Indefinitely Wild

Doing It for the ‘Gram Turns Deadly

One-upmanship on social media reaches its logical conclusion. Again.

Some of High On Life's popular Instagram posts. (Illustration: Wes Siler)

Three members of controversial social-media collective High on Life were killed when they were swept over a waterfall in Canada. It’s a tragic, if sadly predictable, conclusion to a career of risk-taking one-upmanship that once landed two of the trio in jail for damaging Yellowstone National Park’s largest hot spring.

According to reports, Ryker Gamble and Alexey Lyakh dove into a pool above British Columbia’s Shannon Falls in an attempt to rescue Megan Scraper after she slipped and fell. All three were then reportedly swept over the 98-foot drop, prompting a two-day search that eventually led to the recovery of their bodies. 

Rugged terrain and heavy seasonal water flow complicated search and rescue efforts. The bodies were eventually found and recovered by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who rappelled into the base of the falls from a helicopter, then used an underwater camera to find the bodies. “I can’t say enough about the incredible skilled work done today by the RCMP teams along with Squamish SAR,” said Sascha Banks of the Squamish RCMP in a statement

Once remote and challenging to access, visitation to Shannon Falls has increased in recent years following the 2014 construction of the nearby Sea to Sky Gondola. “It looks beautiful, it’s a sunny day, but given the extensive water flow that comes off the mountains, and the number of incidents that we’ve had in the Squamish area lately, people just need to be prepared,” Banks said in the statement. “Unless you have the knowledge of that area, the expertise and the right equipment you should not be up there.”

Part of the issue is the natural terrain. “The granite there is beautifully carved by the water over hundreds of years, and it’s very slick, and with the spray and some lichen that builds up on it, people don’t realize how slippery it is,” Squamish SAR official John Willcox explained to the Vancouver Sun. “We’ve had a number of dogs that have gone into the water, and people that have slipped into the water as well. Fortunately in the past, they have all been able to be rescued.”

In 2014, High on Life shot a video of the group cliff jumping and sliding down waterfalls at nearby Lynn Canyon. Two years later, a teenage boy was killed attempting to perform similar stunts there. High on Life responded to his death by stating on their YouTube page, “Our team has been trained and involved in gymnastics, diving, stunts, and the extreme sports community for over a decade. We take many precautions when assessing safe diving spots, including checking water levels, water currents, height measurements, etc, and always have locals and professionals alongside with us when embarking on these epic cliff jumping missions. As much fun as it can be, it is also EXTREMELY dangerous. There have been several accidents and even deaths at this location, and we DO NOT condone others to try and attempt the same things we've done.”

That was just one of a number of controversies the group has been involved in. Created seven years ago by a group of high school students from Vancouver, High on Life showcased their international travels and frequent risk taking. The group quickly garnered a large following—it currently has 502,000 subscribers on YouTube and 1.1 million followers on Instagramapparently allowing at least some of the members to call it their full-time job. In 2016, Gamble, Lyakh, and another man were spotted cavorting on Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone, damaging its sensitive microorganism mats and risking their lives in the process. The incident eventually led to the three being found guilty for a laundry list of related crimes, and they served a week in jail, payed thousands of dollars in fines, and, most notably, were banned from all U.S. public land for five years. 

One group member standing on the edge of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, damaging its fragile and unique bacterial ecosystem, and risking his life in an apparent attempt to inspire other to do the same. Areas like this in Yellowstone are clearly signposted and fenced, and ample educational material on the sensitive and dangerous nature of these thermal features exists throughout the park. (Photo: High On Life)

There have been other reports of similar incidents. High on Life has trespassed into a sensitive archeological area at Machu Pichu, climbed Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, affixed a rope swing to Utah’s picturesque, but fragile Corona Arch, and water skied behind an RV across the Bonneville Salt Flats. In 2016, a petition asking corporate sponsors to end their sponsorship of the group garnered 22,418 signatures over a week, and prompted brands like Budweiser to announce they wouldn’t work with High on Life in the future. 

Across social media, reactions to the deaths have referenced these controversies. A GoFundMe campaign established to raise funds for funeral services proved so controversial that its comments were disabled, and its original $100,000 goal was reduced to $50,000. At the time of writing, it’s raised a total of $2,791. A GoFundMe for Gamble’s girlfriend (Instagram influencer Alissa Hansen) has proven more successful, raising $13,123. 

In response to the deaths, the surviving members of High on Life recorded this video. 

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