“Nate is out of his boat!”
We had pulled up on a beach to scout the entrance to the gorge on a cold day in mid-March. The river was running high, around 1400cfs and the temperature was in the mid 30s. The water was cold, chilled by the remaining snowmelt from the ski area at the put in. Eddie was leading the group and had chosen to stop at the beach to get a look at what the water looked like within the narrow confines of the gorge. Nate had either chosen to continue without scouting, or had missed the eddy and caught up in the current, had elected to continue ahead on his own. Most of the group was already out of their boats when Ed called out that Nate was in trouble. Neval and I had been at the back of the group and were still in our boats. Neval immediately pushed off into the current after Nate, I popped on my sprayskirt and followed.
Around the corner the river narrowed, the water funneled into a narrow channel by the steep slopes rising up from the waters edge on either side. The current raced through the narrow confines of the gorge, expending its energy in massive wave trains. What few rocks remained at or above the raging torrent created enormous holes. Eddys were few and very far between as the trapped current had nowhere to go but to continue racing downstream, carrying everything else with it.
Every now and then I was able to catch a glimpse of Neval when we happened to crest a wave at the same time. Nate was somewhere up ahead, hidden in the chaotic , frothing mass of whitewater.
I was just finishing my 1st year of paddling and had never encountered water like this. It was huge. The waves were over my head and their faces were longer than my boat. I would paddle hard up the front of a wave face and fly off the crest, frantically looking around to scout ahead before slamming down into the trough below. The water surged everywhere and the sound of it filled the gorge with an overwhelming roar.
I had almost caught up to Neval as I started up the face of an enormous wave when suddenly it exploded back down on me. The surge lifted my bow as it slammed into my chest, the current caught my stern and continued to drive it downstream. My bow lifted higher until it rose above my head and I flipped over backwards into the trough behind me.
My first thought was that I had committed the worst possible error. In my zeal to help Nate, I had put myself into a situation that was over my ability to paddle without the support of the group. We would now have 2 swimmers to deal with. I had never before tried to roll in water as big as I was encountering that day. I doubted that I would be able to complete my roll but had no other option so I set up slowly and tried.
To my great surprise and even greater relief, I popped right up. I was extremely relieved to say the least. At the top of the next wave I could see both Neval and Nate. Nate had made his way to the edge and was climbing out onto the slope while Neval had caught up to his boat and was trying to push it towards the shore. I quickly caught up to Neval and we worked together to push the water filled craft into a micro eddy on river right.
The eddy was only big enough for one boat, leaving Neval and I out in the somewhat slowed current as we struggled to hold Nate’s boat in the eddy. We had been pushed a good 400 yards downstream from where Nate had gotten out so he was unable to offer any assistance. Neval asked if I could hold the boat myself while she got out and grabbed it. I told her that I would try.
Neval up behind Nate’s boat, quickly popped her skirt and slipping on the steep bank promptly kicked her boat out into the river. I now had a dilemma, should I continue to try to hold Nate’s sodden boat, an uncertain proposition at best, or should I go after Neval’s. Not much of a choice really, Neval is a lot better looking than Nate,
“Nate is out of his boat!”