a rough day on the river and lessons learned - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-03-2011   #1
abrayciv's Avatar
Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2011
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 4
a rough day on the river and lessons learned

since a pic is worth 1000 words, go ahead and take a look.
Idaho SPrings 8 1 2011 pictures by mumraaa - Photobucket

I expect I will catch a ton of criticism for sharing this, but here goes anyhow, this is my story as best I can remember:

It all began a not so fine afternoon in Idaho Springs. With dark clouds overhead, the 4 of us, Will, Moriya, Lauren and myself put in at the raft launch for the Idaho Springs "town run" of the Clear Creek. Once we began to head downriver the severe absence of eddies became apparent. The chop and lack of depth was already starting to concern me before we hit the first hole. I managed to punch through but Lauren got stuck and surfed. She hung on like a pro but was there long enough for Will to begin to exit his boat in order to go throw her a rope. As he was almost out of the boat she managed to work her way out. In the process Will's paddle fell into the current and headed downstream. Moriya chased it down and ditched in on the side of the creek. The 4 of us headed down and found the first available eddies to get out and retrieve the paddle. Lauren and I stayed with the boats while Will and Moriya went searching. While we were waiting, Lauren sees the paddle floating toward her and grabs it. The water had freed it and sent it down stream, a close call already. We continue down to find a large concrete pourover, the decision is made to portage, which we do and put back in following the drops at the gold mine. We head down river with some success until I almost get rolled to my right side. I end up with my knuckles crashing into rocks while holding some semblance of a low brace against the creek bottom upstream. I see an oncoming wave and hipsnap as I hit it, which gets me upright again. There is a pretty good cut on my knuckle so I let the rest know I want to stop to take a look at it but there are no eddies to be found. We try but fail and I end up in front of everybody missing the main flow and bumping off of rocks on river right. Again I get knocked over and find myself trying to hold the boat up while about to tip upstream. My pseudo brace against the creek bottom fails this time and rolls me over.

The water is so shallow that I am folded under the boat with my head pointed upstream and my face down on the rocks. I tried to tuck under the boat and initiate a roll but don't have to room to get there. I feel a solid shot to my temple, then a second to my cheek. At this point I give up on trying to right myself and pull the skirt. I go for my first swim, thinking constantly to keep my feet up and pointed downstream, and work my way to the river right. When I get there I realize I cannot see with my right eye and there is blood running everywhere. Moriya passes me and asks if I am alright, I respond "No, Get my Boat !!", then her and Will go to chase down my boat and paddle. I climb the bank and realize that if I push my eyebrow up I can see out of my eye, Whew, the eye is ok, but what happened to my face? I am also aware that I am not feeling dizzy and have clear understanding of everything that is going on, good. Lauren now comes down stream, sees me hiking up the embankment and gets out to help. We walk down river and talk to a raft guide that says there are medical supplies at the Clear Creek Rafting building.

We get into the building and one of the raft guides brings me upstairs with three other folks and they immediately begin to attend to me. Amazing, these guys were Amazing! One was a trained nurse and they began to clean out my forehead. While this is happening Lauren comes and asks for my key. She is going to get a ride from another lady that works with the raft company to go get my van. We get my dry top off and do a temporary reassembly of the meat that is my face with butterfly closures. Lauren returns with the van, I thank everybody that helped out as much as I can and we head down to Kermitās, the planned takeout point. Moriya and Will are there and said they managed to retrieve my boat, again, Amazing. We decide to head to the new hospital off Alameda and Union to see what we can do about the hole in my head. Lauren drives my van as Will and Moriya plan to grab my gear and meet us at the hospital.

Once at the hospital they get me right into an exam room. They check vitals, take a good look at the cut and send me for a catscan. Once returned to my room I get to put dry shorts on and they numb up the cut. Lauren stays with me, retrieved dry clothes from the van for me all while almost getting sick watching what they are doing to me. Moriya and Will make it and have all of my gear !! Yes !! That includes the dry bag in my boat that contains my wallet and phone. Will takes Lauren to go get her car from Golden and Moriya gets to stand watch over me while they stitch me up. Janka does what I hope is an amazing stitch job which includes dissolving stitches in the lower levels of tissue. The stitches that she needed to perform to put the 3 way cut above my eye back together and a few in my chin for good measure. Overall the hospital experience went surprisingly smooth and everyone was informative and helpful.

Once the escape from the hospital was made we headed to TOTT for some Thai food as it was now too late for the planned BBQ. My friends Mark and Kim come by, Moriya and Lauren stick around to have some food and talk about everything that went wrong during the day. The doc had recommended that someone stay with me for fear of a concussion. Lauren agreed to stay so I made up the guest room and she spent the night. In the morning she took me to King Soopers for a boatload of Motrin, some other medical supplies, and headed on her way. Moriya also calls to check in on me. You guys freakin rule !

You want to learn something from an experience like this and I must say that I hope to learn a lot. In this case, I believe that my abilities were overestimated by me, as well as by some of the folks that I went boating with. Iāve been getting my combat roll pretty consistently at Union Chutes and at the Golden Park. I also tend to be willing to push my limits which is most likely due to experience in the other things I do like mountain biking and snowboarding as well as previously BMX and surfing. These other donāt seem to have consequences that compound as quickly as whitewater kayaking. There was a combination of small misjudgments and mistakes that added up to this headache I have right now. I would like to say though that once things did go bad, these 3 individuals that I was with, along with the gang at Clear Creek rafting, and the folks at the ER were amazing. I tend to have a very pessimistic view of our species and what I experienced yesterday was truly impressive. None of these folks have true commitments to me but yet they hustled and did everything they could help me. I truly, truly appreciate that, and have a ton of love for you guys.

As for the future, I see some serious lessons and a new helmet for sure. I might look funny in a full face going down the Platte but if it keeps this from happening again I really donāt care. I would not hesitate to join the crew I was with in the water again though if I start to feel as uncomfortable as I did yesterday, they will know. Communication is huge and perhaps my not speaking up and assuming I'll get comfortable eventually was a mistake. I hope my mistakes help others out there, I hope. Donāt make me deal with all this for nothing. Take care yaāll and thanks again to all of those that helped. This could have been much worse. I'll see you on the river once I'm all healed up.

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Old 08-03-2011   #2
JeremyTheMonster's Avatar
Your Mom!, Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 69
Is everyone in the group you were with new(er) to paddling? Have they run that run before? What kind of helmet were you wearing and how's the fit? From the pic, it looks like some cheapish ProTec with like a trucker hat underneath?

Edit: Also, what kind of LL boat is that? Looks like a Biscuit... Definitely not the boat I'd recommend to a new boater, going down a class III with any kind of sticky holes and lots of rocks.

Edit #2: Only asking some questions, as I'm also a newer boater. Been at this for a couple-three years. Best advice that was given to me about helmets: "Get something that at a minimum hangs over your ears. Get something that once you have it on, it's snug enough that no matter how you try to twist it, won't move more than a 1/2" in any direction." - If this incident gets you into use a full face, good.

Also, I had a LL Biscuit. Hardest boat I'd ever been in to roll (aside from rodeo rolling)... I also paddled a LL Remix. Most stable and best boat to learn in, for me.
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Old 08-03-2011   #3
Beaverton, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 572
There are two things I've come to know about safety gear:
- If you can't breathe, you can't drown
- If you can't see up, neither can the river

Helmets and PFDs are two things where you just can't play games, as you've rather painfully discovered. On your next helmet, make sure it cannot rock back and expose your head. The WRSIs have a nice way to prevent this and the Sweet Rockers do well too.

Good luck with the cut and your boating, and remember to get back on the horse.
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Old 08-03-2011   #4
Arkansas during the off-season Nomadic during the summers! :), Arkansas & Colorado
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 950
Why would you catch shit for being brave enough to tell your story giving the chance for other newbs to learn from your mistakes. EVERYBODY good has overestimated their ability on the way up. Of course you need to push yourself...otherwise you'll never progress.

The things you should take from this is that you learned a great deal about YOU and the people you choose/chose to hang out with. EVERYBODY in your crew should be there to help each other on the rivers...Otherwise choose a better crew.

If you wanna wear a full face during a golden pool session that's your HEAD and you shouldn't give a damn about what others think you look like. I say you buy a full face pink helmut with a "Girl paddlers stroke it better" sticker plastered on the side! Again, your friends and a good crew won't care if it makes you feel more safe and more comfy on the river!
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Old 08-03-2011   #5
Jackson, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1492
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 286
Glad to hear and see you are mostly ok. FWIW, that helmet looks highly suspect to begin with, then you made a classic mistake of putting a full-on baseball/trucker's hat underneath it, which raised it up even farther, exposing a lot of your forehead. If you want a visor for sun protection, add one to the outside of your helmet so it doesn't change the internal fit and height.

The chin, well that's going to remain exposed unless you go all-out for a full-face creeker of some kind (the WRSI helmets have a removable jaw-bar for creeking / bony runs). If you get pasted to your back deck underwater in shallow conditions, the only thing you can try to do is get your forearm over your face and try to maneuver to roll or exit the boat.

Boat choice might have had something to do with it, though hard to say nowadays. People run some steep rocky stuff in playboats and do fine, but their skill level is also usually very high.

This is just coming from a crusty old boater who has had more than one empty boat go sailing around a corner and out of sight or get hopelessly pinned: you should forget about carrying your wallet, cellphone, and especially any shuttle vehicle KEYS in your boat. Loss of any or all of those can make a semi-bad day go really bad.

Get a better helmet, get back on the horse......
So many rivers, so little time..........
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Old 08-03-2011   #6
Beaverton, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 572
I should have mentioned earlier - I don't paddle anything in an exposed face helmet anymore. I've just seen too many people take shots to the face. I also wear elbow pads, every time. Kind of like how seatbelts feel to those of us who grew up with them - I just feel naked without them.

I think it was the first time (maybe the 2nd) I had the WRSI verison of the fullface out, I was rolled at the top of a slide and sent onto the back deck. There I was, sliding upside down for 20 odd feet on my elbow pads and chin guard. I popped up when I reached the pool, and boy was I happy about that choice.
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Old 08-03-2011   #7
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 3,107
Ouch. Sounds like a rough day. Be thankful you only got stiches and didn't get knocked out.

A couple of observations. Your helmet is way to high on your head, which obviously exposes your forehead to rock hits. A properly fitted helmet snugs down to just above your eyes and protrudes enough so that a rock hit to the forehead hits your helmet, not your skull. The helmet needs to have a snug fit so that it won't ride back up. I've seen folks do the baseball hat under the helmet, but its probably a bad idea. Hats will likely make your fit worse, and some of the hats have a little metal button on the top that can potentially seriously hurt your head if you take a shot that smashes the button on your skull. I you need the visor (95% of people don't), you can get visors that attach to the outside of the helmet. Or you could get a helmet with a built in visor.

You mentioned you put your wallet and phone in a drybag in your boat, which is a really bad practice, especially for a new boater. If you swim and loose your boat, all your shit is gone. Even if you don't lose the boat, but its pinned in the water and you can't get to it... your wallet and phone is in the boat. If you want to keep some extra cash, ID, etc... get a small dry bag and keep a $20 bill and a photocopy of your drivers liscense in your PFD or on you so you will have it if you swim.

You mentioned flipping upstream a couple of times. Lean downstream agressively when you hit features.

You also mentioned bracing off the creek bottom... this means that you don't have a fast brace to stop you from flipping. I'd recommend lots of practice in flatwater on braces to get the brace instinctive.
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Old 08-03-2011   #8
jonny water's Avatar
Geologist, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 614
When flipping, go to your set up position: head tucked and face toward your spray skirt and paddle parallel with your boat on your strong (roll) side.

This position is crucial for protecting yourself, only exposing the back of your helmet and back of your PFD.

I have bounced down some nasty rocks in this position and came out fine, even with a non-full-faced helmet.
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Old 08-03-2011   #9
Ryanrugger's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 253
Yeah, that helmet looks shitay to say the least. Get a wrsi, sweet, or a tdub from shred ready. The tdub has a ton of protection. It's your dome piece and you only have one so spend the extra money on a good helmet. Most of the deaths caused to boaters are related to trauma to the head, drownig secondary to the head trauma. Good luck and get back on that horse!
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Old 08-03-2011   #10
KSC's Avatar
Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,107
Damn, you got worked. This sport can be pretty capricious. I've seen people go upside down in terrible places and come out unscathed and others take some big knock in an innocuous place.

No shame in wearing a full face helmet anywhere as far as I'm concerned. Ironically, new boaters tend to have the worst helmets and yet they're the most likely to use them - esp. the full face feature. Personally, my first day on the water was at Golden and I had no concept of edging the boat upstream vs. downstream. I flipped in a hole and smacked my face against the upstream rock forming the hole. Just a bruise fortunately, but I've seen a couple other guys get smacked in a similar way at the Golden playpark and walk away with blood pouring out their face. So don't be shying about wearing the fullface while you learn balance and body awareness in the boat.

Don't be too bummed out, we've all had that "oh shit" humbling as we got into boating.
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