Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 07-17-2015   #1
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,931
When To Bail

Had the pleasure of spending a week of rafting based around the Arkansas Valley that ended about 10 days ago. We had a great experience yet I made my first ever "no go" decision after scouting the Parkdale stretch. Its a new experience for me as a rower especially given my past when I rowed a 14 foot Ocelot solo and often fearlessly. We were set to run the section on Friday the 3rd when the stretch was flowing at about 3000 cfs. We had decided to set the bottom car first in order to road scout some of the bigger rapids, specifically 3 Rocks and Spikebuck. None of us had run this stretch before so the decision to scout seemed prudent. Sadly the scout and drive took a lot longer than planned and we missed floating with another Buzzard who knew the run well.

Spike buck immediately got my attention. At around 3000 cfs it appeared to be a respectable, continuous Class IV with multiple must make moves to avoid the worst features between the middle and bottom of the rapid. Scouting from the highway took forever. It was comforting to watch most of the commercial paddle crews make it through the rapid upright and even gracefully; in hindsight i have learned to not base too many of my decisions off of how people who run a stretch daily succeed. My biggest impression was that a swim or flip could be difficult and hazardous for a 2 boat crew and specifically for my raft which only had me and my wife as a passenger. More on that aspect later. After about 30 minutes of looking and walking to and from the car we moved on; I was still under the impression the run was feasible for our small crew but was impressed by the nature of the run.

The scout for Three Rocks was a lot easier to approach as its roadside next to a pullout. 3 Rocks is in line more with my experience; while it was still more of a continuous rapid at that level it was fairly compressed and involved some beautiful boulder drops. On the other hand, that middle chute/run is a hideous place to run and a swim or flip appears to be extremely hazardous. We watched as most commercial trips hit the entry lateral with power and glided through the right channel with relative ease. One of the final paddle boats hit the lateral in a way that pushed them center and straight into the meat. A passenger was immediately ejected and the raft recirculated and flailed violently. The guide tried their best to get the swimmer but he was just out of reach; the swimmer seemed to be held in a sweet spot about 15 feet from the actual drop and wasn't being let go fast. It took about 4-5 minutes for another rig to bump them out of the spot and somehow (didn't notice how) the swimmer was pushed out as well. It was a nasty swim backwards through 2-3 more holes before they got the passenger back in the raft.

That sealed the deal for me. To my buddies disappointment I made the decision to bail. My wife is a great passenger and has learned to trust my decision making in rafting, an asset that is greatly appreciated. I oscillated for the next 10-15 minutes while my buddy and his wife decided if they would run solo; they decided to bail as well.

I can boil my decision down to a handful of variables:

1) After about 13 seasons of rowing my risk threshold has changed radically; I have gone from a small cataraft, solo rower who loved to intentionally run big features to a boater who enjoys taking the conservative thread the needle lines. I have seen enough swims and flips now to know how devastating a bad decision can be in whitewater. Most are recoverable but they often change the sport for at least one person and I can't afford that risk anymore.

2) Small group which included a second boat that was a novice tandem duckier. Before that week he had only guided Class II water on the local Sevier River. They ducky provided several challenging aspects I had never encountered especially spacing. Do to his style, limited rescue skills and the speed of the IK compared to my raft we were fundamentally alone in a rescue situation. Being alone in Class IV water that is relatively continuous was just outside my acceptable threshold of risk.

3) The lead in the second boat is someone who approaches risk and whitewater vastly different than I. He likes the big hits and seems to seek out every chance to hit holes and features compared to running the green water. Some of that plays into the disadvantages of the ducky (less ability to boat scout in advance, visibility, etc) yet a lot is related to his desire for thrilling experiences and/or his lack of experience reading water and understanding the risk of some features. There is no judgement here and there is a good chance that given the right mentor and experience he will likely exceed my ability very soon. That said, after a close call canyoneering years ago that ended with a SAR call and one of the communities bigger epics (and close calls with flash floods), I have learned to assess those differences with a keen eye. I just didn't expect the run to be as burly and get us close to that line/difference in preference. So it goes.

4) We had finally run Seidels the day before. While I had a clean line that feature gave me more pause than I would have expected. I knew from legend it was a big rapid but I didn't expect to have that big of a personality. My buddy in the tandem IK ended up missing his mark and running a extremely steep "line" to the right of the entry. It worked out as he missed the hole (way to the right into the channel created by a fin shaped rock/s) but it was unintentional which raised concerns for me. They later had a swim in Twin Falls that looked rough; they had secured themselves and the IK by the time we got to them so we only had to help out with getting into the boat and securing their seating. They both knew how to aggressively self rescue at this point but the combination and IK in bigger water was exposing some of their limited experience and skill.

5) First time really being the most experience boater and "lead" for inexperienced boaters in bigger rapids. Not sure I like that structure to be honest. Its good for me in the long run but really affected the entire experience. In the past we have had a repertoire of rowers with as much or more experience than I. I knew that safety net helps but underestimated how much it aids my confidence.

6) Never run this stretch. Key aspect as I had no direct experience with how the water behaved.

7) Daily, roadside run. If we had encountered this series of rapid on a multi-day trip the commitment has already been made and we would have chosen our run and gone with it. The lines were obvious and I would likely have hit my run cleanly. I had only helped a buddy portage one Class IV in the past (hard work) but I had run it myself. Dailies are double-edged sword as they allow more laps but also the ability to bail.

8 ) Difficult self rescue in continuous whitewater, a relatively new experience for me at faster, bigger flows. I had never practiced with the new boat and I doubt my buddy had much experience or training.

I learned a lot from the experience but I am still wrestling with some of my decision making. What ifs will haunt me for a while. I have run big Class IV well in the past and had success that week building up to the Parkdale run (Salida to Vallie, Milk Run, Browns multiple times and Fractions/Frog). I made the right call, I have no doubt about that. But I am just dealing with the residual second guessing that comes with changing plans. In the end it was mostly about the possibility of a swim or flip outweighing the benefit of the run. I have run harder water but not with those parameters.

Just thought I would share a new experience for me knowing others have likely experienced something similar. Sorry for the wordiness but thats obviously part of my MO.

Hope folks are having a great summer.


restrac2000 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #2
dirtbagkayaker's Avatar
Bazzaro, World
Paddling Since: 2020
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 1,323
Originally Posted by restrac2000 View Post

Had the pleasure of spending a week of rafting based around the Arkansas Valley that ended about 10 days ago.

Phillip that's awesome. Most have been hard not posting on the buzz for ten days.

dirtbagkayaker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #3
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,931
Well played sir. I can take an honestly earned jab.

restrac2000 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #4
Andy H.'s Avatar
Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,909
I'll never criticize someone's decision not to run, or to portage, a rapid. You came, you saw, you decided you didn't want to chance it with the crew and gear you had. Best case scenario: your friends in the ducky likely would've been in for multiple bad swims. And running challenging water while trying to rescue swimmers increases the chance you'll wind up in the water with them.

Peer pressure is not the proper motivator in a pastime where people can be injured or killed (or badly traumatized). Neither is "we came all this way" a good reason to run something you don't feel good about.

Quit second-guessing yourself.

Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
Andy H. is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #5
Steamboat, Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 582
I've found that the longer I look at a rapid, the more nervous I become. Much happier when I can just read and run.

When we did Westwater this spring I swam on the first day. We camped right above Little D, and I had to stare at it and listen to it allllll night. I kept telling everyone I wasn't going to run it, but then in the morning I went for it and had great success.

William "Not Bill" Nealy says that the amount of time you spend looking at a rapid is in direct correlation with the amount of time you'll spend getting thrashed in it.
It's a good day to be a duck....
soggy_tortillas is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #6
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,931
Originally Posted by soggy_tortillas View Post
I've found that the longer I look at a rapid, the more nervous I become. Much happier when I can just read and run.

When we did Westwater this spring I swam on the first day. We camped right above Little D, and I had to stare at it and listen to it allllll night. I kept telling everyone I wasn't going to run it, but then in the morning I went for it and had great success.

William "Not Bill" Nealy says that the amount of time you spend looking at a rapid is in direct correlation with the amount of time you'll spend getting thrashed in it.
On multi-days trips my preference is to limit scout time to what is needed to read the water and plan a line. Too long at a scout definitely can be a bad thing. You often watch the nervous energy percolate through your crew when you wait too long (having seen it happen when a member of our trip manipulated the group to wait 2 hours at Lava, long story).

To Andy, totally agree. As you can likely imagine my wife was great support in that regards. Nonetheless I am having an odd time with the experience. Bailing muddies that line between confidence and recognizing our limitations.

restrac2000 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #7
Whitewater Repairs's Avatar
Sheridan, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 23
I very much agree with Andy, most of us are in this because it is fun. Taking a bad swim is never really fun, so, when on new water be cautious and don't take any shit for it. You also had friends boating with you that inevitably were relying on you to be there should they end up buttered side up. Not knowing the water or consequences you made the right call.
Whitewater Repairs is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #8
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,408

Hats off to you for checking things out and making a wise decision.

The rapid will be there waiting for you on another trip. Good news if you take a chance and make it or really bad news if you do not make it for what ever reason and some one is hurt or is discouraged from boating again.

You did the right thing and your wife and bud's should be real proud of you and your decisions.
okieboater is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-17-2015   #9
Salida, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1986
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 728
The most experienced boaters on the Upper Ark will say Three Rocks is the nastiest rapid at higher levels in the whole 100 mile long park. Not Pine Creek, not Seidel's, not anything in Royal Gorge, but 3 Rocks. I went to run it at >4K the day after the fatality there (which is another factor that looms large with it being so recent), and didn't even think twice about bailing. That is some nasty shit, you should see it @ 5 and 6K. I swam Seidel's the previous weekend as well,and was back in the boat in <5 sec, but still yet another factor in the easy choice.

You did good. You lived to see another day to give it a go and probably had a very enjoyable day elsewhere without the death defying swim thrown in for fun.
So ya, you did good.

I saw a lot of rafts flip this spring, and some of the swims were pretty gnarly. For the most part, everyone seemed to be able to keep their shit together during the swell. But there were a significant number of casualties on Colorado rivers this spring, and a whole bunch more incidents that had potential. Gotta have your guard up every second.

Best observation of the spring was being able to see the 'other' rail of the tracks going through the Staircase (the last wave is a HUGE glassy wall!) The snowpack up north near Leadville is still significant, I expect really nice friendly flows through the rest of the summer. We don't get good solid extended runoffs like this more than once or twice a decade, so enjoy it while ya got it!
DoStep is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-18-2015   #10
tango's Avatar
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 690

Sent from my iPhone using Mountain Buzz

tango is offline   Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Similar Threads
Topic Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
To Bail or Not To Bail yesimapirate Whitewater Kayaking 37 02-20-2013 10:22 PM
What's your long weekend Bail Bucket List? TriBri1 Kayaking | Trip Planner 19 03-04-2012 11:05 PM
To bail, or not to bail Chaser Kayaking | Gear Talk 4 07-14-2009 03:19 PM
Help stop the bail out! marko The Eddy 5 10-03-2008 11:44 AM

» Classified Ads
14ft Rocky Mountain raft

posted by lawy

14 ft Rocky Mountain raft nrs frame 3 11ft Carlisle oars....

Raft Trailer 8x12

posted by tbirk

8x12 Raft Trailer. -Full size spare -Winch -Rollers...

Aire Super Puma 13' with...

posted by hiplainsdrifter

The "Super-Ducky" is for sale. 1996 Super Puma. 13'...

Powered by vBadvanced CMPS v3.2.3

Our Communities

Our communities encompass many different hobbies and interests, but each one is built on friendly, intelligent membership.

» More about our Communities

Automotive Communities

Our Automotive communities encompass many different makes and models. From U.S. domestics to European Saloons.

» More about our Automotive Communities

Marine Communities

Our Marine websites focus on Cruising and Sailing Vessels, including forums and the largest cruising Wiki project on the web today.

» More about our Marine Communities

Copyright 2002-2012 Social Knowledge, LLC All Rights Reserved.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 05:02 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2016, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.