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Scott_H
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  Quote Scott_H Replybullet Topic: Near Miss
    Posted: 30 Jan 2011 at 10:31pm

I had a near miss on Saturday.  I am sharing this long-post for two reasons: one, hearing about experiences both good and bad is what I believe makes this board, and the community it serves, invaluable; and two, I hope that the exercise of writing this may help me process the experience.

The hard thing for me to believe is that it didn’t happen on some run that was at the upper end of my ability or on a move that required difficult paddling.  I ended up getting caught in a hole on the Middle Middle right above House Rocks.  I have been boating for 6 years and have probably run this stretch 100+ times.  I don’t often run it at the level it was at on Saturday (3400), but it was not a level that I really had much concerns about and was paddling with confidence up to that point. 

I was following my friends Jay and Mark as we approached the entry boulder of House Rocks from river right.  I watched Jay finish the first half, and then Mark.  They had both gone to the left of a hole in the center.  I wasn’t really thinking much of the hole.  I was in my Pyranha Burn and it seems to handle meatier holes well.  I actually still don’t remember going over the lip and what went wrong, but I do vividly recall suddenly side-surfing a fairly deep and violent hole.  I knew I was in for a bit of a ride, though not panicking.  I rolled after a short bit and while I was upside down, I stretched out and tried to grab the current beneath with my paddle.  I felt the water go calm and so thinking I was free I rolled up only to find myself being pulled back in and again side-surfing.  Despite the chaos, I remember still being calm enough to get some deep breaths knowing I would likely be swimming.  The next time I rolled over, I went for the loop.

I don’t recall this, but according to Jay, my boat came free and I surfaced and broke free from that hole.  However, to my terrible misfortune, I immediately swam into another hole below it.  Jay will have to chime in, but I believe he said I was down for maybe 20 seconds.  It seemed like an eternity for me.  I don’t know if I got much of a breath in that moment between, but I was exhausted after exiting the boat and really short of breath.  I was stuck deep enough in the hole so even when I surfaced at the bottom of it I was swallowing a lot of water and not getting any meaningful breaths.  I wasn’t panicking too much at first; I was confident I would get free shortly.  But I was stuck in a horrible re-circulating pattern.  Each time I was pulled back to the depth of the hole, I became shorter and shorter on breath and kept swallowing more and more water.  I was fighting it, trying hard to swim at the right moments, only to get thrown back in.

The last re-circulation was the point in time that is still very fresh in my memory.  I didn’t get a breath as I was pulled back in, but I desperately needed one.  I was lower in the water than the previous cycles and couldn’t get my head to the surface, but could feel myself still being held.  I am having problems describing the exact feelings from that moment, maybe panic, maybe disbelief, but I do remember having three very distinct and rapid thoughts:   one, I was drowning; two, I remembered hearing that drowning ends up being peaceful once you stop fighting (and I had almost no fight left); and three, I felt very bad for my family and friends having to deal with me drowning on them.

I can only speculate why, but right after that, I broke free and surfaced.  According to Jay I surfaced in the current down a bit from the hole.  I had no energy left at that point.  Mark and Jay had immediately known I was in trouble and were paddling up to me.  I was exhausted and actually don’t remember if I swam or grabbed one of their boats to get to shore, but it was thankfully a very short swim to shore from when I surfaced.  I collapsed on the bank for a few seconds and then just sat there coughing up water.  Jay went on to get my gear once he determined I was going to be ok.  The rest was your routine swim drill.  Jay did a wonderful job running down and successfully getting my boat and paddle and Mark wouldn’t leave me as I stumbled along the river bank.

I was probably in some form of shock or denial about what had just happened until I got home and sat down next to my wife.  On the drive home I had planned on just giving her a matter of fact account of the incident and what I was going to say; she is very patient and supportive of me and deserves to know about the close call.  But when I actually sat down next to her on the couch to give my pre-rehearsed account, I couldn’t get more than 2 words out of my mouth before I just lost it for the next couple of minutes.  I felt even worse seeing how scared I made her.  I spent the rest of the day in a fog.  We went to a 4 year olds birthday party, then a family dinner, then to see a friend’s band play.  But the whole rest of the day was surreal to me.

My wife and I have talked more about it today.  I have thought about it for too many hours as well; replaying the incident over and over and trying to gain some perspective about what happened.   I could probably write a few more pages about what I have been thinking since Saturday morning. 

I wasn’t sure about posting this at first.  I could have just as well done this exercise in an email to a few friends.  I also thought that if everyone wrote about getting worked on the Middle Middle or the Sky, we’d soon be deluged with posts.  But while I have had my fair share of swims and thrashings in the past, I have never come close to the despair I felt yesterday.  In sober (when I sobered) hindsight, I can say with certainty it was a close call.  So, maybe the intended purpose of this post is to offer a reminder that this sport we love is filled with more random dangers than most others.  An “average” day on an “average” stretch of a river has the potential to be anything but.

 

“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”
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  Quote Travisimo Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 12:23am
Glad to hear you're okay!  My closest call to date came in Boulder Drop, I think in 2001...

It changed my perspective on some things, but didn't stop my paddling.  I hope it doesn't for you either.
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  Quote doggievacation Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 7:04am
Scott,

Glad to hear you're okay.  And thanks for posting this.  A lot of people seem to think that swims in Class III/III+ water don't have consequences, but any bad swim can really set you back.  After all, what you're dealing with now is straight up PTSD and it does take time to process.  I had a near drowning experience back in 2004 (borrowed a friend's boat and COULD NOT get my skirt to pop while I was upside down and getting worked.)  I hate to say it, but took a long, long time for that little worm of fear to finally work itself out of my system.

My advice is to boat when you feel ready and stick to nice, familiar runs.  Make sure you have fun EVERY TIME you boat and steer clear of any drop that makes you feel panicky.  If you can do that, I think you'll find the worm will fade on its own, but go with your gut and take your time.  The whole point of this sport is to have fun!

Good luck,
John
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  Quote rockarolla Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 7:21am
Glad to here your ok brother !
 
 
Dave Moroles.   253 241 8550.
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  Quote wylddeuces2 Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 7:31am
Wow, Im glad you're alright and its great you were able to share your experience with us!  I could not begin to imagine what it'd be like under water like that! Im a new paddler waiting to get in my boat.

Two years ago i had my life flash before my eyes as well, laying in the middle of an intersection with my Harley on my leg in the middle of rush hour traffic, there must have been better plans for me, as there was Oil all over the road which caused mine and all the other car accidents... i should have been ran over by the other cars. Amazingly I'm still here, a Lot i don't remember, some kinda mental block for almost that entire year i suppose its probably from the concussion.

In the long run... it has given me a new outlook on how special our Lives are. Never take anything for granite and im blessed everyday to still be a part of my childs lives.... I think to myself since the accident, What more could i give of myself? So i raised my right hand and signed my life over to the army, I couldn't be Happier!!!

You sharing your experience helps other heal from their own, or me from mine.
Thanks again for telling your story!






To each their own. If it makes you happy it cant be that bad, im happy for you! For what does matter...is what makes You happy!
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  Quote James Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 9:08am
Scott,

I am glad to hear your ok and posting your account is sobering for everyone. When I read through your post, I think of two things right away.

First is that like John said, class XXX does not mean there is no danger and it is important  we are all aware of that easily forgotten fact. When you run a stretch 100+ times it is easy to see how we can loose sight of it.

Second is that river levels have a huge amount to do with the danger on a run. Although we are eager to find that prime level it does often mean that the run can become more dangerous. That is one of the things that I think many paddlers debate and it does not do much benefit. Loads of folks are quick to claim some giant flow as being prime or their favorite level but in reality it might easily turn the difficulty of a river up a notch with the consequences of a swim significantly higher.

Regardless of all the experiences and lessons we learn on the river our friendships and families should always be the most important so thanks for sharing, and Well Done  Jay and Mark it sounds like you guys were the icon of paddling partners.
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  Quote JayB Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 9:21am
I may have more to add later, but I'll add a couple of quick thoughts and impressions:

-The first is that during the second phase of the swim Scott was down so long that an entrapment seemed like the only possibility.

-The second is that group dynamics matter. Most of us are pretty good about keeping tabs on others in our party, maintaining spacing that allows for visual contact and some kind of communication, and regrouping when appropriate. Mark, Scott, and I just kind of do this automatically when we're together - and because of that Mark and I were able to get to Scott just a few seconds after he resurfaced.
-Jay
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  Quote water wacko Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 9:24am
I'm glad you're okay, Scott.
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~Howard Thurman
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  Quote jella Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 11:08am
I'm really glad to hear that your okay.
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  Quote Wiggins Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 11:18am
Low risk does not mean risk free. My two scariest experiences kayaking happened on the Powerhouse run on the Snoqualmie, and the class II section of the S Fk of the Snoqualmie. Ledge Drop 2 on the Green still gets my pulse pumping because I once had an accidental swim there with full waders.
 
The important thing is that  you are ok, and when it all went sideways everyone (yourself included from the sounds of it) did the right thing to maximize your chances of survival.
 
If you haven't made an appointment already you may want to go to the doctor to make sure your lungs are ok and aren't about to have a parking lot drowning.
 
I am glad you are alright.
 
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  Quote Kyle K Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 11:32am

Hey Scott, glad you're safe and sound and you had such good padlling partners! Here are a couple of thoughts about this situation:

House Rocks at roughly 3-7k is a pretty serious rapid, despite the sometimes cavalier attitude some of us can have after running it a bunch of times. My personal take it that it is easier at lower and higher water. I think it's important for all of us to remember that any moving water can be dangerous, depending on where we end up (in your case in two sticky holes).
 
I'm going to suggest something that might help you get back on the horse: Put on our drysuit and practice swimming some relatively safe rapids just to get the feel back. Most of us have swum often enough to think we know how to handle it but getting worked is a different ball game. There's only one way to be super comfortable with it and that's to practice. Start out slow and then maybe find a hole that you're comfortable you can get out of and jump into it a time or two.
 
You didn't mention trying anything in particular to get out of the holes, although you may have. Two techniques that have worked for me are the following:
1. Curl up in a tight ball to help you sink to the (hoepfully) exiting water near the river bed. You go deep but tend to rise up downstream of the bubble line (water returning into the hole). This works best in bigger violent holes.
2. If you can get flat (maybe not possible in the holes you were in), swim accross the eddy line into the downstream current, rolling your body as you do (from a breast stroke to a back stroke or vice versa). This works best in flattish pourover style holes.
 
I'm sure there are other techniques that others can chime in on. Again, as much as we all hate to swim, only practice makes perfect, or at least leads to some level of comfort in sticky situations.
 
Keep boating and again, I'm glad it worked out OK in the end. Take care!
"I used to be somebody, now I'm somebody else." Bad Blake                  
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  Quote Jed Hawkes Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 11:52am
I will echo what kyle K said, recreational swimming is an integral part of learning to get comfortable.  jP and I have done a lot of recreational swimming this summer raft guiding.  We're all told/taught to swim in moving current but it does us no good until we actually do it on a regular basis.
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  Quote Leland Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 12:21pm
In my experience, the more you fight to swim out of a hole, the more it sucks you back in. Going limp is often the best thing you can do to get out of a hole.

Beyond that, swimming up into the water entering the hole can also serve to drive you deep into the outflow.

Glad you made it out. Hopefully these tips can help to make your next hole swim less epic.
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  Quote doggievacation Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 12:54pm
I'll probably catch a lot of flack for this comment, but part of me thinks that practicing how to swim a hole is like practicing how to crash a car.  I don't want to do either one, so I'd rather spend my time practicing how NOT to do it, then how to do it safely.

That said, I have swum rapids before as part of a SWR class, and I'll probably do it again soon as I'm due for another class this year.  (It's been four years.)
Don't waste water!
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  Quote tradguy2 Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 1:16pm
Scott, this reminds a lot me of a swim I had on the Cle Elum last summer.  After get beat down a hole for a long time I pulled my skirt and tried to swim to the surface.  I remember grabbing the smooth rock under the pour over, swimming hard, and generally doing whatever I could to get air but I just could not get to the surface.  At some point I started wondering if this was going be the end of me (my lungs were really burning) so I stopped fighting for a second to think when suddenly I came up a distance downstream.
I find it interesting that we both flushed after relaxing because it reinforces my theory that the reason I wasn't flushing is that I was fighting too much to go deep and sub out.  Once I relaxed I suspect I went deeper a flushed.  
... preparing for a river beating!     
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  Quote Kyle K Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 1:27pm
Hey There Doggie,
 
No offense intended, and I'm not trying to give you any sh*t but I'm confused: First you say you don't want to swim in a hole, then you say you are going to practice how to do it. My confusion is this: How does one practice without actually doing it?
 
As I mentioned, the best way to do it is in a relatively safe hole. Close to shore, with safety people in place would be ideal. It can actually be a bunch of fun. Seriously, get a group of river pals together on an off day and go for it. Guaranteed you'll laugh a lot and learn something to boot.
 
In CO, where I live now, there are a bunch of WW parks that have features of various strength. Although I've never witnessed one strong enough to keep you for long, especially since they design them to be safe, some of the holes can toss you around a bit before they let you go. They're perfect to practice swimming in.
 
Another place to work on it can be the ocean. There are an entirely different set of parameters for picking a safe spot but breaking waves can be fun too.
 
Again, not slinging sh*t. I just think we as a community ought to practice swimming more as, more often than we like to admit, we all swim sooner or later. And, to quote Steve Fisher (as best I can remember it) "We're all in between swims. As you get better they just get further apart and scarier."
"I used to be somebody, now I'm somebody else." Bad Blake                  
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  Quote doggievacation Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 3:48pm
Kyle,

No offense taken.  I guess my conflicting views boil down to this:  On the whole, I think a lot of boaters don't take swimming very seriously.  It's no big deal.  It just happens.

But, of course, it doesn't "just happen."  Usually, it happens because your roll needs work or because you were boating water above your current skill level.  And, yeah, sometimes sh*t just happens, but I would argue that bad luck plays a lesser role than people would like to think.  So my thesis, if you want to pin me down, is that the way to prevent a bad swim is through practicing rolling and boating skills, not by practicing swimming skills. 

But here comes the part where I reverse myself:  sh*t does happen.  We all have bad days and sometimes we're the guy who ends up having the kind of scary swim Scott just had.    So, yeah, it's a good idea to practice swimming through rapids or out of holes.  It could happen to any of us and we should be prepared for it.  But if push comes to shove, I'd rather be known as a good, safe boater than a good, safe swimmer.



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  Quote Scott_H Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 4:15pm
Thanks everybody - this has been very helpful to hear.  I had my take on things, but it was so very subjective I really needed some context and other people's viewpoints to help make sense of it.  I have been emailing Jay today back and forth and need to sit down with he and Mark and re-hash things and talk about how to use this
experience for future trips.
 
Just some random, still jumbled thoughts:
 
I will definitely boat again in the not-too-distant future.  I spent to much money on boats not to.
 
 
Tom (and others) - I think you are right, the moment when I paused (or quit ) was the moment I stopped moving and sank and broke free.  Also, because I had no air left in me, I think I was naturally lower in water.  But the scary part is that I knew about the "going deep" concept before Saturday, but I overrode it for the most part in my quest to desperately catch a breath.  The self-image of being held with my head just below the surface straining to get up is going to stay with me for a while.
 
I agree on the benefits of some swim practice.  Thankfully, I spent my younger years on swim team, so I have some base skills.  But I have also taken two Swiftwater classes in my 6 years of boating.  Each has been very helpful and they emphasized swimming rapids.  I do need to get out there, if even just at the end of a run and just pop into the water for a spot and swim.  Maybe even have someone practice throwing the rope to me.  You could certainly expand that and make it a combo run\drill day.
 
I also agree with the "safe boater" concept.  I took some comfort that I was able to immediately side surf and roll up in the maw of the hole without thinking about it.  I attribute that to sidesurfing random features from time to time on runs.  I want it to be automatic like my roll (not saying the roll is always automatic) and will spend more time focusing on having the boat in awkward positions and dealing with it.
 
I could have scouted - boat scout, or even on the banks.  That level was a little unfamiliar with me.  A quick jump out seems like a small hassle now.
 
Having good partners and this board are wonderful. 
 
 
 
 
“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”
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  Quote Jed Hawkes Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 5:14pm
A common place to practice this sort of "recreational swimming" is on the cle elum below the take out for the China Gorge. There is an eddyline that is commonly used as a mystery move spot, ie. pencil diving into the eddyline for big downtime, it's super fun but do it at lower water when the cooper is in. Apparently James went there with his squirtboat at the higher end and got a little too much downtime.

And just to reinforce the rec swimming, swimming in whitewater is about more than being a good swimmer, but knowing how to swim in whitewater. For example knowing when to lay on your back and be passive, and when to roll on your belly and swim hard. It also helps to learn how well your body planes through the water, and how to catch eddies efficiently with your body.

It is easy for me to preach this because I come from 5 years of raft guiding experience and have done lots of swimming and teaching people that have no whitewater experience how to swim in moving water. And I'm sorry for being preachy but this skill is a commonly ignored whitewater skill. It will also be helpful if your ever on a run where you become separated from your boat and end up on the wrong side of the river and are forced to swim to your boat or to the other side of the river so you can walk out.

I've been in a similar situation to you minus the scary stuff. I swam at Lava falls on the farmlands section of the White Salmon and for a few moments I tumbled around fighting the current before I remembered to do the cannonball. As soon as I tucked the falls pushed me deep and I resurfaced downstream. The hardest thing when swimming is remembering your training and fighting your instincts. Once on shore I discovered that my boat was downstream with a class IV rapid between me and it, and was forced to swim back to my craft. At this moment I was glad that I had had practice swimming without my boat.

In the two years guiding on the White Salmon I've had a handfull of swimmers at Husum falls. I always train them to "do the cannonball" if they are having trouble surfacing because they feel like they're "in a washing machine". And every single one of them has fought the current initially, then after a bit remembered what I taught them and then do the cannonball. They get back in the boat and spit and cough for a few minutes, then look at me and say "you were right about that cannonball thing".

I've also had success swimming upstream into the hole and then balling up once I hit the seam, that way you really get into the green water flushing downstream.

I hope that all this is helpful and that we can all learn from your experience, even if we don't learn from it, at least we're reminded of the risk.

Take care.

-Jed
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  Quote JayB Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 5:41pm
-Having a hard time thinking of a hydraulic that fits the bill here in Western WA. Like the idea but worry about getting into a real-deal retention/entrapment situation... 
-Jay
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  Quote jella Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 8:38pm
there are plenty over on the Wenatchee River....
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  Quote James Replybullet Posted: 31 Jan 2011 at 10:11pm
Body surfing at paradise is good stuff and then you can swim in the whirlpools below it ... see how deep you can go and hang out in the eddy. practice making the ferry etc... I have had many a good day wrapped up with a 20-30 minute swim sesh there.
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  Quote tiziak Replybullet Posted: 01 Feb 2011 at 7:49am
Lunch hole on the sky is a good place to get worked in your boat. That thing will hand out a beating if you let it.
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

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  Quote water wacko Replybullet Posted: 01 Feb 2011 at 8:00am
Swim the Needle at the right flow and you'll surface about 200 yards off shore... in the ocean.    
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~Howard Thurman
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  Quote chipmaney Replybullet Posted: 01 Feb 2011 at 8:47am
Scott, glad to hear you are okay.  Such events can definitely cause a crisis of confidence. Hang in there, friend; once you put together a new string of positive kayaking days, I am sure you will be get back to having fun and feeling good about being on the river.

Good luck & see you on the river.


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