You have to be able to say "NO" when boater buddies are always trying to pull you into sketchy trips. I've ran the Lower at a high 18000cfs, the slide was runable but had some crazy holes and swirlies. Most everything else was washed. I've done the trips with multiple rescues going on, it is no fun and scares me because life can be ended so fast because of stupid choices. Now, if I don't like other peoples skill level, I don't go. I was at Snowhole right after that lady drowned years ago, we were the next group behind them, it was a weight that took a long time to heal. You are helpless when things have reached that point.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
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