Patrick Smith came about as close to death as he ever will last week when he narrowly avoided being swallowed up by the second biggest landslide in Canadian history.
He and four friends were on their way to an annual hiking trip on the Salal Creek Trail and found themselves face-to-face with a flowing wall of mud that started with an avalanche near the top of Mount Meager, streamed down Capricorn Creek and built a natural dam at Meager Creek. For a while it also partially blocked the Lillooet River.
Smith, an assistant administrator for an online payments company based in Port Moody, left Vancouver with his friends and a black Labrador at about 11 p.m. on Thursday. They intended to do half the Salal Trail and then hit the Bridge Glacier, a hike they'd been trying to do for a few years.
They arrived at the Upper Lillooet campground at about 3:25 a.m. on Friday, a camping spot that's located about 70 kilometres from the start of the Lillooet Forest Service Road in the Pemberton Valley and right before the turnoff for Meager Creek Hot Springs.
One of the group hopped out of the truck and dropped a backpack on a picnic table when out of the dark they heard a rumble that sounded like a thousand freight trains coming towards them. Another member of their party, unfamiliar with the area, wondered if there was a railway in the area and whether a train was rolling by. Smith quickly set him straight.
"It sounded like the mountain across the river was coming down on us," Smith said in an interview.
The friends debated what to do for about 10 to 15 seconds as the rumble grew louder and trees began snapping all around them. They piled back into their truck, a Yukon XL, and drove in pitch black on to the Forest Service Road where they came face to face with a wall of black water.
"We were just shy of the Meager Creek turnoff," Smith said. "We basically turned off, tried to get up that road, tried to outrun it, drove for literally five seconds and then the headlights hit this big wall of water, probably about two feet high and it was just bubbling black water coming straight at us."
The driver hit the breaks, spun the truck into a reverse and did a 180 before water started to overrun the vehicle on two sides. They had to punch the accelerator hard just to get away and head down the road.
They drove about 500 metres before they saw giant, old growth trees flowing across the road in a torrent of mud. They stopped about 50 metres short of the torrent and found themselves stuck on the road with water and debris flowing up behind them.