Throw & Go...Back?
Last Saturday my brother, a friend and myself ran the Lower Wind River in SW Washington. This is a great low water option when there is not much else running. There are two decent drops in the middle of the run and it culminates in a series of 3 waterfalls followed by an 8ft dam drop. My friend and I had ran the Lower Wind several times before but it was my brother’s first time down. He was in an Aire Tomcat IK. His plan was to take a look at the falls and if he wasn’t feeling them that day portage the first three on the fish ladder down to just above the dam drop which he would run. If he decided to portage all 4 drops he would need to do a throw-n-go off of the fish ladder which is a good 20-25 foot drop.
When we got to the falls we were surprised to see that they looked pretty beefy. It was definitely higher than my friend and I had ran it before. Definitely still good to go but the higher water made the margin for error much smaller. It had rained the evening before and I later realized when I had checked the level in the morning I was looking at a graph that had not updated or was rapidly rising.
My friend and I gave the falls a go while my brother set safety. We both had great lines and a clean run on all the drops. My brother’s initial plan of only running the dam was complicated by the higher water. The eddy that is usually at the base of the 3rd falls and up against the fish ladder gone and a lot of the water was pushing up on the side of the fish ladder before dropping over. The 10ft. slot on paddler’s far left up against the fish ladder is the preferred line. Other lines over the dam have shallow landing zones. Further complicating the situation was a log that was pinned between the base of the fish ladder and the cliff wall on the left. The log was pinned just to paddler’s left of the preferred landing zone. My friend and I didn’t have any issues with the log but it did add another factor. My brother opted for the throw-n-go off the top of the fish ladder. The photo (much higher level than when we ran it) gives you a good view of what the falls and fish ladder look like. The first falls is not visible in the photo.
My brother threw his paddle first (personally, I would have held on to it) and then his boat. I didn’t really see how much oomph he put into his toss or have a chance to critique his form but I did see that his boat went straight into the little pocket between the fish ladder and the cliff that the pinned log had created. It then just decided to hang out there for a while. My brother made the jump and regrouped with us as we tried to come up with a plan to get his boat out.
The current was too strong to paddle back up to where the IK was stuck and it was too far for my weak arm to hit it with a rope/rock from the other side of the river so my friend and bro made a sketchy hike back around the top of the cliff to try and fish the boat out from the top of the fish ladder. I would recover the boat if they were able to knock it free. After an hour of trying multiple techniques (logs on a rope, looping the rope, etc.) to get the boat out I started thinking about what the post would look on our local paddling forum (PDXKayaker). “Posting for a friend…” “Boat last seen bobbing behind a log…” “A case of beer and a healthy dose of river Karma to whoever recovers the boat…”
My friend then found a random piece of metal. An old coat hanger? A piece of chain-link? Whatever it was, when tied to the end of the throw rope they were able to snag the IK much easier than with their other techniques. While they came close a bunch of times at getting the boat past the log, it still hadn’t broke free. Finally, they got a good snag on the boat and my brother decided to jump for it again with the rope this time. The hope was that from river level he could pull the boat over the log. Amazingly, it worked and he was able to pull the boat free. My other friend jumped too and we regrouped at the bottom then proceeded to the hot springs just below to warm up and have a beer.
I wanted to share this story because it reminds me of another reason I like paddling so much. Yes, it’s great when you ace your line or run a difficult rapid for the first time but sometimes working through the predicaments we often find ourselves in can be just as entertaining and challenging. These scenarios make you problem solve with your crew, build camaraderie and overcome what the river throws at us or the bad situations we put ourselves in. I’m sure there’s probably a lot of other approaches we could have taken to getting his boat free but after an hour and a half we got it free without putting ourselves in danger. And yes, a harder throw in the right direction would have avoided the situation entirely. Lesson learned.
Hope folks enjoy the story.