When Joshua Burleigh and Sicamous resident Cody Lee decided a trip down the North Thompson River by canoe from Clearwater to Kamloops with their young ones would be a fun adventure they had absolutely no idea what was waiting for them.
“My buddy Cody and I had previously spent two weeks on a canoe trip down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City,” tells Burleigh, who hails from Alberta but is currently working in B.C. “The Yukon River was really freaky, and after that I thought we were prepared for anything that the North Thompson could throw at us, but nothing we had experienced before could compare to that. It was unbelievable.”
Burleigh says he wishes he had studied the river more before they stepped into the canoe with his seven-year-old son Noah, and Lee’s six-year-old daughter Paisley in Clearwater on Sunday, June 13.
He tells that when they picked up the canoe in Sicamous they were each given life jackets.
“The kids got really good looking life jackets, and we were given old style life jackets that were bulky and heavy,” said Burleigh, “They looked like they needed to be thrown out. We made jokes about our life jackets, saying they looked like they came off the Titanic – but if it wasn’t for those life jackets we wouldn’t have made it!”
He says the trip ended in disaster when they hit rapids in the North Thompson by Heffley Creek.
“We went over. I grabbed Noah, and Cody grabbed Paisley and then he grabbed the cooler for buoyancy,” said Burleigh, “We were all in the water and that was one of the scariest moments of my life. The river pushes you back to the whirlpools in the centre and then they push you down. My pants were filling with water and pulling me down as well, so I had no choice but to kick my pants off or I would have gone under. I had to keep fighting the hydraulics of the water. It was so cold, and I could feel I was shutting down, but I had to keep fighting and hanging on to my son to get us to shore. I’ve never been so scared, and when we finally made it to shore I was pretty shaken up.”
Burleigh says he was completely exhausted getting himself and Noah onto the shore, but knew he had to get help for Lee and Paisley.”
Fortunately Burleigh could see a house and was able to walk there for help.
“At least I had enough wits about me to realize that a man with no pants on and a young boy knocking on someone’s door was probably not going to be perceived too well, so I pulled my shirt off and wrapped it around my waist.”
The couple who answered the door, Garrett and Jeannette, immediately jumped into action to help.
“I thought my buddy and his daughter were still in the water and couldn’t make it back to shore,” told Burleigh, “The Garretts immediately called up their neighbours who have Sea-Doos and they quickly went out searching. They also called First Responders.”
Burleigh says at the time he didn’t know that Lee and his daughter had been able to make it safely to shore on the other side of the river at Jensen Island, where they “received help from Mr. Jensen and his son”.
“The locals were amazing and quicker than the First Responders in helping us out. They put the kids into a hot tub to warm them up, and when the First Responders arrived they helped to warm up my boy.
“I’ve never dealt with hydraulics in a river before, and I’m pretty used to floating down and getting to shore no problem. The cold in that river combined with the hydraulics and whirlpools made it extremely difficult to get to shore. It was frustrating and scary seeing shore 30 feet away and not being able to get to it with my kid in tow. Only way I managed to get us to shore was by pulling my pants off, and the thought of not letting my boy drown.
“If it wasn’t for those life jackets… this would’ve been a different story for sure.”
Burleigh says he very much wants to say, “Thank you to Garrett and his wife Jeannette, Mr. Jensen, his son and their boat, and the neighbours with the Sea-Doos for helping us out on the North Thompson River that day. I’d also like to thank all the First Responders who came to help us. My son was very excited to see all of his heroes in action.
“So thank you, and I apologize again for almost making ourselves a statistic in your backyard Garrett. Enjoy those beers and I look forward to stopping by sometime under better circumstances. You’re great folks and I’m really appreciative of all the help we received. Thank you, and my apologies for the unexpected surprise. Just glad that we’re all still here (and a little wiser).”
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