Monday, June 24, 2013

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

This post picks up where my last one left off - the evening of Wednesday, June 19th. For details on why this is a two part post, please see part 1!

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

We'd just got home from a busy day, and a very large dinner. Both Matt and the baby fell asleep quickly, but being in a wood construction chalet with a vaulted ceiling during a rain storm made for a noisy night. Between concerns about landslides (which might seem silly, but another timeshare we have visited had a massive landslide last year) and the sheer volume of the rain, I couldn't sleep. Fortunately we had a TV in our room which picked up the Discovery Channel, so I watched documentaries for a few hours. At around 1 Matt woke up and watched a few shows with me and I was finally able to get some sleep around 3:30 a.m.

When we woke up on Thursday morning at around 9 a.m. we checked our Facebook and found out that the rain had been doing more damage than we thought. We did not experience any adverse affects on the mountain, but according to updates on the internet, Canmore had declared a state of emergency thanks to a swelling creek. Cougar creek, whose creek bed I have at times seen completely dry, was swelling, rapidly. Houses were being threatened, and the road wasn't faring well. We watched the news over at my parents' chalet and commented on how we might not be going into Canmore that day... and after a while we started to realize this wasn't an isolated incident. Turns out, we weren't going anywhere for a while. It was about midmorning when we heard that the highway was being affected, and mid-day when we realized the highway was blocked all around us. Lac Des Arc, just a few miles East of us, had flooded and the road was blocked. We watched with almost a sense of addiction for news updates and found that the highway at Canmore was washed out. We'd seen pictures where a chunk of overpass was missing, and thought that was crazy enough, but it didn't compare to the devastation to the road not even half a km ahead, where the entire road was washed away. We sent out a message to family members as we realized that they might hear about this on the news. We assured them we were fine, we had ample food and supplies since we have a tendency to over-pack (which, in light of this situation, is not a habit we're going to kick anytime soon!), and that by some miscommunication when we were buying groceries earlier in the week, we had a spare flat of water, as well as our own water supply on the mountain. By that night though, we realized we were some of the luckiest ones in the affected areas. We soon heard about relatives being evacuated from their homes in Calgary as a state of emergency was announced there. We heard about sour gas leaks in Turner Valley. We saw images of High River, completely flooded by the swollen river, and forcing people to ride on combines to safety. Earlier on in the day, Matt and my brother-in-law road down the road leading down our mountain, and got stopped before they reached the bottom by a river that formed through the quarry that operates on Pigeon mountain. All of the rain was funnelling through the quarry and was washing rocks, trees, cars and trailers down the road. The boys watched as a tree tipped onto a power line and started smoking and a pickup truck tried driving through the water and started getting swept sideways. We heard talk of an evacuation at around 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, but it was called off when RCMP determined we were at least alright. They had more pressing concerns than people stuck in nice chalets with food and water. We had packed all our bags so we'd be ready to go at a moment's notice and decided to leave them packed, in case the RCMP changed their stance. Later that evening we found out that the gas was turned off, since the flooding had brought the gas line to ground level. But we still had lots going for us, so we had a hamburger supper and threw together a 'party' for Nathaniel, complete with a jello 'cake'.

Friday brought much of the same. We obsessed over getting news reports, but part way through the day our Wi-Fi went down, making it harder for us to access news. On the TV, almost all of the coverage was focused on Calgary and the flooding that was happening there, which made it harder for us to find out any information about our situation. We knew the highway was still closed east-bound, but we didn't now if it was washed out, or just blocked. The waterflow across the mountain road was lower, so the boys managed to get down to the grocery store to buy food and supplies for everyone, including a stock for the resort to distribute. Once people heard the road was passable, they went down the mountain to Dead Man's Flats and checked into a motel in the tiny hamlet. About half of the guests at the resort left at this point. But we figured staying on high ground was the smarter decision at this point, since we still had supplies for ourselves. We threw together a supper using whatever leftovers were in the chalet: steak tacos with a variety of toppings. My tortilla had rose sauce, peppers, tomatoes, steak, parmesan and pineapple. Can't complain about a meal like that! Matt and I started to get anxious about getting out. We were supposed to leave on Friday so we'd be home in time for his sister's wedding the next day. But as night rolled in, we realized we weren't going anywhere on Friday either.

On Saturday we felt sure we'd get out of there and some point in the day. Unfortunately at 8 a.m., reports indicated that the roads were still closed. That was our last chance to catch the ceremony. And since Wi-Fi was down at that time, we couldn't even FaceTime the ceremony. We were hugely disappointed, and it was a tearful phone call Matt made to his sister to wish her a happy wedding day. But we still had hope that we could make it to the ceremony that night. Around 10:00 however we received word that the resort wasn't counting on us being able to get out today. We'd been stuck in limbo the last couple days, filling our time with endless news reports, but now the sun was shining and we resolved to make the most of it. We took the kids to the tennis courts where we played with balls and badminton rackets. Later we sat on the deck while the kids 'painted' it with water. The weather was gorgeous, as is the resort, so there was no shortage of enjoyment for the kids that day. We watched a couple shows, and volunteered to help set up a mass meal for all the remaining guests since one of the workers scored a police escort into town to get more food supplies. However, just before we started making supper, the RCMP indicated they were contemplating a mandatory evacuation for our resort. We were all instructed to get packed and wait for the verdict. They were worried the road would wash out down the mountain. They brought in an engineer who assessed the road and said that it could go either way. The RCMP was pleased to see we were well supplied, so they made it a voluntary evacuation. About another half of the group left at this point. This was a bittersweet time. The sun went away and the rain came again, and while we were relieved we wouldn't have to spend the night in a gym with a couple hundred other people, there was no way we'd be able to make it back for the reception now. We'd missed the wedding completely. It was around 7:00 when we went down to make supper: pasta and garlic toast done up on the BBQ. Around 40 people were still on the mountain and we tried to make the best of the situation. It was Nathaniel's second birthday and I'm sure he felt in part like this was a party for him. As I was walking back to the kitchen to see how much pasta we had left, I heard the last bit of an announcement on the radio that hinted at the highway being open. We caught the next announcement: they were allowing eastbound traffic from Canmore to Calgary for 48 hours in an attempt to clear out so of the traffic. Canmore had just issued a boil water advisory for the whole town, and their resources were becoming strained. We were tempted to leave right then, but we had to look at what was wise. If we got stuck on the highway late and night, we'd have no one to help us. One of the vans in our group was very low on gas, and AMA had other things to worry about. We didn't want to be driving through sketchy roads in the dark, and we were all tired already. We made the decision to get up first thing in the morning and drive out then. We spent the rest of the evening packing up our cars.

Sunday morning we were up at 5:30 a.m. The kids were all drowsy as they ate their bowls of Fruit Loops - the only food we left unpacked - and we loaded them into the cars. It was 6:00 as we pulled away from the resort. The biggest concern was whether the road down the mountain was still safe to go over, but as we were going down, someone else was coming up, and informed us that he made it over fine. There was a fair bit of debris left on the road, and the water was still running over it. We could see trailers with trees through them, and cars underneath them. A load of trees had got stuck at the entrance to the quarry and blocked a good amount of debris from clogging up the roadway even more. We could only access the highway on the east-bound direction, but it turns out that the road was technically only open on the west-bound lane, going east-bound. As a result, we drove between 4 foot piles of rock until we found an opening in the highway that helped us jog over to the other side. We beat most of the traffic out that morning, which was our hope, and we managed to find a gas station that was open between Canmore and Calgary, so no one ran out of gas. We got home by 9:30 that morning, refilled with coffee, relieved to be out of the mountains, and glad for a hot shower. After spending 72 hours stranded on a mountain, we had to admit we were some of the lucky ones. With the death count currently sitting at 4 people, over 100,000 people displaced in Calgary alone thanks to evacuations, hundreds of homes lost across the province, and the whole town of High River under water, to spend three days in the mountains where we still had beautiful accomodations, king-sized beds, Wi-Fi and satellite TV, with plenty of food and drinkable water, our experience, while taxing and nerve-wracking, was really just a blip on the radar. This will be an interesting story for me to tell down the road. For others, the last few days may have changed their lives forever.

My prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent flooding in Alberta, and I look forward to seeing our beautiful province restored.

Mrs. VanderLeek

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