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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey all,

I spent some time this last week trying to talk some friends out of running the Lower Salmon - which is somewhere in the 50k range at Whitebird….

I’m not sure If they launched or not, but I got to thinking about why he was so adamant about getting out despite high water across some of the west out here (OR/ID). In my day job I’m a Coast Guardsman and have spent the last 23 years responding to Search and Rescue cases or in Prevention. 10 years responding by helicopter (AMT/H-65 Aircrew) and now working in Prevention doing safety inspections, drills, mariners exams, commercial fishing vessels inspections, etc (MST). This year up till now has been troubling for us as more and more folks are hitting the waters after COVID. Our rescues and responses are up almost 25%. While these statistics are for recreational power boating I’m also a rafter and put on around 15-20 days a year. Anecdotally, I’m seeing this same trend in our whitewater world.

Here’s my unofficial, but friendly advice for those on the fence:

As for my friend, he and his crew had so much wrapped up in their trip - time off from work, coordinating schedules, money in gear, etc. its hard to say “no thanks” despite all manner of warning flags. It’s Groupthink - Its the mental trap of not speaking up because no one in the crew wants to back out because they’ll disappoint the others. It’s part of what happened to the Space Shuttle Challenger. Nobody wanted say no because of the pressure of the group and the desired outcome. How do we deal with that?

Develop personal limitations based on good research of water levels and what they mean in that particular river. 18k on Hells Canyon is way different than 18k on the Owyhee. For the most part, I feel like this forum is pretty good at getting you some ok advice, albeit with some ragging. Do call the local river ranger office for accurate advice. Find some friends who really know what’s up. Ask questions. If in doubt - don’t go.

I feel like rafting and flying airplanes have a fairly equivalent risk/gain matrix. If I take off, I have to land. If you launch, you usually have to go downstream. Things happen quickly, and rescue/recovery is not guaranteed. For example; on the Middle Fork Salmon, I’m not going over 5’. Period. And because of my lack of knowledge of that stretch, I will only follow others who know what’s up. On others it’s different. But I’m not willing to break my personal limits. This is despite the fact that I’ve taken Swiftwater rescue, am practiced, and carry the gear. It’s not a prevention strategy. The pressure on permits also adds to this mindset.

I think Zach Collier at Northwest Rafting has some great insight on boating safety and has a video series on it for free.


Anywho, take care of your friends and families this summer and have your best trips. If you're on this forum, you’re probably introspective and think about these things. Continue to learn and establish limits. And wear your PFD.

Your friendly Puddle Pirate

Insect Arthropod Fluid Pest Liquid

Water Smile Boat Plant community Paddle
 

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Good stuff, and I have to say that I have noticed similar trends in recent years overall. Covid craziness does seem to have magnified a lot of this too, but I think in general that there are more and more people ending up on stuff they really have no business paddling. Zach’s video has some really great points too, especially in terms of self awareness and preservation. I’ve pulled the plug on running a few class 5 runs before because of who else was going, despite being quite confident of my own abilities. I did have a few things that I think are worth adding to the discussion on dealing with unprepared or unskilled paddlers when and where we meet them:
-Start off with friendly engagement always; no one listens to a stranger who tells them what they should or should not do, so make friendly chit chat first. I like to try and give them all the benefit of doubt in my words and tone, even when I know damn well they aren’t ready for what they are about to jump into.
-Ask loaded questions! Ask the kinds of questions that their own answers (or lack of) will make clear how inappropriate that run is for them. Obvious examples are:
“are you familiar with this run?”
“what other runs have you paddled that are comparable?”
“do you know how high the river is right now, and what that means for the gorge section?” “You’ve heard about the gorge part right; that you can’t scout or portage some of the big ones?” (Ok, sometimes I might stretch the truth a bit in these conversations)
“Looks like you guys are missing some key safety equipment, might be able to loan you one or two items…what gear do you already have?”
“You guys have taken swiftwater rescue, right?”
-Offer suggestions for a better alternative river, or a better flow to come back at. Offer advice for how and where to get better equipment and/or instruction. Suggest a guided trip, etc. Basically try to be genuinely helpful and encouraging for them to get out on the water in a more safe and enjoyable way.
-Only opt for bluntly telling them that they should not put in when all else is failing. Most likely at this point they are going to go regardless, but you can at least make sure that they know what jackasses they are being in doing so. I have told sketchy boaters more than once that I would absolutely refuse any assistance whatsoever when they get into trouble; or tell them bluntly after rescuing them that they have just used up all their good luck AND my willingness to help them since they are in way over their head…I do offer hiking route suggestions or shuttle help to reunite them with their car and gear if they make the sound choice to get off the river.
-There’s always going to be the select few, vying for a coveted spot on the Darwin Awards, who just will not listen no matter what. I make a point to stay well ahead of them if at all possible, as I will not risk the safety of my own team members trying to rescue someone who had no business being on the river and refused all recommendations towards ensuring their own personal safety.
 

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Pulling the plug on a trip is a very hard decision to make, I’ve done it once as I was alternate and I really didn’t know anyone on the trip besides my best friend. Talked to my friend and river mentors and they knew my gut feeling and told me to listen to it .High water is amazing, we all live for it but I try to keep sideways trips to a very low number nowadays as I’ve had some wild rescue situations. Stay safe, run a tight trip with very trustable people and know when to stay home on the couch. Becoming a liability to someone eles trip isn’t something to brag about later on.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
It does me so well to hear of folks sound decisions to call a “no go”. I know it’s hard, and I appreciate y’all’s conversations with friends about it.

A part of me writes this on Memorial Day to honor the 19 shipmates (that’s what we call fellow servicemen and women in the CG) who in my time, have died in the line of duty trying to save lives. Rescue isn’t easy, and sometimes it doesn’t work out at all. I very much appreciate your thoughts on this.
 

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It happened to me TODAY! stupid drysuit tore the neck gasket so I used a p.o s. I had for "friend" clothing. It has no socks and is ill fitting. I said "oh well" then I forgot my wet suit socks "oh well " then it was a torrential downpour and maybe 40° , then I noticed no one was out (hmmm...) then I noticed the river was pretty much BIG , "oh well" then we decided to add milage to the trip (huh?). I was freezing and miserable and my loaner suit had no pee zip and I had to pee BAD "oh well" then as we where passing all the creeks I noticed they where pumping "sweet" . Long story short by the time we got to the real whitewater I was frozen and stove up and shivering and seconds from pissing in my dry suit. Luckily my partner charged ahead and never looked back (fuck you once again !) It was fine BUT I would have been in trouble if I swam I was just frozen. When we got to the take out my feet and legs would not work and I had to wobble hobble up the bank. Not good if it would have got shitty for me or anyone who might have needed me to help them either! So I dodged a bullet really. It took a half hour scalding hot shower to recover and iam stiff as can be. The rocky mountain run off is very manly shit! I will be buying the best drysuit known to man tomorrow and will never go freaking boating in freaking wool socks again (duh wtf!) So yeah the middle fork at 6 feet plus would be gnarly!!! AND...sometimes you just need to say ,"fuck this man iam going home !" Or "my limit is Xand Y! Of course sometimes you'll cry cause guys had fun but you'll have another chance soon. I think iam moving to warm weather lol!
 

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I have a Selway trip coming up next week...and I think its gonna have the plug pulled...but the TL is waiting till the very last minute. All indicators are showing its gonna be definitely over 6 feet during our trip but I'm guessing well over 7 feet. I'm no expert...but the TL was talking about pulling the plug if it seemed like it was going much over 5 feet. I've never met ANY of them in person...so I've basically already pulled the plug in my own head and am planning something else instead despite the Selway being at the top of my bucket list. I think, if I had a solid group of people I know really well, with gear and experience to back it up, I'd probably still be considering going. Too many unknowns though.

Everyone has their comfort levels though. I've never ran the lower, but the Main is a lot of fun at 50k. I know there is "the Slide" rapid to worry about...but the rest of the run is relatively tame...so maybe not as bad as one might imagine even at high flows.
 

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I learned my lesson on the Columbia River Bar a number of years ago - crew was greedy for tuna. Motor failed (starter fell apart) 40 miles out and kicker motored most of the way back until the SE high winds and tides had 18' swells with widow's peaks. The skipper was too proud to admit help was necessary and we countermanded his orders and called out the calvary. All other boats had been guided in by the motor life boats and when help arrived on the Bar even they had trouble safely maneuvering around us to shoot us a line.

When we got into CG Cape Disappointment the whole base came out including the Commandant to see what happened and marvel at how we survived.

I love you Coasties!
 

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-...Most likely at this point they are going to go regardless, but you can at least make sure that they know what jackasses they are being in doing so. I have told sketchy boaters more than once that I would absolutely refuse any assistance whatsoever when they get into trouble
Refusing assistance is literally the most selfish thing you can do. The one part of this piece that you should absolutely refute. This is turning a blind eye to helping others save their lives when you have a safe chance to do so.
 

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IMO, your first mistake was trying to kill the trip when you decided it was unsafe instead of politely bowing out.

The second mistake was posting here for support instead of just accepting that your friends listened to your concerns and disregarded them.

Bowing out of a trip due to high flows or partner concerns is difficult, but you also have to be cognizant that other people on the trip may have a higher tolerance for risk than you do. That's ok. They can go and you can stay home. If it's a close friend, and you are relatively certain you aren't being influenced by some FOMO bias, you can try to pull them aside and discuss your concerns, but it probably won't work and they will be annoyed. You should be direct and tell them you care about them and why you are concerned. But in reality, you're probably just fearful, and they are not. And that's ok. You can go on the next trip. And they will hopefully invite you back since you didn't try to screw up the previous one.
 

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The second mistake was posting here for support instead of just accepting that your friends listened to your concerns and disregarded them.

Bowing out of a trip due to high flows or partner concerns is difficult, but you also have to be cognizant that other people on the trip may have a higher tolerance for risk than you do. That's ok. They can go and you can stay home. If it's a close friend, and you are relatively certain you aren't being influenced by some FOMO bias, you can try to pull them aside and discuss your concerns, but it probably won't work and they will be annoyed. You should be direct and tell them you care about them and why you are concerned. But in reality, you're probably just fearful, and they are not. And that's ok. You can go on the next trip. And they will hopefully invite you back since you didn't try to screw up the previous one.
Wow, lots to unpack in this - quite the combination of armchair psychoanalysis, toxic masculinity, and condescension. I didn't see any "posting here for support" in the OP - more just talking about the kind of attitudes that contribute to a group decision that could be pretty bad. The topic kind of reminds me of a discussion on lessons learned from a multi-fatality avalanche a few years back. And heaven forbid that anyone try to talk someone, who may have no idea what they're getting into, out of going on a potentially dangerous trip. Maybe the group wasn't fearful because they were clueless about what lay downriver. OMG - he may ANNOY them! And if one of them drowns, at least they will have "died doing what they loved," right? It also takes a special kind of hubris to give the "...you're probably just fearful, and they are not. And that's ok..." schtick to a guy that says he's been doing SAR as a professional for decades & lost colleagues, and who's maybe even zipped up a body bag or two. Because what's more important - trying to look out for your friends who may be getting in over their heads with serious consequences? Or getting invited back on another trip in the future?
 

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Wow, lots to unpack in this - quite the combination of armchair psychoanalysis, toxic masculinity, and condescension. I didn't see any "posting here for support" in the OP - more just talking about the kind of attitudes that contribute to a group decision that could be pretty bad. The topic kind of reminds me of a discussion on lessons learned from a multi-fatality avalanche a few years back. And heaven forbid that anyone try to talk someone, who may have no idea what they're getting into, out of going on a potentially dangerous trip. Maybe the group wasn't fearful because they were clueless about what lay downriver. OMG - he may ANNOY them! And if one of them drowns, at least they will have "died doing what they loved," right? It also takes a special kind of hubris to give the "...you're probably just fearful, and they are not. And that's ok..." schtick to a guy that says he's been doing SAR as a professional for decades & lost colleagues, and who's maybe even zipped up a body bag or two. Because what's more important - trying to look out for your friends who may be getting in over their heads with serious consequences? Or getting invited back on another trip in the future?
Whoa there cowboy. The OP posted for opinions. I gave him mine.

You might sit back and heed your own words about psychoanalysis and condescension.
 

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The internet is sometimes good in this respect but other times gets it very wrong. It's nice to be anonymous sometimes but other times it doesn't allow you the full benefit of the user. This guy will forget more than we will most likely learn (in my short career anyway) and so you gotta be careful and more thoughtful in your responses. I know sometimes I respond to posts without even reading or not reading between the lines or following the nuances of the conversation. AndyH isn't wrong and is a waterman at a different level than most will ever achieve as is the op and it gets lost via internet stuff. I once talked some smack to a dude who basically pioneered class v water in California just cause the internet is dumb. Sorry but just thought you should know cause some of these guys on here (not me iam a kook) are for real pioneers and master craftsman and professional waterman . Without these guys we have none of the stuff we're born into. Anyways friends don't let friends drive drunk. Just say no. If it may kill you maybe stay home. Fuck the permit just don't post you got scared of a 6 foot selway trip and bailed...doh...I mean...I went... it was gnar brah! (I actually didn't go and I hugged my kid before I left for work today!!!) Sometimes I think our world would be better if we had to have a honest bio on the internet lol. I'd get one star lol
 

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Refusing assistance is literally the most selfish thing you can do. The one part of this piece that you should absolutely refute. This is turning a blind eye to helping others save their lives when you have a safe chance to do so.
I figured there would be someone who would take issue with my comments about refusing to rescue under certain circumstance. I added emphasis to your response, since that’s the key rub here. Helping others who have gotten into trouble in whitewater that is well above their heads usually carries some level of risk, often substantial risk. I have helped tons of people out of some situation that they really shouldn’t have been in, and I make a big distinction between an inexperienced person who made some errors in judgement vs someone who has been explicitly warned beforehand that they are taking an enormous risk continuing on. My comments were more specifically about the encounters that the video was addressing, and I am sure everyone here has had encounters with the sorts of people who have zero business being anywhere near the river they are launching into.

Look at the other side of the equation: let’s say a group of yahoos decides to launch on a class 4-5 run at high flows, marginal equipment, and zero safety equipment or training. If that group has had the risks explicitly spelled out to them, and they still choose to launch; why should they expect others (people who have dedicated substantial time and effort to paddle as safely as possible!) to risk their own safety to take care of them when they inevitably get into trouble? That seems pretty ridiculously selfish on their part, which is why I make the point beforehand that if they are wanting to take extraordinary risks; they cannot expect me to risk my own safety to enable them to do so.

I have had a few times where that line actually sunk in, that they realized that they were not just risks themselves, that their actions were affecting others too. They often continued on, but the message did still make an impact. One particularly memorable story here: two obese dudes hoofing a rinky-dink inflatable loaded with beer cooler and fishing rods, one paddle, and horse collar style PFD’….on their way to launch on a class 3 run at 5 times the recommended flow! I have my friendly chat, and common sense is getting no where with them as they are already a few beers over the line. I explain that they are taking a level of risk that I would not, and that I would not be willing to help if (when!) they got into trouble, they pause and agree that they are on their own. They struggle getting into the boat and literally flip the thing on entry…beers scatter, fishing rod breaks, PFDs go floating away. They give it another go, manage to recover the PFD’s and actually put them on, and float around the corner. Two rapids later they are bush whacking back to the put in, one of them actually calls me over to comment that they really did appreciate my advice and that they know they should have taken it. I’ve seen them since, in a real raft with good PFD’s, and at more reasonable flows!
 

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Based on my own experience I can relate to the OP's post and other listed situations

Except mine ended in a medical disaster for me and a long recovery. Not just being cold and uncomfortable.

My experience has been most major problems start out with multiple small problems which we humans ignore.

I know I did and paid the price.

Be safe and pay attention to what is going on.
 
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