Reeders Rock - Tellico June 25, 2011
Given the fact that we had all ran the rapid before without anything close to an issue, it did not occur to anyone that it would need to be scouted from land, or it didn't to me anyway. Although in retrospect, that would have been the only way to avoid the scene above, as the change in water level had drastically changed how the rapid could be ran. Or more accurately, it had changed to a rapid best portaged, which is the recommendation at this level on American Whitewater. In my opinion, the five paddlers that entered this rapid all made the logical decision given what we knew ( or didn't know about it) and the amount of time they had to react. I know that I probably would have made the same decisions as each of the other boaters. We knew that it was the Go Right rapid (Reeders Rock), but at this low level, those of us out front couldn't see very many ways to go very far right. I paddled in first to see what our options were. The right-most line (A) was a rail slide down a long rock just below the surface. It turned out to be moss covered and I stalled 3/4 of the way down it. Joanne ran into the same problem right behind me. Seeing this, Christy (Boater #3) went a little to the left of the rock (B) and found himself in a difficult squeeze through a narrow slot between the long rock and the one in the center of the line. He banged his way through, but upon seeing that, Cindy (Boater #4) moved a little further left and found herself in an even more difficult squeeze between the undercut rock and the rock to its right. She laid completely on the back deck and was able to wiggle through, but it was tight. Lang (Boater #5) was already heading into the same line. The difference was that Lang was in an open boat and after seeing what happened to Cindy's kayak, we knew that the canoe would not make it. Christy and I were already paddling upstream and climbing from our boats as Lang pinned. We warned everyone upstream to stop and portage as we made our way to the spot of the pin. Everyone involved in the situation had taken Edgar Peck's river rescue class together and worked efficiently and calmly. I stress the part about being calm, because that was what most impressed me about the entire rescue. It was very calm and organized. Lang stayed super chill, which was impressive given his situation. He was above water and knew that he was in a stable position, at least for the moment. He threw me his paddle and a pin kit and was doing a great job of directing his own rescue. Knowing that the rock in the middle had super traction and not a lot of water going over it, I hopped out to position myself right beside the canoe. Randy (Boater #6) exited on river left and positioned himself immediately on the other side. Lang tossed me one end of his throw rope, which I relayed to Christy on shore so that he could get in a position with leverage. Tommy (Boater #7) made his way to directly behind me to hold onto my jacket. We were all able to talk to each other with ease and communication was not an issue. Lang made sure everyone knew, multiple times, with visual cues that he was okay and that things were under control. Lang slowly and carefully clipped his throw bag to his bow. Not long after this though and before he could start to exit the boat, it shifted and wedged his legs much tighter under the undercut rock. He stayed calm, allowed the situation to stabilize, let everyone know not to pull on the throw rope, then very slowly started working his right leg free. This was accomplished with considerable difficulty. The left leg was equally difficult to remove from under the rock, but as soon as it was free, Randy pulled him onto the bank and the canoe shot under the rock, floating downstream to the paddlers that had positioned themselves there with the throw rope.
Being in the middle of the river, I wasn't aware of everything going on behind me, but as far as I could tell things worked really well with the entire group of 12. Thinking back to what we learned in class, I am curious if someone stayed upstream to warn any other paddlers, although we appeared to have the river to ourselves that day. I'll have to ask someone about it. But mostly I was impressed with how Lang stayed calm, because I think that was super, super key. The only thing that I think could have changed the outcome to a negative one would have been if a boater in that exact same situation had panicked and started trying to exit the boat too quickly, it might have shifted prematurely and sank further under the rock and possibly pulled the boater under the surface. And possibly before everyone else was in a position to help. Lang was calm, focused and needed no re-assurance, even though I made sure to keep letting him know that everything was under control, just because I remember how much Edgar stressed that point.
I have to say that not only am I glad that I attended Edgar's class, but I really think it was cool that the group that I attended it with is the same group of people that I paddle with most frequently. It was nice being on the same page with everyone and knowing what each other was doing without having to communicate it. Kudos to Lang, Cindy and Christy, who all exited tricky situations nicely, to Edgar for teaching such an informative class and to my group of friends for taking the class. And I suppose the most important lesson that we got from this was that at that level (somewhere between 1.5 and 1.2), we need to stay away from the Go Right rapid.
And on a side note, Lang followed this event up by popping Baby Falls for the first time in that same bad boy canoe that got stuck at Go Right. Way to go buddy.