It's all love
I was the permit holder for the group that launched with Rinko's group on March 10, 2008. We did the ranger orientation together and played tag down the river. We were ahead of his group when we arrived at Hance and we set up camp there.
It is not uncommon for a group to deliberately watch another group run a challenging rapid. We watched a group scout and then run the right side without incident. Later in the day Rinko's group arrived at the scout. My group reassembled on the sandy hillside maybe forty yards from the shore on river left.
The right run demands that the boater split a couple of pourovers at the top of the rapid, move left of the big upper hole, then continue all the way left or stay far right, dodging several other holes including the big hole at the bottom of the rapid. Rinko's group ran right. No one that day ran the left sneak.
Rinko's group had 10 boats. Rinko was last. One by one we watched each boat make its run. Some boats made it far left and others seemed unable to make the long pull across the rapid but made safe runs down the right side. The bottom of Hance, with its huge hole in the center of the river was the crux of the run.
We watched the eighth boat pass the hole and turned our attention back to the top. The ninth boat, a cataraft was pulling left across the calmer water sometimes called the Duck Pond. Rinko's orange 16 foot bucket boat was rolling over the top pourover and he was nowhere in sight.
Rinko appeared as he came out of the pourover. He was upright in the water and active. His boat went into the big hole at the top of the rapid then he floated into it. The boat was recirculated a couple of times but came out right side up. It never did flip. Rinko spent a long time in the upper hole. He must have recirculated several times and when he came out of the hole he was no longer upright in the water. He did not move after that.
We watched Rinko float lifeless through the rest of that long rapid. He went into several more holes, including the big one at the bottom, before he came to slower water above Son of Hance and his body disappeared from us around the corner. Several of us ran down the beach and along the bank until we caught up with members of Rinko's group. They had him up on the deck of a cataraft and were doing cpr and rescue breathing. We stayed with them while someone from our group went to back up their sat. phone call to the NPS. We watched them work on Rinko for most of an hour before their group decided they better go down river and reunite their group.
That afternoon, they ran several big rapids while still doing cpr and finally above Grapevine convinced the NPS that they could not safely continue and were given permission to cease cpr and rescue breathing. They spent that night with Rinko's body on the raft and made it to Phantom the following morning.
My group spent a cold, rainy night watching that movie replay in our heads, knowing the next day we would need to run that rapid ourselves. We caught up with their group at Cremation Camp the following day. At Phantom Ranch, they derigged Rinko's boat and prepared it to be flown out by the NPS. A couple of difficult days later we reunited with Rinko's group at Bass Camp and the two groups laid over and toasted Rinko with his own beer.
There is more to say. But not from me right now. I feel like the story is not finished. Here in Grand Junction, many people knew Rinko. Some of us who were anxious to run Westwater in the terrible teens or Cataract over 50,000 cfs are rethinking our priorities. I wonder what this tragedy will mean.
My love and respect goes out to my brilliant group who saw this thing, to the beautiful, funny people who were floating with Rinko, and to the larger boating community who have been so supportive.