My cat on the rootball story
Bigger picture attached below.
The root ball incident was from June 13th 2004 on the Klickitat River in Washington. The flow was around 1200cfs - near the lower limit for rafting so there were many places that needed careful maneuvering to stay in the channel and I ended up stuck on a rock or shallow gravel a few times. About half way through the day I remember thinking that "this river is teaching me a lot" as I was getting better at spotting rocks and distinguishing them from waves.
This was just my third time rowing - in April I rowed a smaller (12') cat on the Rogue and did fairly well, although I ended up running Blossom on the far right which was only possible due to the relatively high (2400cfs) flow. Then Saturday June 12th I rowed the 16' cat on the White Salmon which was quite a ride with little opportunity to stop as the rapids were back to back all day.
As it turned out, we were less than a mile from the takeout when I saw Brian and Paul ahead of me pulling pretty hard on the oars to position themselves in what turned out to be the center (of three) channel of the river. As I got to that spot, I found myself sucked up onto a gravel bar right of the center channel. It was clear I didn't want to continue in that direction as that big strainer was just down river from where I was sitting, so I decided to just sit there for a bit and figure out how to avoid the tree. Meanwhile, three other cats (Steve & Kary, Steve Taylor, and John Sterner) caught up and, rather than moving to the center channel behind me, they just slipped past right in front of me and were able to just pull back from the tree like you would avoid any other obstacle then kept going downriver.
That's when I made the big rookie mistake - I figured the flow in front of me was safe to take based on the other three rafts going that way and muscled the boat off the rocks to get in the flow. By the time I jumped in the seat and grabbed the oars, I got just one good pull before crashing into the rootball. It was like a car accident where there is a piece of time that can't be remembered but a lot happens. If you look closely at the pictures, you'll see that the raft is actually facing the center of the river meaning that it spun 180 degrees laterally as well as 90 degrees vertically - I have little memory of that maneuver. The small tree leaning against the rootball is what stopped the raft from completely flipping which may have made for an even worse situation. I do remember thinking to myself that "this is how people die on rivers" as I got smashed into the rootball.
Adrenaline took over and I instinctively moved to higher ground (wood). As I tried to scramble upwards, the water was sucking my legs down but something even stronger prevented me from getting out - the crotch of my wetsuit was hung on something! Without any conscious thought I grabbed and ripped the neoprene (something that's difficult to do without the adrenaline rush) and got my ass out of there.
Once on the rootball I was relatively relaxed and mainly glad to be alive, though felt pretty stupid for being the spectacle of the week. I saw John pull over left a ways downriver and start making his way back up. I ended up sitting up there by myself for about twenty minutes (reflecting on how nice it was to be alive) before Steve Taylor came up on the right bank. He was able to get down the bank and get hold of my throw rope and take it up the bank. John was next on the scene, bushwhacking up river left. There wasn't much he could do from there but agree with me that I really fucked this one up big time. Steve & Kary were next on the scene and from the right bank tried their best tug-of-war moves to no avail.
I didnít have a knife, so Steve sent me one with a throw rope. I was able to cut the strapping for the floor which, when loose, relieved a lot of force that was pinning the cat but it was still majorly stuck. Steve tried a couple different angles using carabiners to get some advantage but there was no way that would be enough to get it off.
I was up late that night splitting time staring at stars and campfire.
Instead of getting home early Monday, we had a challenge in front of us to get the raft off the tree. Fortunately we had a couple of guys with training for this - Brian and Neil. This was their time to shine. Out came the spectra rope, pulleys, prusiks, and other stuff I'd never heard of before. As Brian likes to point out, he voluntarily worked his way to the spot I was the day before where I didn't have a choice. Neil coordinated a bunch of us in setting up the Z-drag. Progress was slow because we couldn't set the prusik break more than six feet or so from the front pulley. There were a lot of "Pull! Pull! Hold it!" sessions before we were getting serious pull on the frame. At some point we got Brian to let some air out of the top tube, and that was the difference we needed to get the frame loose.
It turned out to be a more expensive trip than I'd planned. In the end I owed George one blade (broke on the White Salmon), one oar (with blade, sleeve, and oar right) that was left at the tree, and Brian a throw rope (broke with our first Z-drag rigging) plus a Spectra rescue rope that we burned on one of the pulley points. It was a small price to pay for the experience and having another day to boat another river.