The Tieton Dam 2010

The Tieton Dam

Submitted by Bill Elliot

Sometime around 2010, I was running the Tieton dam on the right as I usually do (it's where the most fun ride is). I was running an Aire Ocelot at the time. As I reached the edge, I saw a boat bobbing in the wave at the bottom. There were no passengers - they were downstream at the cable crossing getting treated for injuries. As I went over, I had to push so I would have enough momentuum to hit the boat on one side and still make it through. I had hoped that my push might kick the boat out of the recirculation, but that boat was so full of water that it just sat there... 

 In 2020, Matt, Sarah, and Norm were getting ready to run the Tieton dam in their raft. I was following in my 11x20 Sotar cat, Cubby, and trying to take photos. I got too close to the right wall above the dam and the boat hit a submerged rock and began to spin arounf. I started to turn the boat so it was facing downstream, but I realized I would not make it. I was able to get the boat turned backwards, but I still went over the drop at an angle. When I got to the bottom, the boat hit the pillow and then slid back into the dam sideways, facing river right. The boat bucked, but I held on. Suddenly, it started to tip upstream and I held on while the boat spun around. I worried that I would get thrown out of the boat and down under it. 




On my first Tieton trip in 2003, there was a kayaker who swam the dam. She was wearing a wetsuit, and the back of it was badly scraped up. I thought of her as I was getting thrown around, knowing that I would be trashed by the rough concrete if I went out and went under my boat. 

When I was confident I wasn't going to flip right away, I took stock of my situation. My left oar was fine, but the right had popped out of the oarlock and was flopping around as I held it. I pulled in the left oar and put the right oar back into the oarlock. I then set up and turned the boat upstream. I was finally in control and I set up to get out. I put in a hard backstroke and the boat lurched backwards. I felt the boat go up onto the hump of the wave, and then it began to turn downstream. 

The day before this trip, my wife Toria had run the boat and went into the hole at Waffle Wall. When she came out, one of the oars was stuck - the sleeve was jammed into the oarlock, and the oar was flat to the water, making it useless. This same thing happened to me on the Green one year at the Nozzle and I couldn't get it out of the oar. Luckily, that time the oar was in a position to be somewhat useful. Toria was able to get the oar unstuck...


I wasn't. As I headed downstream under the bridge below the dam, I realized that my oar was jammed into the oarlock so deeply that it would not come out. I quickly pulled the keeper pin on the oarlock and took the oar out. I opened the drybox on my right ("Righty-repairy, Lefty-lunchy") and got out the spare oarlock. I installed it and got the spare oar out. This took the most time because I got the spare oar caught in the oar tether, but I was able to get it installed and stay out of trouble.

In the end, I had to hammer the oarlock out of the sleeve and replace it. As you can see in the photos, the gouge is pretty deep. You may also be able to see the scars from the previous times the oar was stuck. 

So, what did I learn from this? After all, Jay Cohen says that there's nothing wrong with getting into a situation as long as you learn something. The main thing I learned from this was to not try to take pictures when I don't really have enough time. I should probably be using a GoPro anyway. Everything else was just putting into practice the things I've learned in the past, like having a spare oarlock and knowing where it is, and knowing how to replace the oar in a rapid.