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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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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.
 

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Interesting post. Heuristic traps (McCemmon, 2002) are are a helpful way for me to think about my own risk-taking. I’ve fallen for then all.

Familiarity - “I’ve done this run 50x and there’s never any wood.”
Social Acceptance - “I don’t want to be the only one asking to scout.”
Commitment - “Everyone already got the time off.”
Scarcity - “Water is high but I’m not about to waste the only permit I’ve ever won.”
Social facilitation - “Hold my beer.”
I like to be aware of the "sunk cost" heuristic. "We've put so much into this, we feel like we can't back out now after coming this far..."
 

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Kid yesterday paddled a kayak un wittingly under a sneaky tree stuck in a boulder field on our reliable, small, easy , roadside class 2/3. Luckily he was able to swim out of it and same day the trees gone on down stream. Brown and bubbley the log was a bit of a challenge to see qnd maybe the kid was newer I dunno but I know we never scout it anymore and only reason I saw the log was social media. Have to be a little more diligent and maybe take two steeps back at run off. I'd honestly rather take on big hard gnarly water than wood any day. Stay safe!
 

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I appreciate the post, @Norcalcoastie. RIP to your shipmates, and I hope their families have come to peace with their sacrifice.

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.
Yeah, big difference between a regular solid "crew" and an unknown group. It's helpful to meld a crew on daytrip 3-4-5 rivers and know what your buds will do if SHTF rather than hitting a wilderness river at high water and hoping your new tripmates are solid.

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.
"Good judgement is a result of experience.
Experience is the result of bad judgement." (as told to me by my buddy Reg Lake)

Now you are wiser.



or "I think adventure is usually just incompetence, so I try not to use that word too often."

This discussion parallels several conversations I've had about backcountry skiing. When do you speak up when someone is ignoring an objective danger or is obviously unprepared? What effects do group dynamics have on decision making? What are peoples' risk tolerances?

In the world of backcountry skiing, these topics are beat to death and there are still no clear answers. Everyone's risk tolerance is different, but is it appropriate to apply your risk tolerance to other people? To me, that seems to be the crux of these discussions. I suspect the folks who are more risk averse would think it's appropriate, while the more risk tolerant would generally disagree. Personally, I have a pretty high risk tolerance (for better or worse), so I tend not to confront people unless they are putting other people in direct danger. On the flip side to mitigate my higher level of risk tolerance, I train for rescue and first aid situations so that I'm not completely useless if shit hits the fan in my group or a different group. Whether we like to admit it or not, no one was born an expert in boat safety so we must all try and remember that the yahoos in their wal-mart rafts and water skiing PFDs are in the process of learning. They will either develop a passion and invest in better equipment or get their asses handed to them by the river gods and never float again.
You mentioned the crux of the discussion as applying your personal risk tolerance to others...but frankly, I think there's a lot to be said for the discussion itself. Thanks to all for a (mostly) civil discussion.

I had a scary swim on the upper Lochsa on Saturday at 8.5'. We got off the river after only 3 miles instead of risking a subsequent swim and endangering the kayakers with us. Good decision to get off, better decision would have been to skip that run in the first place. So bailing on my planned weekend coming up...just not worth another rainy camp and another swim at 7'. Will head back down in 8 days as it should be down under 6'. I'm gettin' older and now realizing that my skills and strength aren't quite what they were when I was in my 30's and my risk tolerance is decreasing as well.
 

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I'm gettin' older and now realizing that my skills and strength aren't quite what they were when I was in my 30's and my risk tolerance is decreasing as well.
Welcome to aging.. Don't worry, it gets worse..
 

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Yoga....lol! Really the only thing that changes after 50 is speed, reaction time, strength and flexibility and endurance. Everything else is the same (including attitude lol). I was a amateur/professional boxer for decades. Now and again someone will ask me to spar with an up and coming kid. I absolutely got my ass handed to me by a 16 yr old kid not long ago lol. Father times not all that sympathetic to our emotional needs sometimes. Nevermind I could see it all coming a mile away and STILL couldn't get out of the way. Embarrassing...lol. I still say "we got this" just have to be more thoughtful!!
 

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Kayaker in the Fall creek area /south fork of Salmon, Rafter at end of Marsh creek / Boundry creek.
Did not hear about the third fatality?
Awesome discussion, stay safe.
I don't think there was a fatality on the lower. The OP was mentioning his group of friends was considering launching on the lower though, which is why I mentioned slide.
 

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I'll leave it at, the mind is willing but the body is creaky...

62 years on this rock, and every day I thought I was a young man, till all the sudden, I remembered the old adage, that has long since because unfashionable, "respect your elders", and realized it's getting harder and harder to find one these days...

And all the sudden I'm having joints replaced, and make the same "old man" sounds my father made getting up in the morning...
 
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