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Old 05-07-2014   #1
2kanzam's Avatar
Charleston, West Virginny
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 461
Class VI Wind!?!?

I'm sure we've all had our run-ins with wind but man-oh-man did we encounter some nasty stuff last weekend.

I skipped out on Cheatfest last week to finally run a stretch of water I have been trying to catch for years. So Me, my GF and uncle took my SBer and his cat on a camp trip down Smokehole Canyon in WV for a few days. Absolutely gorgeous area and the weather was nicer than one could ever hope for if you are gonna catch it with water.

Anyways on the way out I started noticing the atmosphere was very unstable...gusting winds increasing down into the valley. We came to a pool above a long class 2 boulder rapid with a rootball at the top and strainers down below, then turns to the right at the end. About then we saw this dustdevil come of the mountian and pound some canoers preparing to portage. It took the top out of one tree and almost smashed one guys boat in half while he was getting out!

Well we didn't think too much of it other than just being a gust, so I led the way down the rapid. 100 feet in the wind hit us. I turned the stern into the wind to help relieve it but it just got worse. The next thing I know I could not move the boat across the river AT ALL to maneuver, the wind was too strong and I had a hazard coming up. Also about this time the wind had picked up so much water it felt like rain was going up (on an otherwise crystal clear day!)! So much water and debris in the air you could not see past the boat. It literally felt like I was going 100mph backwards (but standing still) in a hurricane.

I yelled to my GF that we gotta go to shore-mid rapid mind you-so I picked the oars out of the water. Instantly they blew flat against the boat and started shaking like street signs in a hurricane. It was all I could do to hold on to them. That wind took us like a sail and SLAMMED us into the bank at what felt like felt like a car wreck (believe me, I've been in a few). When the boat was shored, wind got up under it and LIFTED MY FULLY LOADED 14FT RAFT UP IN THE AIR WITH US IN IT! We had to highside to keep from flipping and then got back to the ground.

We spent the next five minutes (? felt like an eternity) highsiding the raft on the bank and hunkering down from the debris. It was the kind of windstorm you don't wanna be exposed in, but what u gonna do!

Eventually it calmed enough and I could see the same happened to my uncle, luckily right befor he entered the rapid.

For the rest of the day we fought nearly as strong crosswinds, but amazingly alot of it was blowing us downstream. There is one rapid at the end....a breached dam with exposed rebar and about a 10ft slot, that we had to run. The wind certainly upped the pucker factor for that one.

We talked to another rafting group and they had the same shore slamming experience we had. Our estimates of the wind were all 60mph. When we got out we heard reports of 70mph winds. In fact that same day a plane flying from Baltimore to Florida had to turn around over where we were due to turbulence and injured passengers.

Long story, but it was absolutely insane and I just wanted to share. My uncle has been doing this for almost 40 years all across the country and he'd never experienced anything like it. It was a nerve racking experience waiting for the next gust and probably the scariest float I have taken.

Have you all had any experience with class VI wind?

My girlfriend summed it up when we took out of the water and she said "Of all the things we prepare, practice for and expect while rafting....this ain't one of 'em"

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Old 05-07-2014   #2
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 17
Sounds intense. I've ad similar experiences on the Colorado more than once in Ruby canyon. We had to hunker down in the holes around Blackrock camps for hours. With fully loaded boats getting blown half a mile!

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Old 05-07-2014   #3
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
Never had the extreme wind issue, but I've been in thunderstorms so close and so big that the hair on my arms was standing up; HUGE lightning bolt took out a tree on Gore Range about 30 yards from us.

On the river, there is no place to hide from lightning.

I think if I'd hit that kind of wind, and saw a "dust devil" (tornado) moving my way I'd be thinking time to land and cower.
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Old 05-07-2014   #4
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1975
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 535
I had a similar dust devil/water spout deal on a early season, solo trip down the Moab Daily stretch once. Strange day on the water, no doubt.

After a few miles, downstream progress wasn't possible so I pulled over to camp and wait it out.

I got to watch a poor cataraft crew through my tent window try to pass my site when it let up abit. Another gust would come up and they would get blown back upstream and around then bend. 10 minutes later, they would be back only to get blown back upstream again. And again. And again.... for about two hours.

Later that evening, I got out of my tent to walk around abit and I saw a dust devil come onto the river quickly changing into a 20+ tall waterspout. It crossed the river like it had a mind for my raft, hit it dead on, picked it up and flipped my oar rig for 3-4 full rotations in the air after pulling out the 5ft. long log buried in the sand that it was tied into. It landed upside down in the middle of the river land in and started blowing upstream around the bend.

I ran up the beach, jumped in the early March cold river, swam out and grabbed the log that the rope was tied to and dragged it all back to shore.

It never really let up, even the next morning, so I ferried to the other side by the road, hiked back to my truck and dragged all of my shit up a bank to GTFO of Dodge.

Despite the swim, I still felt lucky I just happened to be out of my tent and saw it happen. That would have been a really bad day if I had been asleep or just hunkered down in my tent. I would have never heard it with all the wind noise going on.
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Old 05-07-2014   #5
2kanzam's Avatar
Charleston, West Virginny
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 461
Originally Posted by Schutzie View Post
I think if I'd hit that kind of wind, and saw a "dust devil" (tornado) moving my way I'd be thinking time to land and cower.
It's not uncommon for us to get really short dust devils here, so it wasn't that out of the ordinary to see ONE. What is uncommon is for there to be multiple whirlwinds/sustained winds. This just happened to be the first of many...If something THAT strong were to hit again, not only would we have stopped, but I prolly would have left my crap there. The other problem is that being on shore was just as dangerous with the falling trees.

Unfortunately too, this section of river is as isolated as it gets in WV. Not technically a wilderness, but there is no way in or out of this canyon other than by boat. Otherwise would have packed up and hiked out like upshitscreek did.

The nearest road was at that last rapid/dam breach and about 4-5 miles away.
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Old 05-07-2014   #6
Land of Lovin, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 1,449
Never been in a dust devil like that but last spring I took my SUP board and dog out at the Westwater takeout in Utah. The wind was blowing upstream hard for hours so I hopped on the board and let it blow me and the dog upstream to an island where we hung out until the wind died down and we went back to the takeout. All I had to do was stand up and we would literally sail upstream, hunker down and we'd slow but still not go downstream. Wind is a bitch.
Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. - Voltaire
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Old 05-08-2014   #7
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Huson, Montana
Paddling Since: 1988
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 993
The funniest wind mishap I ever saw was in WestByGawd on the New. We had pulled over to wait out a squall and were eating lunch at the New River Hilton when a commercial boat comes by with all the custies in the water holding on to the chicken line and swimming the boat through FireCreek Pool. Gust comes up, grabs that light boat and flips it end over end all the way back to the putin. It left nothing but a circle of people with dopey looks on their faces and a trail of paddles.
"You're gonna be doin a lot of doobie rolling when youre LIVIN IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER"
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Old 05-08-2014   #8
Guppy Captain
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Bayfield, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 15
Westwater this spring .. Never again
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Old 05-08-2014   #9
Buffalo, New York
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 109
Upper San Juan, at eight foot camp. Duckies pinned 15 feet up the canyon wall on the opposite side of the river. Tables flipped over. Plates and bowls floating far upstream. I was on duty for a chicken BBQ grill night. That night I learned three lessons.

1) tie your Paco pad down and don't use your dry bag as a paper weight

2) cover the chicken and grill in aluminum foil

3). If you use your dry bag as a paper weight and don't cover the grill with foil, you end up swimming for you bag and pad then when no ones speaking at dinner and all you hear is the crunch of sand in people's teeth, not only do people hate you, but you also look like a powdered donut while your serving the meal
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Old 05-09-2014   #10
Montrose, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 128
Originally Posted by Burl Haggard View Post
Westwater this spring .. Never again
March 30th?
We were on that day. I knew the forecast, so we were rigged and ready when the Ranger showed up at 7:30 AM and were on the water by 7:45. Pushed through, had a great run. Wind started coming up with about 3 miles left. Initially it was swirling, so it was helpful for the most part - then it got tough with oars in for the last mile or so. Pushing into about a 35-40 mile an hour sustained wind. Got off, deflated and literally tossed all the gear in the truck as things just seemed to get worse and worse. While driving back to put-in and then to Colorado it looked like Utah dirt preferred to be in Colorado. Glad we made it off the water when we did.

Worst wind I have had was on Deso-Gray two years ago. Estimate around 70 mph. Motorized boats could not move forward. Those of us human powered were stuck on the shore hunkered down. Stories of boats being blown back through rapids, losing floors, and tossed into trees that day. Powell had boats capsizing in the same wind. We still refer to it as the "Epic Wind Day" and all who were on that trip nod knowingly. Videos and pictures do not do it justice.

Heavy wind is the one time I think a bucket boat would have a significant advantage. Start pouring water into your boat!

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