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I never intended to make public a story of my near death experience on the Animas River last Monday, however the lead River Guide present suggested that I post something that may provide some inspiration to boaters out there. With so many recent stories of deaths on the river maybe a survival "success" story is merited.

To say the least I am lucky and thankful to be alive right now writing this message.

The story:

I got invited to be a volunteer safety kayaker on a two boat commercial overnight upper animas trip, and although I knew no-one on the trip, I jumped on the opportunity and drove through the night 5 hrs to meet the crew of 10 at Rockwood. The river was at bare minimum flows but I was excited to do a scenic overnight trip and it was great weather, people seemed cool, too.

The other safety kayaker and I scraped along and watched the rafts constantly get stuck and hung up on rocks in the low water. It was a challenge to keep the group together as hang-ups on rocks were at random intervals. Us kayakers decided that I would paddle behind the front raft and the other would keep an eye on the back raft. All guides and kayakers were very experienced and having a good time.

10-mile rapid was a shit-show as the rafts bumped, scraped and twisted there way down. We caught eddies along the way and waited for the rafts. One guide snapped an oar and was ejected from the raft. No big deal though.

Bouncing along just above No-name rapid the raft in front of me abruptly got stuck on a rock, blocking the main channel for me, I decided just to skirt around them to the left, that’s when I saw THE UGLIEST STRAINER ON THE WHOLE 26 MILE RUN. Immediately identifying it as a NO-GO zone I paddled hard upstream enough to pin myself up on a rock and delay downward progress. I could push upstream around the rock and into the next channel to miss the strainer. Scooting around the rock I lost balance and the current caught my boat quickly and peeled me off the rock instantly flipping me.

Underwater heading straight into the strainer, I thought to try to wait out my roll thinking I might pass right under the log/branch I noted 8” off the water (maybe there’s no blockage below the surfacing I prayed) Nope, Instantly I was pined and I pushed out of my boat. I didn’t panic but quickly started wiggling my way through branches to get through the strainer downstream. I pushed through but my skirt was caught on some branches upstream and it prevented me from getting my head to the surface. I could see the surface of the water maybe a foot above my head, but I was caught, I couldn’t get there.

That’s when I had my first though of, fuck I might not make it. I could see the surface of the water, that’s where I needed to be. Determined I braced off the bottom of the river with my feet and pushed hard up through the branches. Rafters eddied out on the other side of the river watched the giant log shake as I pushed through to the surface. The branches bowed and my skirt stretched to give me a small air pocket to catch a crucial short breath. I dove back under to try to free the skirt to no luck. I did re-position my feet and brace off the bottom again fully extending my legs, this time I got my whole head above water.

Breathing, bracing, looking around, I glanced across the river and saw the concerned faces of the other rafters. All I could think of was, I can’t die on these people’s trip, I can’t perish in front of these people. I imagined them rafting out with my cold dead body and I couldn’t bare the trauma it would cause. That’s all I could think about as the guide swam across the river to help me. He kept me calm as the cold water rushed over all but my head. He tried to pull me forward with no luck, so hard that the skirt pinched painfully on my belly. The other kayaker arrived and climbed on the log to help. I dove under a couple more times to try to wiggle at the caught skirt in vain. Confused, all I could think of was getting this pinching tight skirt off! I wanted to take off my life jacket and walk out of my skirt. One guide didn’t want me to do this and still wanted to pull me forward with a sling now attached to my pfd. I didn’t think to use my own knife in my life jacket pocket to cut the skirt, but when I turned and saw a knife on the other kayaker’s PFD I yelled, “take your knife and cut my fuckin skirt!”

The positioning was awkward and he started cutting the skirt off me and then handed the knife to me to finish because he couldn’t reach. It cut through in less than 40 secs and I got to shore, horribly cold and exhausted. I warmed up and got a ride on the put-put cart to Needleton where the overnight camp was.


During the next 2 hours my memories were a blur of thoughts of death and battling with the strainer. I was given the option to take the train out or to camp with the group and raft out the next day. I camped and had an amazing time which was way better than dwelling on my own death solo at the take out. Actually one of the best camping parties I’ve had in a long time! Celebrating life to its fullest. We were a rowdy bunch and being that there were 9 guides/kayakers on the trip and only 2 custy’s there was no holding back! Fire jumping, booty shots, the “anything but clothes” party, savage yelling and singing all fueled by alcohol made for a night of a lifetime.

The next day we put my kayak on the train and I rafted out with the group. I spent that night in Durango at the “guide house” and reinforced some of the connections I made with the wonderful people on the trip. So thankful to be alive!

Afterthoughts:

I could not have imagined how horrible it would have been had I not made it. I am so glad I fought as hard as I could and was so lucky. The situation was even more profound in that a guide and kayaker on the trip had both experienced recent deaths on the river. The lead guide just lost a friend on the Big South and the other safety boater had a woman perish while pulling her to shore on his last trip down the Animas.

The last couple of days it’s been hard to keep focused and I am still wondering how I should or may change my life or outlook on life since this experience. I want to explore what I learned in this experience and maybe write on that later. Right now all I can say is “Stay away from strainers”, “Stay away from rafters” , “When in trouble, don’t give up”

I hope this story can provide a positive survival outlook on rafting and kayaking.

Mike :D
 

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Geez Mike. Glad you made it out safe!

This is the second incident I've read about where a skirt was cut and is the primary reason I don't use a kevlar skirt.
 

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That sounds pretty intense, but obviously glad it turned out alright. I have one question - you were talking about taking your vest off some you could out of your skirt, but was it not possible to wiggle out of your skirt the way you were? I've heard of people doing this while in their boat, but never tried myself and often wondered if I could. Also makes me think it might be a bad idea to get a really snug fitting tunnel if you're planning on creek boating with it.

I can't remember if I read it on here or somewhere else. I have it in my head that it was something forwarded to me, written by some guy at a skirt manufacturer. But anyway, this person who who was involved in making spray skirts said you can cut through Kevlar with a knife no problem. This person said he'd done this experiment in his kitchen where he took a knife and sliced right through a taut Kevlar skirt with ease. I haven't been willing to do the experiment myself (skirts being expensive and all), but I think it's open to debate whether Kevlar skirts really pose this safety hazard. I know Roy said he was having trouble getting through his because it was Kevlar, but that experiment was being done under extreme duress in very cold water so it could have happened with another skirt as well.
 

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Mike, glad you made it out alive! A serious strainer is everyone's nightmare. I am guessing if you had a little more water to the point where you could get your head above the surface, we would be reading about another tragedy!

Kevlar fibers can be cut easily IF held taut. I was involved in making a human powered streamliner racer as part of my senior project in engineering school. We would tape the cut line with simple scotch tape and then could cut the fabric. With out the tape, the kevlar would be tough to impossible to cut. So on the river in a crises situation where one is stabbing away at the skirt, I could see it being difficult. Then again if the other materials in the skirt are sufficient to hold the fibers together enough, it may be doable. Since skirts are designed to stretch, I would guess it is more on the difficult side of things. I think I will stick to my Wildwasser skirts, man do I love how dry they are but they are a pain to get on when dry!
 

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Thanks for posting your story.
It's nice to learn from these things from first-hand accounts.
As for learning from it --- I think it's not okay to have a knife in a pfd pocket. It should be in a quick-release holder right out in the open on your pfd.
I can have my knife off my pfd and cutting on something in under two seconds. No pocket to unzip/unbuckle, and the knife doesn't need to be unfolded or unsheathed. Just grab and cut. I practice it on land all the time, and I hope I never need to use it on the river.

Glad, again, that you made it, and thanks again for posting.
 

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“Stay away from rafters” lol

they are a crued and rowdy bunch, smelly as a whole, and damned if they all don't have the worst jokes ever...lol

I heard you were thinking of a solo mish mike? good thing you got on a crew! Good story too. and good to hear about a survivor!
 

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Animas Survival

Glad to hear you are well.........Thanxs for posting the story so that everyone can choose to spend some time thinking about the circumstances & hopefully learn the needed lessons the river can unexpectantly deal us.

Reading back on the old Bailey post I just want to reiterate one thing. From the start of my kayaking career I have always kept a knife easily accessible to either hand. This was a lesson learned from working in the crabbing industry in the Bearing Sea for six years. I kept two...one on my hip belt & one one my chest. It certainly could mean the difference between life in death up their & made sense to bring it to my kayaking..though not on my hip for yaking.

My point to be made is...do not use that knife as someone stated in the old post as your salami, foam, kitchen cuting knife etc. unless you are diligent about keeping it honed. It is imperative that that knife be kept as a rescue tool and always sharp. l've seen the situation wear a dull knife almost cost the life. If you want to carry a small acessory knife in your pocket for the other multiple task that would make sense.

I like boating with four..the safety in numbers is always comforting on harder runs.

Safe runs be with you,

MtnGuyXC
 

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I agree with ID727 - Knife on the quick release. Today, mine, is in my torn mesh pocket about to fall out, which will do me no good.........Tomorrow, I will change this, which I have been meaning to for...oh, I dunno, 3 years?
Thanks for sharing that story. Really liked the ending: )
 

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pin

Well done my friend and appreciate your thoughts. Never boated with a knife for nine years but WILL now.

I too experienced what went through your head that day. Four years ago a friend and I were casually boating the NSV below 'proving grounds'. There is a narrow slot rapid where the river funnels between two large boulders. It's no problem but one must point your paddle downstream to fit through the slim slot.

I was goofing around above the chute and flipped just above the slot. I knew there was calm water below so I decided to slip through upside down and roll up below. Wrong choice as I suddenly found myself wedged as my boat turned perpendicular and pinned itself between both boulders. Almost immediately the river took control as it pushed a HUGE amount of water on my backside (boat was pinned slightly at an angle so that I was facing downriver). I quickly found myself flattened against my cockpit rim unable to exit after pulling the skirt. I tried repeatedly to force myself back and out against the flow, but could not pull my long legs past the rim. Just imagine being unable to exit your boat while pinned upside down. I suddenly realized my predicament and the alternative if I did not extract myself NOW.

The others with a similar experience know that your mind sort of dislocates momentarily from the present, and travels to a personal place that is most precious to you. That place was my son Shane, only six years old at the time. I simply could not imagine leaving him or my wife because of this ridiculous situation I got myself into. That is when my anger soon took over and produced and inordinate amount of adrenaline. As I felt the pressure of losing my breadth, I heaved up and back against the river flow and popped my right leg out. Of course my left leg now took the brunt of all that pressure as it was being hyper-extended. The pain angered me so much I used what adrenaline I had left to pull free. To this day I'll never forget the astonished look on my buddies face as I popped up in the pool below.

The unforgettable lesson I learned that day was to NEVER take a familiar river or run for granted. This rapid was always a fun but unremarkable thought prior to the pin. It now always bears a bit more reverence.

I hope I didn't drag on but I have never spoken about this in such a large format. Hopefully someone will take something from my experience as well to protect themselves on the river.

Be safe and don't ever stop paddling!

Rich
 

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That is one excellent accident report and I suggest you forward it to Charlie Walbridge for the AW database. Glad you are still around to tell about it.
I never intended to make public a story of my near death experience on the Animas River last Monday, however the lead River Guide present suggested that I post something that may provide some inspiration to boaters out there. With so many recent stories of deaths on the river maybe a survival "success" story is merited.

To say the least I am lucky and thankful to be alive right now writing this message.

The story:

I got invited to be a volunteer safety kayaker on a two boat commercial overnight upper animas trip, and although I knew no-one on the trip, I jumped on the opportunity and drove through the night 5 hrs to meet the crew of 10 at Rockwood. The river was at bare minimum flows but I was excited to do a scenic overnight trip and it was great weather, people seemed cool, too.

The other safety kayaker and I scraped along and watched the rafts constantly get stuck and hung up on rocks in the low water. It was a challenge to keep the group together as hang-ups on rocks were at random intervals. Us kayakers decided that I would paddle behind the front raft and the other would keep an eye on the back raft. All guides and kayakers were very experienced and having a good time.

10-mile rapid was a shit-show as the rafts bumped, scraped and twisted there way down. We caught eddies along the way and waited for the rafts. One guide snapped an oar and was ejected from the raft. No big deal though.

Bouncing along just above No-name rapid the raft in front of me abruptly got stuck on a rock, blocking the main channel for me, I decided just to skirt around them to the left, that’s when I saw THE UGLIEST STRAINER ON THE WHOLE 26 MILE RUN. Immediately identifying it as a NO-GO zone I paddled hard upstream enough to pin myself up on a rock and delay downward progress. I could push upstream around the rock and into the next channel to miss the strainer. Scooting around the rock I lost balance and the current caught my boat quickly and peeled me off the rock instantly flipping me.

Underwater heading straight into the strainer, I thought to try to wait out my roll thinking I might pass right under the log/branch I noted 8” off the water (maybe there’s no blockage below the surfacing I prayed) Nope, Instantly I was pined and I pushed out of my boat. I didn’t panic but quickly started wiggling my way through branches to get through the strainer downstream. I pushed through but my skirt was caught on some branches upstream and it prevented me from getting my head to the surface. I could see the surface of the water maybe a foot above my head, but I was caught, I couldn’t get there.

That’s when I had my first though of, fuck I might not make it. I could see the surface of the water, that’s where I needed to be. Determined I braced off the bottom of the river with my feet and pushed hard up through the branches. Rafters eddied out on the other side of the river watched the giant log shake as I pushed through to the surface. The branches bowed and my skirt stretched to give me a small air pocket to catch a crucial short breath. I dove back under to try to free the skirt to no luck. I did re-position my feet and brace off the bottom again fully extending my legs, this time I got my whole head above water.

Breathing, bracing, looking around, I glanced across the river and saw the concerned faces of the other rafters. All I could think of was, I can’t die on these people’s trip, I can’t perish in front of these people. I imagined them rafting out with my cold dead body and I couldn’t bare the trauma it would cause. That’s all I could think about as the guide swam across the river to help me. He kept me calm as the cold water rushed over all but my head. He tried to pull me forward with no luck, so hard that the skirt pinched painfully on my belly. The other kayaker arrived and climbed on the log to help. I dove under a couple more times to try to wiggle at the caught skirt in vain. Confused, all I could think of was getting this pinching tight skirt off! I wanted to take off my life jacket and walk out of my skirt. One guide didn’t want me to do this and still wanted to pull me forward with a sling now attached to my pfd. I didn’t think to use my own knife in my life jacket pocket to cut the skirt, but when I turned and saw a knife on the other kayaker’s PFD I yelled, “take your knife and cut my fuckin skirt!”

The positioning was awkward and he started cutting the skirt off me and then handed the knife to me to finish because he couldn’t reach. It cut through in less than 40 secs and I got to shore, horribly cold and exhausted. I warmed up and got a ride on the put-put cart to Needleton where the overnight camp was.


During the next 2 hours my memories were a blur of thoughts of death and battling with the strainer. I was given the option to take the train out or to camp with the group and raft out the next day. I camped and had an amazing time which was way better than dwelling on my own death solo at the take out. Actually one of the best camping parties I’ve had in a long time! Celebrating life to its fullest. We were a rowdy bunch and being that there were 9 guides/kayakers on the trip and only 2 custy’s there was no holding back! Fire jumping, booty shots, the “anything but clothes” party, savage yelling and singing all fueled by alcohol made for a night of a lifetime.

The next day we put my kayak on the train and I rafted out with the group. I spent that night in Durango at the “guide house” and reinforced some of the connections I made with the wonderful people on the trip. So thankful to be alive!

Afterthoughts:

I could not have imagined how horrible it would have been had I not made it. I am so glad I fought as hard as I could and was so lucky. The situation was even more profound in that a guide and kayaker on the trip had both experienced recent deaths on the river. The lead guide just lost a friend on the Big South and the other safety boater had a woman perish while pulling her to shore on his last trip down the Animas.

The last couple of days it’s been hard to keep focused and I am still wondering how I should or may change my life or outlook on life since this experience. I want to explore what I learned in this experience and maybe write on that later. Right now all I can say is “Stay away from strainers”, “Stay away from rafters” , “When in trouble, don’t give up”

I hope this story can provide a positive survival outlook on rafting and kayaking.

Mike :D
 

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V for Victory
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I get this mindnumbing feeling of terror and my gut tightens up when I read narratives and come to lines like:

"I pushed through but my skirt was caught on some branches upstream and it prevented me from getting my head to the surface. I could see the surface of the water maybe a foot above my head, but I was caught, I couldn’t get there."

and

"I quickly found myself flattened against my cockpit rim unable to exit after pulling the skirt. I tried repeatedly to force myself back and out against the flow, but could not pull my long legs past the rim. Just imagine being unable to exit your boat while pinned upside down."
 

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Mike--I too am glad to hear you lived to tell the tale. Too many incidents have ended in tragedy this year...

I just wanted to chime in on the whole Kevlar rim issue. I was contacted this year by a skirt manufacturer who was skeptical about whether the Kevlar material was in fact the reason why I had a hard time cutting thru the skirt. I can't say that it necessarily was. I haven't conducted any controlled experiments on how different skirt/rand materials respond to serrated blades, and where my experience took place was anything but a controlled environment. I'd expect this to be the case more often than not when someone needs to cut a skirt free from a snag.

So the Kevlar rim may or may not have contributed to my having had such a hard time cutting myself free. Being submerged in fast moving, cold water was definitely a factor. My only suggestion would be to look at your rand and rim materials as though your life may depend on being able to cut through them in less than ideal conditions next time you're making a skirt purchase.

And always keep a sharp knife handy.

And never, ever, EVER give up!!! ;)
 

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What the Chuck
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Hi Folks -- I'm an older paddler now, not super-duper, but been at it a long time. Here's some advice aside from having a knife:

1. Make sure it is SHARP.

Knives that cannot slash instantly through a rope or a skirt will do you no good. Your knife should be RAZOR sharp, besides being QR and appropriate for the task at hand. If you cannot easily shave with your knife it is NOT sharp enough!

There are two ways to get there --

1. Take your knife to a sharpening service at the start of every boating season. With the steels that most of the sophisticated knives are made out of (I have a Benchmade Nimravus) a knife will hold its edge to a relative razor for most of a summer boating season provided you don't use it for anything other than slicing lunchtime tomatoes.

2. For around $100, there's a new system out there that uses automotive sandpaper called a Worksharp. I use one in my woodshop. It's brainless, which is the main attribute it has going for it. This is not some strange Ronco-matic product. It's the real thing, and after you figure out how to sharpen your river knife, you can sharpen your mom's knives and she'll actually have a reason she loves you.

For some reason, the knowledge of actual care of your knife and its sharpening is something that has been lost among the general population. As the original poster has clearly stated, this can KILL you.

Chuck
 

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Nice job of making out of there.

As a rafter that occasionally paddles harder technical runs, I give the kayakers my creeking with a floating strainer speech.

Try to stay ahead of me so if I am too pin in the only slot I do not become your strainer.

Again I am glad you made it out, what a scary situation.
 

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Knives that cannot slash instantly through a rope or a skirt will do you no good. Your knife should be RAZOR sharp, besides being QR and appropriate for the task at hand. If you cannot easily shave with your knife it is NOT sharp enough!
I'm not a rad, gnar-running dude but I'm still always a bit surprised when I see guys using their rescue knives for utility purposes like cutting up that big salami or veggies and fixins on river trips. I never used my old Gerber for that and think that one of the better things about Bearclaws is that they're not very uesful in the kitchen so they'll be sharp when you need it.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks for all the heatfelt tips and positive responses towards the my accident that happend one week ago. The stories and tips I'll truly take to heart, for a near death expierence really makes stuff sink in. I've had flashbacks of my struggle for survival every day for the past week. hopefully those will soon fade. But the memory will remain. I'll never look at a strainer or even river the same.

As for additional info on skirt cutting, My skirt was a neoprene snapdragon. (very common afordable skirt) It did not have a re-enforced edge. cutting the skirt was fairly easy it took maybe 50 sec. the other kayaker started the cut with a blunt-tipped knife and handded it to me to finish. keep in mind my skirt was VERY tight and I was in a good position for cutting. the water was pushing me downstream in an upright position. it took twice as long to cut the outer rim part as the neoprene middle. It would of been harder if it was folded or if one side was not tight...etc. I recommend this snapdragon skirt because it does not have a thick band around the outside and the neoprene is fairly easy to cut. sharp knife is key for sure. Also FYI the shirt itself was caught not the grabloop.
 
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