So there I was, upside down just upstream of a sieve on Colorado's most committing river section with only half a paddle. How the hell did I get here?
It all started in a small country town called Durango, where the rain started to fall in late July. Much to the local kayakers' delight, this brought the mighty Animas river up to levels that allowed us to paddle the Baker's Box aka Pandora's Box section of the river, and a small but dedicated group of paddlers paddled it often. So often in fact that I got pretty comfortable with it, maybe a little too comfortable.
On one August evening, I could find only one other taker, but we were both keen so off we went. We negotiated hike in and put on around six, and quickly leapfrogged through the first 3 drops. Above the Plunger, Steven took the lead. I gave him a few seconds and followed. For those of you unfamiliar with this rapid, at low flows, it consists of a small boof into a cauldron that exits through a narrow slot on the right wall down a boily slide roughly 10 feet tall. At the bottom is more boily water followed by a sieve against the right wall about 50 feet downstream.
After a number of pretty good runs on the Plunger this season, I was beginning to think that its bark was worse than its bite, and that you didn't really have to work that hard to stay off the right wall. I was wrong. After a good boof into the cauldron, I failed to get any left boat angle and found myself against the wall going down the slide. I have been close to the wall before and was not too concerned, knowing I could ride a left brace down and get left after the drop. As I was riding the brace down the slide, I suddenly lost all leverage on the paddle and flipped. I started to set up to roll and realized that like a once happy couple whose marriage is now irretrievably broken, my trusty Werner paddle was now two pieces of paddle.
Oh shit! I dropped one piece and tried a roll attempt with half a paddle. It wasn't even close. Knowing that the sieve was rapidly approaching and that a swimmer could get through the sieve (it been done), I pulled the cord and swam. Almost immediately, I was up against a rock. I heard Steven yelling to swim right I think. I had no idea which direction right was, but I swam towards his voice.
Once clear of the sieve, my next thought was the class V rapid downstream and the vertical walls that would likely force me to swim it. I grabbed the left wall as soon as I could and struggled to climb up, but the rock was too slick and undercut. As I let go, I did not know if there would be anywhere else to get out. I planned to catch my breath treading water in the eddy before swimming the exit to the gorge.
As I rounded the corner, I saw a beautiful sight, my boat in the eddy, with Steven holding it, and a boulder against the wall that might provide a spot to get back in. Long story short, it was sketchy, but I emptied my boat, put together my breakdown, and found a spot to balance and get back in so I could paddle my lucky ass out of there.
Lessons learned (cause this thread is not just for entertainment):
1) don't paddle lackadaisically in scary class V ( duh). Though the swim was the result of a broken paddle, like most equipment failures, it all started with a sloppy line.
2) carry a breakdown. The ass you save may just be your own!
3) be more vigilant about safety spots on runs you do frequently. I didn't even know that the cleft in the rock where I got back in existed until I needed it.
4) paddle with solid people. In addition to being a scholar and a gentleman, Mr. Naylor corralled my boat and stayed totally calm throughout this whole adventure.
Be safe out there. I'll do my bootie at Baileyfest!