site nearby.

"There was definitely a sense of relief. We were a little bit hungry by that point," she said. "We were looking forward to hopping in the vehicle, grabbing a snack and getting home to have a shower."

With files from Daybreak South

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