22 July 2012

Close one!

Posted by Callan Bentley

Greetings Mountain Beltway readers!

It’s been a lovely two weeks away from the blog and the Internet in general, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I’m pleased to be back.

A funny thing happened — or to be more accurate, didn’t happen — to me and my students yesterday as we were driving back to Calgary after two weeks of geologizing in the Canadian Cordillera. We were driving from Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park along Highway 1 in Banff National Park, heading for the gas station in Canmore, when a major deluge hit. The storm was quite strong in terms of lightning and thunder, but in particular because of the tremendous quantity of rain that dumped down on us. It was one of those times where I found myself very pleased at being in the 21st century, so I could comfortably drive along through the fierce storm in the comfort of a climate controlled vehicle. However, at a couple of times, the rain was so intense that the windshield wipers were barely able to disperse it, and I wondered if I should pull my convoy of four vehicles over. As it turns out, I’m really, really glad that I kept driving instead of pulling over, because it turned out that we just missed being (a) stranded or (b) being swept off the road by a major mudslide. Here’s the scene on the TransCanada Highway in the aftermath of the slide:

Source photo: Craig Douce, Rocky Mountain Outlook

The mudslide occurred during the late part of the storm, right after we passed through the area. We only found out about it once we got to Calgary and checked into our hostel, but then when we heard that it had occurred at 3:30pm, we thought, “Holy cow. That’s right when we passed through there!” In fact, that’s right about when we were filling up our tanks with gas in Canmore. I went and checked the receipts… Here’s the proof:

This was the moment that I settled the bill at the gas station, which was probably ten minutes after we arrived at the gas station, which means we had really just passed the mudslide site minutes before it hit. Quite possibly the rain-saturated mud had already begun to mobilize on the slopes above us as we passed below in the comfort of our vehicles. If we had tarried for 15 minutes, we would have been stuck for hours until Canadian authorities cleared the road (it reopened at 1am), if we hadn’t been swept off the road outright.

…That’s a close call with a real mass wasting event! A good lesson in geology, and a good lesson in perspective!