Thursday 23 July 2020

McBride's 1986 Mudslides

      The instant we heard about this year’s mudslide, many of us “old timers” flashed back to 1986 when a similar slide occurred up the road at Bevier Creek, the creek just west of Willox Creek (the one currently causing this summer’s problem).  
    The 1986 mudslides happened because of a very cool spring that failed to slowly melt much the enormous snowpack built up in the mountains.  When a spell of really hot temperatures suddenly hit, all of that snow melted very rapidly, causing torrents of run off erupting down the slopes. 
    Normally Bevier Creek is an insignificant streamlet that doesn’t warrant a second glance.  I took the photo above a few days ago and it is currently running really hard, usually it would have about a tenth of that flow.  I had heard stories while working at the Forest Service about a Bevier mudslide that had occurred around 1972, but by 1986, those events seemed like things that happened a long time ago, that had nothing to do with the present.  
    In 1986 Bevier’s bi-polar nature became evident when it’s normally passive nature suddenly switched over to its aggressive mode.  It and several other Robson Valley Creeks changed their flow rate dramatically.
    Here are some of the events that followed:

     On May 26, 1986 there were several mudslides on several creeks in the Robson Valley.   Bevier Creek was the most dramatic.  Some friends of ours had a really nice newly built home below the road and Bevier babbled peacefully through their property.  At the time, we were always jealous of properties that had a nice creek on them. 
        When the Bevier let go, Kim was outside when he heard the roar upslope.  Immediately he figured out what was happening and ran for the house, screaming for Lasanne to get out.  Inside, he grabbed his toddler daughter and with his wife, ran for the door.  They leaped from their porch and running up a side hill.  Kim fell, falling on top of his daughter, scrambled up and continued toward safety.
    They looked back at their home just in time to see the mudslide engulf it up to the windows, splashing up to the roof.  A  boulder the size of a kitchen table crashed through the walls. 
    Their recently built house, where all of us counter-culture folks used to hold our annual Halloween parties, was a write off. 
    A couple of weeks later, I went over to help Kim.  Their piano and most everything else inside the house was destroyed, except for the recently arrived boulder that remained lodged in the basement.  Kim’s tractor was buried under rocks, trees, and mud.  His car was pushed a quarter of a mile away, while his van ended up in his neighbor’s yard.   
    Kim wanted to try to dig through the three feet of solidified mud that sat his daughter’s room in an attempt to retrieve some of her toys.   We tried, but It was useless.   The silty mud, rocks, and wood, had congealed into a state similar to cement.  You really needed a pickaxe to dig through it.  We soon gave up on the useless task. 
      After seeing the damage done, having a creek on your property no longer made us jealous.
      When the mudslide settled down, a Highways’ crew began working to re-establish Mt View Road which had been washed out.  There was a man down in the creek bed on a D8 Caterpillar tractor pushing debris to the side, when another mudslide suddenly came down.  The operator had to leap from the Cat to save himself.  He broke his arm or shoulder but was pulled from the mud to safety by a workmate.  Amazingly, the force of the mud flow was so strong that it flipped the Caterpillar over, and a D8 is a really big heavy machine.
    Creeks all over the valley were gushing mudslides.
    Dore River on the opposite side of the valley from us, had had an avalanche way back in the mountains.  The snow slid down, damming the river.  Water then began to build up behind the blockage, until it got to the point where the snow dam broke under the pressure and a wall of water tore down the Dore River drainage, jumping the Highway 16 bridge, washing two cars off of the highway into the ditch, and damaging homes on the lower side of the highway.  Mud washed sideways from the river as far as the overpass, half a mile away.  Luckily no one was killed in these mudslides.
      I was working for the Forest Service at the time and they sent me and a coworker up to tell a trapper who lived in a cabin near a Nevin Creek, to get out of there.   On our hike up to his cabin we were on a footpath that paralleled Nevin Creek, and we could hear its roaring torrents below us, punctuated with the knocking sound of boulders that were being bouncing along by the force of the water.
    I don’t remember if we found the trapper home or not, but I will always remember the billiard ball-like sound of those rolling boulders in the liquid mud. 

    Like that 1972 and the 1986 mudslide,  those events had begun to be buried our memories, until this summer’s repeat brought them once again to the surface.  How quickly we forget about the dangers of living in the mountains, once things settle down.

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