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Old 11-23-2009   #21
Bozeman, Montana
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 1
I had a similar experience this spring, and looking back see a lot of incredibly stupid decisions.

I was boating on the middle fork Flathead in MT. Usually a class III run, usually run at around 800-5000 cfs. At 19000 things change a bit. I called up a friend who I had boated with a lot before, but mainly just playboating, so I didn't really know his actual ability for more difficult water (mistake #1). With no one else up for it, we decided that we would go, scout it all out, and make a decision. He decided that he would go for it, so we put on. Now- on the nature of the river at this level- most stuff was pretty washed out, but there were a couple of huge holes that you definitely did not want to be near, and there were also some massive eddylines that could throw you off pretty easily. So, we put on, and not too far down the run he is upside-down and off line. And the swim started. Hard to guess, but it lasted at least a few minutes and involved a lot of down time for my friend. As there were only two of us (again, stupid), I tried for a while to pull him, but with little success. Next I tried sprinting down river a ways and throwing a rope, but before I threw I realized that I wouldnt make it in time, so I got back in and started towing again. Finally I got him towards the side, but twice when I pulled an eddy his hand was ripped from my boat. Finally got him to the side and out of the water, but he was exhausted and really terrified. Lost his boat and paddle, hiked out.

Anyways I just saw so many parallels with that video and my experience, I figured I would share. Feel free to point out all the stupid decisions- I will admit there are a ton.

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Old 11-23-2009   #22
caspermike's Avatar
Bozeman, Montana
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,507
First thing shut happens playboaters should in theory be able to roll any way possible so don't worry to much and big water eddy lines almost devoured My good buddy dave schmit while on playboating trip to jackon at 14000 plus a few years back. Finding your bro swirling in a eddy line with just sparkle of his helmet visible aint to pleasing. Mtravler

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Old 11-23-2009   #23
phlyingfish's Avatar
Moscow, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 269
More Thoughts

First, I want to thank Dave Hoffman for putting together this video and sparking off this conversation. No rescue goes perfectly and he's doing us all a service by putting his efforts out there for us to learn from.

Last year I had the pleasure of practicing my strong swimmer techniques on two classic stretches the Little White (3.4) and the North Fork Payette (6,000+). Not to state the obvious, but swimming on an big river during runoff is completely different from swimming on a creek, even fast and continuous one like the L-Dub. Your approach as a rescuer will be different because things, generally, move slower on a creek.

On L-Dub (double drop) I bailed went deep, got on my back, caught a breath, went deep again, and was bagged as soon as I popped up. In that situation the crew got set for a rescue as soon as I started getting surfed in the pourover and were ready to bag me as soon as I was ready to swim. I was out of the creek within 10 yards of where I swam. There, a person with a throwbag could have missed once and gotten me on the second throw before I washed downstream. As a swimmer I was also able to get out of the current much more easily. The key was that everyone who had already run the rapid were in the eddy below the drop watching people come through.

On the other hand, a swim in big water often happens midstream in a long rapid with few eddies or pools available. On the NF (warm-up below the Gang-bang Hole) I was the first person in my group, I got stuck in a hole, and my skirt popped while instantly filling my boat and sending me downstream in the middle of the river. This happened in the mellowest part of the whole run, but all I could do was get on my back and catch my breath between the hits. I also freaked out a bit when my skirt imploded, which definitely wasted a lot of breath right off the bat. Don't do that. A person on shore with a bag would have been all but useless because I was hauling ass downstream and far from the bank. Swimming to the bank was pretty much impossible because the center of the river was lower than the sides. The only thing that saved me was the second guy in my crew catching up to my soggy ass and letting me grab his boat (thanks Shaner). I kicked while he paddled and we got over to the bank where he made a quick eddy turn where there was no eddy. This put me close enough to shore for me to feel comfortable letting go of his boat.

Even at the bank it was hard to get out as every rock I grabbed rolled into the river with me. I ultimately decided to stop myself by planting my feet on a big flat rock, which allowed me to claw my way out of the water. This was a sketchy maneuver given the high risk of foot entrapment on a rock jumble bank like that. But, at that point the chance of stopping the ride was better than continuing to be cheese-grated down the bank or getting sucked back out into the main current. My boat went another mile and a half downstream and eddied itself out in the only pool on that part of the run. One of the boys found my paddle in the river and threw it onto the bank.

The moral of these stories is that different rivers demand different rescue approaches. On a creek you've got time to set safety with throw ropes. In big water, a rope is pretty much useless. Instead we tend to run in packs of boaters spaced out enough to prevent collisions but close enough to provide support if someone gets into trouble. However, this technique only works if everyone in the group is watching out for eachother. If you're dawdling or paddling too far out in front, then you are taking yourself out of position to help your buddies when it gets serious.
"A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes writing for the majority in New Jersey v. New York
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Old 11-23-2009   #24
Missoula, Montana
Paddling Since: 99
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 37
Hindsight is always 20/20. It is hard to tell what the others were doing during all of this, but bodies typically go faster than boats, so maybe they were trying to catch up? A rope at the bottom would have been ideal, but shoulda/woulda/coulda. You have to chase them down under those circumstances. The swimmer did an awesome job reading the situation as he was being towed. If only punters had that presence of mind. Anyhow, just another reason having wide grab bars near the cockpit is nice.
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Old 11-23-2009   #25
spartankayaker's Avatar
Portland, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 70
Great Video and Self Rescue Points

Wow, that was some video Dave... I'm really glad Mike was okay. I had a similar experience last January on the Hood. We paddled Dee to Tucker (normally Class III pool drop), but as the river goes above 6 ft, D-T becomes a continuous Class III+/IV (IMHO). I'd never paddled it above 5 feet and we put on at 6, so I was pretty surprised at the change in river character. Below Island Rapid (towards the end of the run), the river makes a hard right hand turn, then moves immediately left with a huge rock on river right that, as I found out, forms a huge hole at higher flows... I got worked, swam and was in the water for about 200+ yards. My buddy Mike Glass tried to get me to shore, but the eddies were surging too much and we got washed down stream... he was getting knocked all over the place with me on his stern, so I let him go. It was cold in the water and I was beginning to loose some strength, so I can appreciate Mike's problem. I went through SWRT 1 training and, luckily, some of what I learned kicked in and whatever strength I had, I mustered for a move towards shore and a root ball that was sticking out... I grabbed it with one hand and was able to get myself out of the water a bit and get some sense of where I was and what was below me. I could see a small eddy about 50 yards below my position, so I let go, got on my belly and swam like hell for the eddy, rolled into it and was out of the current.

For me, the thing that got me out was self rescue, so I'll echol everyone elses sentiments on the subject... buddies are great, but they can't always get you to shore safety and in time.

To be honest, the swim scared the hell out of me and I'm not sure I've been the same paddler since then. I suppose I take it day-by-day, working on perfecting my roll and keeping those nagging issues of "fear" at bay, but that's a whole different topic.

Have fun out there and paddle safe.

Growing old is mandatory... growing up is optional
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Old 11-23-2009   #26
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Grand Junction, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 297
Thanks for posting the video and for the discussion. I've never had a bad swim. Yet. When I do, I hope some of what I've learned here will come back to me.
-Τὸ χόβερκράφτ μου εἶναι γεμᾶτο χέλια!
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Old 11-24-2009   #27
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Louisville, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 26
wow. thanks for sharing the video.

nf payette, pitoned the rock at jake's while going for my boof, swam at jake's place but was luckily out of the water by the 1st hole on golf course. self-rescued before anyone could accurately toss a line, and there were at least three people with bags.

just because your buds have throw ropes doesnt mean they will get to you, especially in high-volume water. just like you should practice throwing that bag, i think you should also practice swimming in a controlled environment.

i kinda think that to truly understand your limits as a boater you need to assess your ability to self-rescue in any given situation. being confident running a line is a lot different than being confident in your ability to self-rescue if things dont go as planned.

but that's easy for me to say now. the older i get the more safety conscious I become. I swam that day because i was an over-confident dip-sh#t running top to bottom @ 4000+ in a pirouette s. (hey, this was 1996). oh, and wearing a drytop and shorts.
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Old 11-25-2009   #28
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 118
Interesting follow up comment from the swimmer on

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