An Unusual Day in the Royal Gorge - Mountain Buzz

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Old 10-02-2005   #1
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 93
An Unusual Day in the Royal Gorge

Yesterday I was one of five boaters on an unusual trip through the Royal Gorge. The flow was 380 CFS, a moderate to low level. The first incident, occurred in the narrows, just upstream of the bridge. In the last rapid, a moderate class 3, one boater flipped, swam and injured his shoulder. He was not completely incapacitated, but required assistance to get to shore, and was not able to continue. Members of the group assisted him and his gear out of the water, and spent some time assessing him and determining the best option to get him out of the gorge. Fortunately we were just upstream of the tram. Two of us were able to assist him to the platform and arranged first aid and transport out of the gorge via tram for him. That is a story itself, but I'll leave it for later.

While 2 of us were occupied seeing to the injured boater, the remaining 2 were getting cold and decided to go downstream to find a sunny place to wait for us. While running the next rapid, Wallslammer, one boater flipped, badly separating his shoulder and was unable to self rescue. The other boater was able to get him to the left shore, appropriately abandoning the injured boaters boat. In the meantime 2 of our now 4 person group finished our part of the evac of the first boater and continued through Wallslammer. We were unaware of the second injury at this point.

When we came on the 2 boaters who had continued downstream, they were partway up the bank. One in obvious pain, the other trying to assist him while maintaining traction on his injured shoulder. It took all 3 of us to get the injured boater up to the level bank and help get him back to the tram, about 50 yards upstream. At this point, we got help for him, and saw to his evacuation out of the gorge and to the Canon City hospital emergency room.

That left 3 of us to continue downstream to the take out. We found the abandoned boat about 3-4 miles downstream and towed it the rest of the way to the take out. Once at the takeout, we went to the hospital to check on the most seriously injured boater, left to pick up the less seriously injured boater and his gear at the Royal Gorge Bridge park, went back to the put in to pick up vehicles, and finally back to the hospital to pick up the member of the party with the more serious injury.

Both injuries occurred in pretty low-key whitewater, and fortunately both occurred within sight of the tram, making rescue much more feasible, quicker, and less costly than other locations in the gorge would have been.

Some points we should all think about,

When you decide how many people you want to have on a river trip, consider how many it takes to handle an incapacitated paddler. If the trip is not roadside, think about adding to the number. In my 20 years of river experiences, this was the 2nd and 3rd incapacitated paddlers I've seen on trips. What were the odds of 2 in one day, within about 100 yards of each other in relatively easy whitewater?

One person did a commendable job, rescuing and getting to shore by himself, the boater with the serious shoulder injury. He used good judgment to ignore gear and take care of the person. That may seem like an obvious choice, but I have seen people leave a swimmer at risk to chase gear.

Does each person in your party carry safety gear, first aid kit, etc. Does everyone know how to use them? If you were incapacitated, could you rely on the people you are with?

Accidents can happen in easy whitewater, think about how your group would be prepared to respond if an accident happened in a non-roadside location.


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Old 10-02-2005   #2
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,085
Were these injuries a result of poor form (brace position/roll technique) or bad luck (hitting rocks, etc.). Just asking because it makes me wonder if we need to be more careful (look out for a sleeper-rock in such and such place) in that area at low water or if it was just operator error. Thanks and best of luck to those now recovering.

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Old 10-02-2005   #3
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 93
I was downstream of the first, and only saw him upside down before swimming. With the second, I was still on the tram platform and didn't even know it happened until I got back in my boat to go downstream and saw the two of them on the bank. The first person, thought he hit a rock, the second did not know what happened to him.

As far as unusual obstacles, I run that stretch quite a bit and I don't know of any. I think this was just one of those fluke things. Can't say what happened or why, I was just happy we had the people there to deal with the situation(s).
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Old 10-02-2005   #4
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 154
Sounds like a couple of not-so-obvious features may have been the culprits:

3rd Drop in the Narrows has 2(?) subsurface, midstream rocks that split the main exit of the rapid in two; generally the left channel is chosen (near, but off of the left concrete wall). These rocks are sometimes known as the Superman Rocks, in that, many a guide has found himself flying like Superman over the bow of his raft after hitting these things. Very hard to see from a kayak.

Wallslammer has a very strange hydraulic on river right, immediately above the confluence of the current with the wall. This thing is known as the Curly Que. It looks innocous, but is very weird. Incidently, the small pocket eddy immediately to the right of the Curly Que against the wall is called The Parking Garage, and is cool to check out.

As an after thought, as a 10 yr RG Guide, I think 420 and 2800+ cfs are the crazy levels in the Gorge. Glad to hear folks are still down there.
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Old 10-04-2005   #5
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Paddling Since: 04
Join Date: May 2005
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In the interest of sharing lessons learned, I wanted to add my part to the story of the Royal Gorge run.

I'm a first-season paddler, and this was my first trip down the Gorge (talk about memorable!). I'm a comfortable Class III boater and this was the next step up for me this season.

I was one of the two boaters who stayed on the Arkansas underneath the commercial areas while the first injured boater was extracted by two others of us. I was with a very experienced boater there on the river, and we waited a good long time, until my companion suggested that we paddle through Wallslammer to get into the sun.

When he suggested that, the only 'safety check' I made in my mind was to think of whether he could look out for me if *I* ended up in trouble. It never occurred to me to think if I could help him if he was. That is one lesson from this experience. As it turned out, I should have asked that question, and it's a great lesson for new boaters like myself: Are you confident you can help your leader if they end up in trouble?

We headed down wallslammer, with him in the lead, and in the first major drop, he flipped. I took a path around him, and tried hard to keep upright and keep an eye on him to roll back up. Obviously, he didn't, and when he did surface swimming, he said something along the lines that his shoulder had snapped. I never saw anything to explain his injury, by the way. Whatever happened, happened while he was upside down.

I did go into rescue mode, but as a new boater, I had a lot to worry about making sure I stayed out of trouble myself in Wallslammer, and didn't make things worse for him. Yes, indeed, I was pretty nervous about his safety in that moment. I'm really thankful for the training I received through various sources about rescue, and about focusing on the person, not the gear.

I gave instructions to him, which he really didn't listen to - which in retrospect is something that I'll use as a mental notification that someone is in great pain. We floated for a little distance and then he got onto my loop and we got into an eddy on the railroad side of the river. I got out of my boat and helped him out - the rest is accounted for.

One of the key points to me to remember about this is that a new boater my experience level should probably never put himself in a position to be the sole safety valve for a fellow boater on a river that you do not know. Certainly not a river as complicated as the Gorge can be.

I count myself and my friend there lucky. Lucky he wasn't more seriously hurt. Lucky that the stretch of Wallslammer wasn't too rough from the point of the injury down to the eddy. Lucky I kept myself upright and was able to perform as a basic rescue boater.

What a first trip down the gorge...
That's the first time I've been out kayaking that I can say i did not have fun. I had fun till that stretch, but that rather tainted the whole day seeing two friends get so seriously hurt.
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