and Jeff Gaye
On July 8, 2016, at age 94, Grandma Hazel set a new record as the oldest person to raft down the rapids of the lower Thompson River.
In fact, Hazel Amos may be the oldest person to raft a class IV river in B.C.; in Canada; and who knows, even the world. The Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t have a category for oldest river runners, but Kumsheen Rafting does, and Grandma Hazel now holds the B.C. record.
“She really looks forward to her annual whitewater rafting trip down the Thompson River,” according to her daughter, veteran river rat Margaret. “When she learned four years ago that at 90 she wasn’t the oldest, she was determined to set a new record.”
Bernie Fandrich remembers the 90th birthday trip well. He is the founder of Kumsheen Rafting, and the Fandrich family still owns and operates the resort near Lytton. He has guided many of Hazel’s trips over the years.
“[In 2012] Hazel was sure she was the oldest person we’ve guided down the river,” he said. “We told her we’d had a 93-year-old on one of our trips.” Hazel clearly took that as a challenge.
Margaret and her brother Bob Amos first rafted the Thompson with Kumsheen in 1974. “With the exception of a few years when the kids were small, I think I’ve run the river with Kumsheen every year since then. Sometimes I came twice,” reminisces Margaret.
“Margaret has said to me we don’t have to go every year, because we knew we were going when I was 94,” says Hazel. “I told her if she didn’t want to drive me, I’d take the bus.”
She hasn’t had to travel alone. A group of family and friends comes with her, and one year they had 17 people in their party.
Hazel Amos’s family and friends gathered last week to wish her a happy 94th birthday. Photo courtesy Kumsheen Rafting Resort.
This year friends and family—38 of them—journeyed from Kuwait, Australia, Ecuador, New Jersey, Saskatchewan, and from all over B.C. to celebrate her 94th birthday last week and join her for her record-setting descent. Some might call Grandma Hazel a daredevil, but the Surrey, B.C. resident laughs at the notion. She’s done it many times before, so she knows what she’s getting into. “Oh, you’re quite safe,” she says. “You just have to hang on.”
She says the scariest part of the tour is the safety briefing. Once the raft is on the river, she feels very safe. “There’s a rope you have to hang on to. My son sits on one side, my son-in-law on the other, and they’ve got their hands in my pockets to make sure I don’t fall over. I sit at the back of the raft because it’s a lot rougher in the front.”
For Hazel and her family, it’s a blast. “It’s exciting! It’s lots of fun, you get soaking wet,” she says. “The scenery’s lovely, and we’ve seen eagles, an otter, a bear, and fish—lots of fish.”
In all her years rafting, Hazel says that only one person has fallen in, and she was quickly rescued.
Fandrich says the perception of risk is a big part of the thrill. “You’re on powerful moving water, and you have no control over the river. It’s exciting,” he says. “And there is an element of risk. But it’s a very, very safe activity. We’ve taken well over a quarter of a million people down the river, and we’ve never had a serious injury.”
The raft carrying Grandma Hazel on her record-breaking run. Photo courtesy Kumsheen Rafting Resort.
When she isn’t running the rapids, Hazel prefers quieter pursuits. “I still keep a garden,” she says, “but you know, I must be getting old, because sometimes I have to sit down and take a rest after 10 minutes or so or pulling weeds.”
Besides her annual whitewater journey down the Thompson, Grandma Hazel competes in The Inside Ride, an indoor fund-raising team event that raises money for children with cancer.
“Four bike riders each sprint for ten minutes, but Grandma Hazel sometimes is allowed to get off her bike a few minutes early,” says daughter Margaret. Hazel chose to walk the 300 metres from where the Kumsheen bus dropped her off to where the rafts were waiting in the water. She flatly rejected the offer of a ride down.
She was wearing a huge smile after her thrilling journey down the river. “This was maybe my best trip ever,” she beamed. “The rapids were great, raft guide Braden knew just how to hit the waves, and the sun was out the whole way down.
“I have such a nice family. Can you believe that so many of them came from everywhere to celebrate my birthday and my run down the river?”
At the end of each run, Hazel is the toast of her rafting party: family, friends, and even strangers. “They always congratulate me that I’m brave enough to go rafting, but I really enjoy it,” she says.
Fandrich knows that’s true. “The smile on her face tells the story.”