Scary incident on Clear Creek - Mountain Buzz

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Old 07-21-2015   #1
Lakewood, Colorado
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 111
Scary incident on Clear Creek

So I had one of the scariest/sketchyist moments of my life last weekend while on the blackrock section of Clear Creek. What happened was somewhat unexpected, so I thought I would share it here in hopes others can take something away from this too.

I was with a group of 6 last sunday to run upper cc down through lower CC (portaging the P2P trail bridges). It was a great day until we got to the narrows. Some members of our group had some carnage in there the day before and decided that they wanted to portage to somewhere below mr bill. I decided to join and shoulder my boat too.

For those of you not familiar with this section with CC, it is relatively narrow( hence the name) and deep section of river off the road. There is a very steep slope composed of angular blast rock leading down from the road to the river. To portage, I hiked my boat up from the bridge at the top of the narrows and down this slope right below mr. bill. After hiking down the slope, I was looking for a suitable launch spot. I climbed over some of the larger boulders on the bank and was sitting near the waters edge when the unexpected happened... One of these large boulders started to shift and was coming down right on top of me. Before I could do anything it came down directly on top of my left knee, pinning me there. I started pushing on the rock and yelling to my buddies for help, but because of the size of the rock there was little to nothing that I could do to effect it. It is hard to remember exactly how big the boulder was, but I would estimate it to be about a 0.5-1 cubic meter, which would weigh approximately 3000-6000 lbs… needless to say this thing was huge!

After what seem like 10 minutes (probably more like 10 seconds) the boulder shifted off the top of my leg, and continued to fall, rolling down on my left shin just above my ankle, and then further into the river. I fell into the river with the boulder, but stayed close to shore and was able to pull myself out of the water before the next drop. After having the full weight of the boulder on my knee then rolling over my leg, I immediately was in pretty severe pain and was certain something in there was broken. I couldnt put any weight on the left, but my buddies quickly pulled me up the river bank by my pfd (I was able to help by pushing up the hill with my good leg) and put me in a car to the ER. Miraculously, all X-rays came back negative but there was a fairly severe gash on my leg at the point of impact and I am very bruised and swollen from the knee down.

I consider myself to be extremely lucky that this turned out the way that it did. The weight of the boulder could have easily snapped my leg if landed a little differently, or worse if I was sitting a little to the left it would have come down right on top of me, pinning me under water. I will spend the next few weeks on crutches, but overall not a big deal at all considering what could have happened.

Lesson to be learned here it is to be very aware of potentially unstable rocks and boulders near the water. This is especially true in a place like CC where rock was dumped for slope stabilization and they may still be settling. This may seem obvious now, but dont get between a large potentially unstable rock and the water. Another aggravating factor is that higher water likely had moved or loosened material that was supporting this large boulder increasing the likelihood that it would move or shift once the water drops, so having extra awareness after a big flow event could be very important.

I know I have always taken for granted that the larger rocks and boulders are relatively permanant, or are at least not going to move while I am there during a normal low water day. In hindsight, it was not very smart to be walking around on this slope, but I always assumed the weight of a person is so small and neglible compared to that of a large boulder there is little chance we could cause one to move. Obviously, this was not the best assumption at least in this case!

Be careful out there!

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Old 07-21-2015   #2
Paul7's Avatar
Post Falls, Idaho
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Aug 2012
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Wow! Sorry that happened but thank God it continued rolling. Crazy! Glad you didn't have to break out the Leatherman.

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Old 07-21-2015   #3
adgeiser's Avatar
Denver,, exhaustion
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 579
after my first and only time portaging that section I've always considered it a class V portage, and have judge it to be more severe than the rapids there.

btw.. i totally thought this was going the rattle snake way as i have seen them in those rocks while eddied out.

glad you made it out ok.
"We should restore the practice of dueling. It might improve manners around here" -Edward Abbey
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Old 07-21-2015   #4
San Jose, CA, California
Paddling Since: 1998
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Sounds like black canyon style portaging. Glad your ok. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 07-22-2015   #5
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 3,107
Holy shit. That could have been really bad.

For what its worth... I consider the portage down to just below Mr. Bill to be a poor spot to portage too. The scree slope is sketchiest there and the launch spots are bad. If you keep going a little futher down to where the final cliff wall opposes a little spot with tress and shrubs just before you drop in to the straighaway runout to the narrows... you will find a less sketchy scree slope and a better boat launch spot.
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Old 07-22-2015   #6
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Bellevue, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 2,819
Glad you are ok. It just made me think of what we always told the peeps on our commercial trips. The shore is always more dangerous than the river.

Also made me think of the scene in Apocalypse Now. Skip to 1:50 for the action or 3:21 for the quote. It is a great scene from a great movie. I think of this more in terms of scouting and don't know Clear Creek at all.
Not to make light of your situation.

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Old 07-22-2015   #7
Boise, Idaho
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 162
There is a paddler who lost his leg from mid shin down. Boulder shifted while he was scouting and crushed his leg. I believe it was close to the end of a wilderness run in Idaho. They could not move the boulder so he tried pulling his foot out and the foot stayed there. A buddy ran for help. It's in incredible story and should be on "I survived" or one of those shows. He still kayaks and even had 5.10 make him a custom sole for his prosthetic.

Watch your foot placing and keep an eye out for boulders that can easily shift on you.
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Old 07-22-2015   #8
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Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1989
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 1,235
Thus far this year I've watched a large rock roll down into clear creek from a rather high elevation with enough force to be dangerous. I also eddied out in the pool drop section of Lawson during high water, did what we all do and put my hand on a rock (about the size of a normal microwave) and it rolled in the water, bumping the side of my boat. NOrmally I'd not be able to touch that rock given where the water usually is.Those rocks are not safe and I dread paddling down and having one come down on me while in my boat.

Glad you weren't badly injured.
On the river, I can abandon who I am and what I've done. However brief it lasts, while on the river I am nothing important and everything insignificant. I am flotsam, and happy to be so.
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Old 07-22-2015   #9
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Jan 2008
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Damn dude! I am so glad I took off chasing your boat and didn't see any of that shit go down; I'd be having nightmares. Glad you were able to go into yeti mode and toss that thing.
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