Summary of Pin in Blossom Bar 2-19-2012

Submitted by Steve Kasper

[Editor's Note - This article is one person's perspective on the incident and should be read in concunction with the perspective of the person leading the rescue and the trip report written by someone who was upstream of the incident.]

This is a narrative of the events from the boat team / Steve Kasper’s perspective.  It is meant solely to describe my point of view / thoughts during the event.  No part of the narrative is meant to be critical of anyone; rather, it’s just my interpretation from the perspective of the boat team. 

Shore Team members: Ann Stephenson, Scott Ogren, Braden Nicholson & his brother-in-law, Dave Nissen, others?

Shore Team support: Rick Carmen, Tom Riggs, maybe a few others, and one guy on river right with a throw bag.  These guys stood by and were great to have for moral support. 

Boat Team Members:  Steve Kasper, Linda Baker

Key learning’s:

For the Shore Team

-          Get a throw bag to the boat team quickly; it helps them psychologically.

-          Once you have a line to the team on the boat leave it there. You never know what you might need it for in the future.

-          When you send over the haul line, attach a second throw bag line to the end that you are sending over. That way you can pull the first throw bag line back to you and you can use it to ferry other things back and forth between the raft and the shore.  This avoids the necessity of throwing a line either from shore to raft or raft to shore again in the future.

-          Have one or two people dedicated to maintain contact with the boat team.  Acknowledge the boat team and any ideas/suggestions they might try to communicate.

For the boat team

-          If accessible and safe, get your throw bag and any gear (carabineers etc.) you might have available and handy for use.

-          In this case, I could have had a haul line ready for the shore team to haul back.   I had plenty of time to set it up while I waited for the shore team to make their way back up river to me.  Though I didn’t know from where the shore team would be pulling from; I wanted to work with their plan.

General good advice:

-          Know your rescue gear.

-          Know how to use it and practice using it.

-          Know how to tie all the knots: Water, Prusik, Double Fisherman’s, Figure-8, Bowline etc.

-          Have your Prusik loops tied in advance; make sure you have the right size cordage to make Prusik loops for the haul line you will use.

How it happened:  I came in to Blossom via the normal route; I’ve run it 15-20 times since 2006 and never had an issue.  This time I was a bit tight on the right and bumped the rear of the raft on one of the first rocks at the top.  This pushed me out to river left and I wasn’t able to get back into the eddy on the right.  I tried to get back right but couldn’t and the boat was shoved left.  We had a rough ride over the first rocks in the picket fence before pinning against one of the final rocks on the far river left side of the fence. It all happened really fast.

We high sided as we went in and the raft stabilized on the rock filling up about 60%.   We had about a one foot section of rock to stand on and could easily sit on the tube.  Maybe 25% of the rear of the raft was free and not pinned to the rock due to the curvature of the rock under the boat and the angle of the boat relative to the current.  Also, two-thirds of the rear dry box and aft area/dry bags were out of the water.

Help arrived after a while. It didn’t take long but seemed like 30-40 minutes.  I think Ann was the first to come up and she stood by with a throw bag.  There was also a guy on river right up on the cliff; he might have been there just a little before Ann. He is the first person Linda pointed out to me. A while later a group of guys came up on river left and Scott signaled that he had a pin kit.  I was also trying to signal to him that I had a pin kit available.  Note: it was hard to tell who is who in helmets and dry suits.

The shore team on river left spent some time working out a plan. I tried to signal that they should pull the boat off laterally/with the current but I’m not sure if they understood or not.  Braden came up on this big rock and was ready to toss me a throw bag but didn’t.  It seemed they were talking things over quite a bit and he delayed throwing the bag for a long time.  From a psychological point, it would have been nice to get that bag/connection as soon as possible.

Eventually Braden hit me with his rope and the shore team set up a haul system upstream from the raft.  They attempted to roll the raft over from an upstream angle pulling against the current using a haul line / system and direct pull with Braden’s throw bag.  From my perspective, this just filled the boat with more water; they were able to pull it off the rock a little but not much.  After quite a bit of discussion (?) they gave up this attempt.  Braden asked for his throw bag line back, I untied it and he pulled it in but I would have preferred to keep it in case it was needed.  Also, it was a psychological loss.  Linda felt like they were going to give up.  I was signaling again for them to move to a spot in line with the raft and pull the boat laterally across the rock.  From my perspective, it seemed like the shore team couldn’t understand this philosophy or didn’t know what I was trying to communicate.  Most of my attempts to communicate with them just resulted in no response from the shore team.  Even just an acknowledgment by them would have been nice.  They needed a communication coordinator. At times many different people played this role. This was confusing for Linda and me; we didn’t know who was leading so didn’t know who to focus on communicating ideas/strategies with on how to get the boat off the rock and us safely to shore. One things Linda noticed was Braden made very solid eye contact when he was trying to communicate and when he was trying to take in the messages I was trying to communicate to the shore team.

Next, the shore team moved to a position roughly in line with/slightly downriver from the boat and set up a new anchor point.  I think they were reluctant to do this at first because they couldn’t find an anchor point.  I moved the haul line out on to the front of my frame, tying it below the water line with a figure 8. This was a bit risky, but Linda and I worked together—she held onto my legs to stabilize me since I was basically upside down and not in a secure position. The line then extended up across my boat lengthwise and off the back thereby pulling not just on the frame but to some extent against the entire load.   (Note: after the incident I noted that the frame had shifted back about 6-8” most likely due to this.)  At this point I was pretty happy as I felt the lateral pull of the boat across the rock was the best bet.  The rear of the boat was already off and as it turned out they really only need to pull it about 2 to 3 feet for it to come free.  (its really hard to say how far they actually pull the boat vs what the river took once it got into the current enough) They did do a great job in setting up the system and pulling the boat.

As they were setting up the new/second anchor point, from my perspective, the shore team struggled a bit.  It looked like their first few attempts the rope was going to abrade against some rocks in the way of the haul line.  They first tried a stick to get the rope off the rock and then reset the anchor such that the gear was futher out and past the rock which seemed to work.   I haven’t gotten debriefed from anyone on shore and only have heard bits of their story.  Apparently they were also having trouble with slipping Prusiks and Dave Nissen brought some ascenders that they put on which really helped get the job done. 

While they were doing that, I was trying to convince them to also set up a 2nd haul line.  What would have been nice would have been a clear “no/not now” message from the shore team. Instead, I felt like they didn’t understand or were just ignoring me to concentrate on their work.  In the end it wasn’t needed.  I did finally convince Braden to help with this endeavor and tossed him my throw bag, then passed him my haul line and all my gear (pulleys, carabineers etc..) to set up a 2nd system.  Doing this—while not necessary for the rescue—was very good in order to keep me busy and feel like I was contributing.  I tied 2 Prusik loops, daisy chained my webbing, clipped it all together with pulleys and carabineers, and then passed it all over to Braden with my haul line, which I then tied to the frame with a Figure 8 knot.  Braden was working on finding an anchor point for this second line when the first line succeeded in pulling the raft off.  Braden then tossed my haul line back in the river with all my gear attached.  I kind of wish he would have unclipped the carabineers/pulleys first as that could have been disastrous but thankfully no harm came of it.

Once the shore team got the second attempt set up it didn’t take long to get the boat off the rock.   Tom Riggs communicated to let some air out of the tubes, I dumped about two thirds out of the front left tube and about one third out of the middle/back tube, both of which were above water.  Once they got the slack out of the rope and started to tension it, the boat slipped about a foot; I felt a great relief.  Linda wanted to know what to do and I said just wait.  The boat moved about another foot or so and slipped off, I yelled for Linda to jump and we were free again.  I then pulled Linda into the boat and cut the haul line as we were again floating down stream.  About the only thing I remember hearing Scott yell over to me was “cut the line if you need to.”  Braden tossed my haul line and gear back in the river and Linda pulled it in.

Thanks to everyone that helped; especially the shore team and  Brenda, Dave, and Julie for keeping us in the eddy after we eddied out below Blossom Bar to pump up the tubes I’d released air out of and to regroup and steady ourselves.  Thank you to everyone else for standing by while the rescue took place.