This is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write, but I think the boating community should be aware and hopefully take this in to consideration when running this specific drop, or any big drop in the future. Kayaking is an extreme sport, and sometimes comes with the ultimate consequence.
Yesterday, my fiancé and I were up scouting Sherman Falls/Cinnamon Gorge for the third day in a row. His goal was to run Sherman falls and hike back out of the gorge so we were never separated. We had already discussed the best line, safety set-up, and consequences. He made the decision to run, knowing that it was a big drop. I fully trust him to make his own boating decisions- he is a very rational, intelligent, mature man, an incredible kayaker, and he was confident he could hit the line.
He came over the falls just slightly over vertical and surfaced upside down. The timing of his roll with the surges in the waterfall were aligned just wrong so he ended up being pushed behind the falls. After numerous attempts to paddle out and getting pinned in the undercut river left wall, he swam and attempted to climb the railroad ties behind the falls to jump and catch a current out of the cave. I waited with a rope just beyond the pool. His jump was unsuccessful and all I can ascertain is that he was held underwater for a significant period of time. After waiting for him to resurface, I finally had to rope back up from water level to assess. Going back up was an incredibly difficult decision- I could not see as well from where I was, but if he floated out and I wasn’t down at water level, I would have no way to catch him if he floated by unconscious. He was still missing for a few more minutes as I made it back up, and then I saw him surface unconscious behind the falls with his boat.
After looking at all the options, and watching for several minutes, I was forced to conclude there was nothing more I could do. The purpose of posting this is not to start a “what if” scenario for our safety set up, so please, leave that to my own thoughts and nightmares. Search and rescue recovered him from behind the falls this evening. I would like to thank that entire team for recovering him without any injuries to their crew, and for the sheriff’s department of Lake City for helping myself and my family through this.
Life is fragile, sometimes surprisingly so. I think kayaking is learning the art of working with the very element that can destroy you. He died doing the thing he loved most with the person he loved most. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say no one should run that waterfall, or even decide whether I will ever boat again at this point. I would just ask that you consider the risks before you set on the river, and know that anything can happen. Please keep us in your prayers.