As we stand next to the pools near the top of Shannon Falls, Squamish SAR president BJ Chute pulls out his cellphone to show me an Instagram photo.
The picture-perfect, filtered post shows what looks like an idyllic summer hangout spot. He points on the screenshot to the same spots that lie in front of us, these Instagram people were posing exactly where SAR believes three people stood before falling to their deaths July 3, 2018. The picture Chute shows me, as we talk above the sound of rushing water, was posted just before May long weekend this year. Chute sent it to some of the SAR volunteers with the caption, “Good luck this weekend.”
On July 3, 2018, Ryker Gamble, Alexey Lyakh, and Megan Scraper fell from the lower pool near the top of Shannon Falls.
The trio was part of the Vancouver-based Youtube channel High On Life, which features travel and adventure videos. Although the deaths made headlines around the world, we still don’t officially know what happened. The BC Coroner’s investigation is still active, a year later.
When someone dies in nature in Squamish, there are typically two questions on everyone’s mind: Do I know them? What happened? Until the name is released (if it is), the description can fit many we know in town. Then, we want to know if this was a fluke or something that could have been prevented. We want to tell ourselves it couldn’t happen to us because we do x and y.
Next to the rushing water of Shannon Falls, Chute notes the waterlevel in the pools. While the rocks near the edge of the nearby pool are slippery from the fall’s spray now, he tells me the water was around six to eight inches higher on July 3, 2018.
It’s my first time visiting the pools. It’s hard to shake the chill that comes with knowing what happened here.
Since the accident, people have continued to frequent the pools at Shannon Falls, much like many will keep climbing the Grand Wall route where a climber fell to his death on June 22 — the first fatality this summer. Much like many will swim at Alice Lake, where someone drowned last summer. This is not to say we shouldn’t venture outside, shouldn’t push ourselves. After all, it wouldn’t be Squamish if we didn’t enjoy living in the outdoor recreation capital of Canada.
But pausing to remember what has happened is a good thing. I’d wager most of us have had a few close calls of our own — just not one that made the news. And we can learn something from these tragedies, as long as we’re careful not to place unnecessary blame on people who have already suffered the consequences of what is often a simple and deadly misstep. While we don’t like to linger, hesitate or doubt, taking a moment reminds us that the unexpected can happen, and it can happen to us — no matter how skilled or prepared we are.
Stay safe out there, Squamish.