here's the story from SBC... - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-09-2005   #1
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 40
here's the story from SBC...

I know there are a lot of people out there who would like to hear what happened that night on LSB. I’ve been putting off writing this for a while to let my head clear so I can give you all the story as clearly as possible. I met James this year, early in the season, paddling Bear Creek with him. We hung out at the take out after the run and talked about various creeks and rivers we’ve run and wanted to run this year. We both wanted to get on many of the same things and paddled well together. After that night we paddled almost every day after work and on the weekends (here’s a link to a video of us on Bear Creek one day: ). I knew James for a shorter time that a lot of you but I’d like to think I got to know him pretty well in that time. He was a top notch paddler and more importantly he was one of the most enthusiastic paddlers I’ve ever met. He was always ready to get on the river (even if he was always late getting there). The two of us paddled LSB about a week before the incident, both running the slot drop (the level was similar to that night) and him taking a nice swim after getting stuck at the bottom of the dam. He put a post up after that night warning everyone how sticky that dam gets with high water. We’d been talking for a few days about getting back on LSB with a couple of other friends who wanted to do it as well. At lunch that morning we talked and decided we could all get there in time to get it done before dark. As usual James was late to get there, so the rest of us ran a truck to the takeout and met up with him at the gas station. We took two cars to the put in; I rode with James. We bullshitted during the ride up, talking about motorcycles, boats, and what not. At the put in I gave him shit for telling me for the umpteenth time that he put his keys in his wheel well. I always said there was no point in saying it because everyone knows that ALL kayakers put there keys there. We carried down to the river and got into our boats. To clear things up, there were four of us there that night, three of which had run LSB before. James took lead as we pulled into the current, as he usually did and I rolled in somewhere in the middle. We ran through the nice warm up section up to the first bridge and eddied out. In the eddy we talked about how cold the water was and how beautiful the run was, with the clean bluish white water. We left the eddy and pulled back in river left above the slot. Walking down to scout we described the line to the person in our group who hadn’t been down before (he decided not to run it anyways) and climbed down to the rocks below the drop. The water looked the same to me as it did the last time we were down so I hopped up and told everyone I was running it. The three of them hung out down there with throw ropes. My run was clean (cleaner than the previous time I ran it) and I eddied out on the left, pulled my boat up on shore, climbed the bank, and walked up the path to where they were. By that time James and another in our group were on the path heading towards there boats. I ran up to James and told him why I thought it ran cleaner this time than the last. They headed up, I headed down. Two of us were below the slot, me standing closer to the hole. As we were waiting I had the other person toss me James throw bag which he left down for us. I clipped it to my PFD so I had it quick if I needed it. The other guy we were with ran down before James, nailing the line, I doubt he got his head wet, and eddied out left. James was standing on a rock upstream waiting for the all clear signal before coming down. I watched him run the lead in rapid and eddy out left before the slot. He then peeled out and disappeared behind a rock. When he came around the corner he looked on line but as he came through the slot he seemed to be a little right of where he wanted to be and was leaning a little to his left. He punched the hole and ended up a few feet out into the backwash on a left brace. As he was bracing/trying to get up, he drifted back towards the hole and to the right hand wall. During this a current caught his edge and flipped him. He was trying to set up for a roll and his boat drifted into the right hand wall. He tried to roll and was held off by the wall. His boat washed back into the hole and then out again. He looked to be attempting to roll this whole time but was not able to. After what seemed like forever to us on shore (probably 30-40 seconds) he pulled out of his boat. He came out on the downstream side of his boat and I threw a throw bag right next to him. The line was laying right over his right shoulder and I was yelling at him trying to get him onto the line. He didn’t get a hold of it and was drifting downstream to the river right side. There’s a little cove on the right hand wall (which is a large boulder off the wall with other rocks backing it up downstream, with water discharging out the bottom).He was facing upstream and was just about to the entrance of the little right hand cove and I expected him to turn downstream and climb right up on the rocks. He never turned around so I pulled the second rope from my shoulder and hit him right in the hands with it. It looked like he had a hold of the rope so I started to pull. I was pulling with all my strength and it felt like I just couldn’t pull him upstream. I yelled to the other person with me to grab on and pull. We kept pulling and then realized the rope was stuck on something. Moving to try and pull from a different angle I noticed James was no longer holding the rope and his head was below the surface. I will add here that to my recollection, once he left his boat, I don’t know if he ever got his head above water and got a breath. I also don’t recall his hands going below the surface as if he was swimming hard. I have some thoughts as to why this was but I’m not going to speculate here. At this point we new things were serious and the person on shore with me took off to get 911 and the guy in his boat had been heading over to the right shore and was trying to work his way up the steep bank to where James was I realized there was no way I could help pull him out from my position and ran to my boat and ferried over to the right, ran up shore and got to James just after the other guy. We both grabbed James PFD and pulled as hard as we could to try and get him up. I pulled so hard I could feel the shoulder strap on his PFD tearing. We quickly realized his foot was lodged and we couldn’t pull him straight out. We tried to pull him from the upstream side but there was no way to do it. I tried pushing his leg forward with my leg and it wouldn’t budge. At one point I realized my leg was also stuck and had to take a second to dislodge it. There was a lot of suction pulling him and his leg into the hole. After minutes of trying everything we could the two of us looked at each other in dismay, knowing there was little else we could do. We both agreed that he had been under for at least 7 minutes if not more at that point Just then the second group of kayakers showed up and were on the left bank looking for info on what was going on to figure out how to help. Not able to talk over the noise of the water I tried to point to my foot to tell them he had a foot entrapment and made the hand across the throat gesture to indicate the seriousness of the situation and to let them know that time had passed to a point where no one should try anything too heroic and put themselves in another bad situation. I also made a large “Z” motion to tell them that we had to drag him out. One of them asked if we had a line on James so we clipped one on and tossed the bag over to them. I believe two of them then came over to our side of the river. When the first of them came over I told him what was going on and asked him if one of them could take over because we were all emotionally spent and they would have better judgment than us. He nodded and I started to work my way back to my boat to get to the other side of the river. The other person who was with me had gotten his bootie sucked off from the sieve and was trying to walk the bank with one shoe. We got to our boats and ferried over. As I got up to the path I ran into a mountain bike who said he contacted rescue services and they wanted someone to meet them at the trail below where we were. I ran up to the group working on extracting James. They now had him out and were doing CPR on him. I would say the 18 minutes of time from when he went under to when he was pulled out was about as accurate of a guess as possible. I told them I was going to go help the rescue team get there and left down the trail. The rest of the story has been told by the people in the second group so I’ll stop here. I’m sure there are details I’ve left out and parts that the other people there may have seen or remembered differently. I give no guarantee that everything I’m saying is a word for word account of what happened, just my memory of the events. I’d like to ask everyone who reads this to keep James in mind while they are on the river this summer. I don’t mean this in the “be careful and don’t let this happen to you” sense. James’s life was on the river, it was his happiness. I’d like to think that if everyone keeps him in mind while they are on the river then he will be able to be on the river as well and at peace. If anyone has anything regarding this they want to talk about with me feel free to call or email me directly, otherwise I’ll watch this post.

[email protected]

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Old 06-09-2005   #2
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 44

Thank you for having the courage to write this. The news of James' death has really affected me, and I am sure, most of the kayaking community. I haven't really been able to figure out why it feels worse now than any other time I've heard this kind of news, but I think you helped me understand it...When you said, "I’d like to think that if everyone keeps him in mind while they are on the river then he will be able to be on the river as well and at peace" really struck me deep in the heart. I feel like James is every one of us - not an over zealous risk taker, nor a unknowledgable newbie - he was the boater that we all are, on a run that most of us have done. Your group did everything right. To me, James represents each of us and the tie that binds us as a community. Your words and request that we think of James while on the river has given us all a way to keep this bound strong, and the loss of this brother will not be forgotten because his spirit and energy will be with each boater who remembers your words and takes him with them on their next journey down the river.

Thank you for sharing these words...Danielle
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Old 06-09-2005   #3
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2

News like this.......... My heart goes out to everyone whose lives James has touched over the last 34 years.

I had the great pleasure of boating with James many times during his time here in Reno... Most of us here in the Reno paddle community can recall numerous memories on the Americans and Yubas with James.

The three words that come to mind when I think of James are "generous, kind and passionate". I say "generous" for the many stories that are and will be posted here on Boof and Mountainbuzz, I say "kind" for the guy I knew off the water, and I say "passionate" for the unrelenting focus that James gave everyday to his will to be on the water.

Before James left Reno he shared with me a dream that he had to open a kayak shop in Colorado. Now, I never caught wind of that dream ever coming to fruition, but whether it did or did not happen - I know James was always in the height of his happiness when life had anything to do with kayaking......

My deepest regards to Kris and his family. James was loved by many, and will be missed by all.

Grant Korgan
Reno, NV

If Ceremony info exists - please call me (775) 560 8880
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Old 06-11-2005   #4
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 818
I was there for the entire SBC incident last Thursday and it has run through my head since so I think it might be time to post my recollection.

First, I would like to say that James was a great guy and it is very sad that so many people will only be acquainted with him from reading these posts. I only knew him for a couple months but we became fast friends and paddled together almost every day this spring. I think the most best way that I can describe James is as a genuinely nice guy. I can honestly say that I never heard him say a bad word about anyone else. He loved rivers and paddling as much as anyone I know and we all suffered a loss when we lost him.

My recollection of last Thurday is pretty similar to that of everyone else who has posted, but from a different perspective. I think what you will notice if you read this is the striking similarity betwen the lead up to the accident and running any other drop on any other creek on any other day.

We met up early last thursday knowing that it was long for an afterwork run. James was late- as usual. We got up to the put-in by six and felt good time-wise. I had done this run twice but both at low water. James and Dan ran it just the week before at a pretty similar flow. The warm up was short but fun. I noticed that at this flow (472) it felt like a real river. We eddied up above Moist Slot and all walked up to scout. The drop is basically a 30 degree, 15 ft long slide into a very airated and swirly cauldron. The most noticeable part of the drop at this flow was the huge, scary hole. It recycled from 12-15 feet downstream on the right and center. there is a large boulder against the right wall about 12 feet downstream. the water pillowed up a bit on the boulder and there was a small space between the boulder and the wall. There was a slight outflow behind the boulder (may be a couple cfs visible) and water was not obviously moving towards the boulder from upstream. I was a bit unsure about the hole. I thought that it might mess with a boater even if you hit your line. Dan volunteered to probe and proved me wrong. The hole is flat and the slide is low angle so a good boof is tough but essential. Dan nailed it. He boofed onto the backwash and cruised right through with all the speed he had. Dan got out of his boat to set safety for James and myself.

After seeing this, I was convinced I could hit the line. I went up and got in my boat. I felt unusually nervous getting in my boat but I went anyway. I had a bobble in the lead in but got back on line and hit a good boof into the hole. One stroke out of the backwash and I was sitting in an eddy on river left downstream.

Sitting in the eddy I thought "that may be the scaryest hole I have ever paddled into" but felt good that I went straight through it. I figured James would be down in a second and the stressful part of the day would be over with (I planned on walking the 2 "big drops").

James came down soon. I only got a glimpse of him from the eddy. It looked like he had a bit too much left angle (you do not want angle) and he was very upright, almost leaning downsteam (like you might instinctively do if you hit a hole with angle). Next thing I saw was James resurface on the boil line. I thought he was going to in and clear it. Then the boil caught his edge and he flippled left. He went for the quick roll on the other side and missed it. Then he was against the wall trying yo roll for a while. He probably tried 8 rolls in there. Finally he came out his boat. I saw Dan throw a rope. It looked like a good throw and I though t they would get him. A few seconds later, I saw another rope thrown in. this time both guys were pulling on the rope together. I was sure they had him. After pulling for a bit they started signalling to me frantically. At first I though he had just dropped the rope and was swimming downstream but soon realized he was stuck. I ferried across and started trying to get to where James was. The hillside on that side is very steep (almosty a cliff) so it took me a couple minutes (but it felt like much longer). As I decended the cliffy part above the boulder seive where James was stuck, I was momentaily hopeful. It looked like he was floating face down just below the surface. I thought that he might just be below the surface because the water was airated. I got down there and grabbed him and pulled up as hard as I could. It is impossible to describe the sinking feeling I got when he did not move at all. He was completely stuck. I knew that a rope from upstream would be better but he had been underwater for 3-5 minutes at this point (assuming he never got a breath after he flipped) and he needed to come out NOW. I wedged myself between the wall and the boulder and tried to dislodged him by pushing upstream with my feet. I tried to push him out and pull up. At times I thought I was making progress but I couldn't get him dislodged. In a couple minutes, Dan arrived and we tried to get him out together paushing and pulling from every angle we could without falling into the seive ourselves. After a few minutes, he realized it just wasn't working. Just then, we saw other boaters upsteam on the other shore. We made some frantice gestures to convey the seriousness of the situation. With not other options, I clipped a rope to James' PFD and Dan threw it across (my hands were too cold to hold the bag). a couple boaters from their crew showed up on our side and took over. Thanks so much guys because we were pretty too exhausted to be effective at this point. Those guys eventually Z-dragged James out. 18 minutes sounds about right but honestly I have no idea. From there, the other descriptions of what happened are probably better than mine

I have spent alot of time trying to figure out what should be learned from this since the accident and I have come up with a few things:

1. Don't write off rapids because they don't have a reputation for being dangerous- Especially if the water is high. We didn't exactly write this one off (we set as much safety as we could) but I don't think we quite grasped the dangerousness of this drop.

2. Good boaters have bad days and bad luck. James was a good paddler and this was a runnable drop (difficult and dangerous but runnable). Do some self evaulation about how you are paddling today before you commit to any dangerous drop.

3. A situation can turn from another fun day on the river to desperate very quickly.

Be safe, enjoy the river, and understand that the river can be gentle or incredibly unforgiving.
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Old 06-11-2005   #5
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 130
I was in the group of four ten minutes back. I want to thank and complement everyone in both groups for the group effort. I think that our group effort was a good one. I'm just so sorry that we couldn't have done more.
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Old 06-12-2005   #6
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 41
I didn't know James, but I am the one that took that video on Bear Creek. I was saddened to hear of his death. I remember the smiles on the faces of those boaters after clearing that drop on Bear Creek that day under high flow. Yesterday I took my first swiftwater rescue class and today I'm reading these posts. I will think of James and the folks that were part of the rescue effort. My heart goes out to all of the friends and family. I'm sorry for your loss.
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