Sorry for the long post, worth reading.
I am going to try and explain
this day as best as possible.
One of my friends and I decided
to go kayaking on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia on Sunday. The run is about 9-10 miles long with 5 class
V rapids and a couple class IVs. We are
both experienced kayakers that have been paddling a lot over the past 6 years. I was in a small play boat and my friend was
in a creek boat. We ended up meeting up
with 6 of his friends from his college who brought up their own raft about the
same time we were putting on.
It was a partly cloudy day and
the water temperature was comfortable. The first 2 of the big 5 went really
well. After the second one I had come
down following my friend. We both had run perfect lines and were feeling pretty
good. As soon as I get past this rapid I
see rafts lined all along the river to the right with some park rangers. They start screaming at me to get down
river. I had no idea what was going on,
so I continue down river. I paddle down
a little further and meet up with our friends on the raft. They had given a paramedic a ride over to the
shore to help someone who was receiving CPR.
We sit t there for a little watching up river as paramedics are pumping
his chest trying to revive him. Within 5
minutes a helicopter circles in(which is why everyone was screaming at me to
get down river) and lands very carefully on a rock in the middle of the
river. This was all cool to watch him
precisely maneuver down as mist from the water began coming up around him. I
learned today his raft had flipped and when pulled from the water he had
cardiac arrest. +vibes to him and his
Next we paddle through some small
rapids til we get to biggest rapid on the river, lost paddle. It’s the most technical and longest rapid on
the river. I haven’t swum, wet-exited, for 2 years.
There was a lot of rain the night before and combined with the dam
release this rapid was pumping. I made
it through about 9/10 of the rapid and wound up in a huge hole right at the
bottom. A hole is an area in the river
where water recirculates, similar to a hydraulic. I got flipped several times
able to roll up every time and side surf for a little bit til I got flipped
over again. It got to the point where I
couldn’t roll back over and I had to pull my skirt. I thought it would flush me out but it didn’t. It held me in there for about 40 seconds
flipping me in circles meanwhile my boat is still in there hitting me. I can hold my breath for over 1.5 minutes,
but this is completely different. I’m
struggling to breathe and get out of there but I can’t. There were periods where I could not get a
breath. Towards the end of it I was too
tired of fighting, I could not struggle anymore. I was trying to pull up on ends of my kayak
to get a breath, but this was not working.
I remember thinking to myself this is how it ends. I have been in positions where I had to swim,
but never anything where I accepted my own death. I was spinning around in there thinking “this
is how I die.” This was the scariest
thing that has happened to me in my life.
Next thing I know I was down river with my head barely above water
gasping for breath. I found out later that a couple weeks ago a Navy Seal and someone he was with had died in the same whole I was in.The raft we were
with also flipped and everyone on board swam the rapid avoiding the hole I was
stuck in. I didn’t see it but apparently
some of them had a pretty rough swim.
This really freaked one of the
rafters out who was with us, combining what he saw below the second rapid. We decided it was in his best interest to
scout the next class V rapid. He decided
he didn’t want to run the rapid and he just walked it. We were supposed to meet up with him below
the rapid. We sat at the bottom waiting
for him. He never came. We waited a little longer and still he didn’t
show up. We went up to the woods and
started blowing our whistles and shouting his name, but received no
response. We started hiking the woods
back to where he left and could not find him.
We searched an hour and a half before we decided it’d be best to get off
river before it got dark and go call the park rangers to find him. We get to the bottom and meet someone who had
talked to the park rangers. They asked
if we had lost our friend and it turns out the rangers found him in the woods
and took him back to the put in. We get
back to the trucks and find out he had seen a cub in the middle of the woods
and did not want anything to do with the mother bear so he turned and sprinted
as fast and far away as he could.
I have taken many river trips and have never seen anything like this. It was a wild day on the river. I thought I have been in near death experiences before, but nothing like this where I accept that this is how it ends. Over all it was a nice day and a fun one. A day I will remember for the rest of my life.
(Sparknotes for those who thought it was too long: Kayak down class V river, saw a guy die and a helicopter land in the middle of the river on a rock, get stuck in a hole on the biggest rapid accept that I’m dead, friends also swim, lose somebody three quarters through our trip, he ended up seeing a bear, all in all turned out to be a good memorable day)