Get Out There

Residents warn of dangerously thin ice on Heffley Lake

Public continues to come despite documented risk and holes in some area 

Swaths of thin ice can be seen across the lake. Photo supplied

Thin, unevenly-frozen ice on Heffley Lake, just down the road from Sun Peaks, B.C., poses a serious safety risk to the public, according to a group familiar with the area and threat. 

Despite this, people continue to visit the area and step on to the ice—some even take their heavy snowmobiles onto it. 

In the days before Christmas, Campbell Bryk, who operates ice fishing business Elevated Fishing Adventures on a secure tract of the ice sheet, watched as two snowmobilers unloaded near the boat launch and blasted by him. 

“They flew past me a full speed out to the main body of the lake where there was maybe an inch of ice,'” said Bryk. “It was not safe to walk on there as a person, let alone on a snowmobile. It’s lucky those people didn’t slow down, or they would have fallen right through.” 

In a Facebook post from Jan. 7—a day after Sun Peaks Independent News spoke with him—Bryk posted that he’d read a report that an ice fisher had actually fallen through an area of thin ice, though those close by were able to get out. 

According to Bryk, the area never received a significant spell of cold weather to allow the lake to develop a thick layer of ice, and the changes in temperature this winter have left the lake weak and thin in places. 

“On a normal year, we’ll get a cold snap, and there will be four to six inches of solid ice, which is great,” he said, adding then snow will fall on it. 

The snow and ice can then freeze together, making a solid foundation. 

Bryk’s message—that the ice is unsafe and the public should steer clear—is also being voiced by the Heffley Lake Community Association (HLCA). 

HLCA president Fergus Alexander said members of the group recently installed signage at certain popular areas of the lake in a bid to discourage people from going onto it. They’ve also posted their concerns and warnings on social media. 

“We’re concerned that someone’s going to get hurt, if not killed,” said Alexander.  

Alexander added that residents are not equipped to make a rescue if someone should fall through. 

“And ultimately, we don’t really have facilities to go out and help necessarily…We don’t have like a search and rescue crew here,” he said.  

Alexander added that in a normal year locals flock to the ice “like ants” when it’s safe. But he’s not seeing any locals out there this year. 

“There’s nobody out there now,” he said. “If we’re being that cautious, [others should be as well].” 

Bryk echoed this, saying that in normal years he will set up a fishing spot and allow guests to roam around the general area, knowing that it’s safe.

But he no longer feels comfortable doing this. 

“I tell my guests exactly where we’re allowed to go,” he said. “I make a big circle around the hut.” 

In his fifth year of operation, Bryk added he brings a raft of rescue and self-rescue equipment every time he heads out. This includes a spud bar (a big chisel he uses to check the ice thickness), retractable ice picks for self-rescue, and a throw bag designed for water rescues. 

He said  he often receives messages through social media asking about the health of the ice. 

“Even in a normal year, I’ll never say it is safe, because ice is so unpredictable, ice changes and moves. But this year I’m absolutely telling people, ‘no it’s not safe.’

“There are spots that I could put  a leg through easily. It’s a very unsafe year for Heffley Lake.”