Close Call on the Cossatot

An excerpt from an ACC Newsletter article by Walter Felton

This issue's article is going to be a little different from the usual. I want to relay the events of a paddling trip on the Cossatot from Saturday, February the 8th, 1997.

A group of 6 open boaters gathered at the Highway 246 bridge on the Cossatot at 9:30 A.M.. It was very cold, and we had decided to put in at 246 and take out above the falls. The group played hard and took their time getting to the Ed Banks bridge, wher e we ran into a group of 4 kayaks. After we took a short break, we caught up with the kayaks and formed a larger, but very loose, group just above the Esses. The whole group played hard in the Esses, catching eddies and surfing. I stopped on river right just below the ledge drop to watch everyone run the drop and play their way down the rapid. All of the other boaters had passed, so I started out of the eddie to finish the run. As I peeled out of the eddie, I saw John Barton and Gordon Kumpuris runni ng up the river right bank and then caught sight of the bottom of a yellow kayak pinned in the river. Most boaters don't get in a hurry when it is just equipment that is pinned, so I knew someone was in trouble.

I beached my boat and started running down the bank to the rocks above the kayak. When I reached to the kayak, Robin Booth was pinned in the boat, about 8 feet off the river right bank, with her head under water. Her Sleek had hit a rock near the front of the cockpit and she had rolled downsteam. The bow of the boat was facing river left with Robin's upper body on the river right side of the rock and the rock covering the cockpit of the kayak. John tried frantically to get a rope to Robin, but she could not get her hands on it before it floated downstream. A second rope was thrown in, and she managed to get both hands on it. However, she could not hold the rope long enough to dislodge the pinned kayak. John immediately jumped in a little upstream of Robin and managed to swim to the boat and get a hand on Robin to stop his downstream momentum. After a few seconds, John got a good hold on Robin, and I entered the water downstream of John and lunged to the rock that had the boat pinned. John was able to get Robin's head up a few times for her to get a breath, but by now she had been fighting the water for several minutes. John lifted her head once, and the boat moved just enough to get a hand hold on the cockpit rim. Together, we were able to pull the boat, with Robin still in it, over the top of the rock.

By this time, the whole group had gathered on the bank for support. Gordon threw a rope to John and managed to pull all three of us to the bank. We popped Robin's spray skirt, and Larry Crane and Gordon pulled her from the boat. By the time that every one was out of the water, Vern Deas and Tee Yamashita were gathering firewood to build a fire, and Phil Bruce was picking up all of the equipment that had been used in the rescue.

Team work and Robin's physical condition are what made this rescue a success and not a tragedy. Approximately three and a half minutes elapsed from the time Robin's kayak pinned in the rocks to when she was pulled out of her boat. She was getting some air during that time, but the force and temperature of the water were sapping her strength very fast. She could not have held on much longer. Three and a half minutes is a long time to be pinned in a boat, but it is not very long to get to a pinned boat and organize a rescue.

This event should stand as a lesson to all of us that we always need to paddle in groups of three or more and be prepared to respond to a boater in trouble. The Esses are class III, not hard or dangerous, for a boater of Robins experience and ability, but she still got in trouble on this day. This shows us that anyone can get in trouble anywhere, anytime. Rescue clinics are a must for boaters paddling any kind of white water. The physical skills you learn may not be what is required to get a fellow boater out of trouble, but you must have the ability to think and act quickly in life and death situations. You can't just take a three-day clinic and expect the skills to be there without practicing. Use any chance to work equipment recoveries on the river to sharpen your mental as well as physical rescue skills. There are several clinics listed in the calendar for this year, they may seem a little expensive, or not fit your time schedule very well, but if what you learn saves someone's life, the cost and the time will seem insignificant.