2010 Veterans Day Rogue River

November 12, 2010 at 8:30 AM

2010 Veterans Day Rogue River Trip

By: Scott Ogren

“Two things: have plenty of forward momentum leading up to the entrance of the guide chute, and if something happens, don’t panic.”  That was the last thing Steve Herring told me as he entered the approach to the guide chute and I was about to follow him.

I had never run the guide chute before, but I have always wanted to learn the route and be able to do it.  At times, there can be a long line waiting to get through the fish ladder at Rainie Falls, and I thought it would be a good idea to have an alternate route in my back pocket for the times I just didn’t want to wait in line.  This trip, it all was looking like this was the time to learn it – the flow was good, I was following the right person to teach me, and there was plenty of people to help in case it all went wrong, so it was now or never. 

I had been talking to Steve about the strategy of how to do it right and what can go wrong since the boat ramp, and he had given me a lot of advice.  Probably the most important thing he told me was that if you miss the chute, you’re not going to go over the falls.  There are plenty of rocks between you and the falls that will stop you from plummeting over the worst part of the falls and you will be safe.  You won’t be hurt, but you will be stuck.

One of my biggest reasons for wanting to learn the route through the guide chute was to avoid the lines at the fish ladder.  So, when I was approaching the Rainie Falls area I looked over and noticed there was nobody waiting to run the fish ladder.  We had a group of 42 people and everyone had done a good job of staggering themselves when leaving the boat ramp and the OKCC kayakers had set up a good communication system that kept the rafts moving through the fish ladder at a good pace.  So I almost changed my mind at the last second and went the safe route through the fish ladder, but I had wanted someone to show me the route through the guide chute and everything was set up right for this to be the time.

I was right behind Steve listening to the last bit of advice he gave me just as I made up my mind to follow him and not run the fish ladder.  In my moment of hesitation to make that final decision, Dean Barr, who had been next to me, got in between Steve and I.  No problem, I thought – after all Dean has done this many times before and now I have two people to watch get through the tricky approach to the chute.  Here we go.

As you enter the approach to the chute, the water gets very shallow and rowing is difficult.  There are many rocks either above the surface or just below the surface, so when you put you oar blade in the water it doesn’t do all that much for you.  Remembering what Steve said about forward momentum, I was pushing as much as I could, but with a 15’ boat loaded with a lot of group gear and one of the dinners for 42 people, I wasn’t able to push that much once I got in there.  I should have already had that forward momentum going into that section.

The problem with not having enough forward momentum is the water pushes you to the left – toward the falls and into a parabolic shaped area outlined by rocks that prevent you from going over the falls.  So, as I was realizing I didn’t have enough momentum, I spotted a rock that I knew the bow of my boat needed to be to the right of for me to make it.  I pushed and pushed and pushed as much as I could, but I did more hitting of rocks than pushing of water and I kept moving further to the left.  As I was approaching that rock and it was obvious to me I wasn’t going to make it, I started yelling, “No, Nooo, Noooooo, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

As soon as the bow of my boat hit the rock I needed to be to the right of, I quickly looked over my left shoulder and looked for the best place for me to try and put my boat so I could be rescued.  A couple of hard back strokes and one good spin and I moved myself back up stream to the top of the guard rocks that kept me from falling over the falls.  Once I was parked on a rock, I looked downstream to make sure Steve saw that I had just royally screwed up and then I looked around to see who else was around.  I saw plenty of people who I have confidence in to be able to perform a successful rescue, so I did what I needed to do – most of which involved remaining calm and just waiting for something to happen.

Once I saw the rescue beginning to be set up, I surveyed what was immediately around me.  Water was flowing under my boat and past the one rock that was keeping it from going over the nastiest part of the falls.  “What would happen if I went over right here?”  I needed a game plan for that, so I thought it through and didn’t necessarily like what I was thinking of, but that was my reality for the moment, and I needed to be prepared for that.

Not long after I got myself stuck, a boat with two firefighters from Hillsboro rowed out to the rock that basically marks the division between the fish ladder route and the guide chute route.  Go right of it and you’re headed for the fish ladder, left and you’re headed for the guide chute.  They managed to land their boat on the rock and climb onto it.  That put them about 60 feet from me – almost within throwing distance for a throw rope.  After a few tries, they had had a rope to me and I secured it to my rowing frame to distribute the forces around the boat.

If their plan had worked, it would have been a quick rescue.  They were a little upstream of me, and their plan was pull on the rope and I should pendulum back into the current that takes me back towards the guide chute.  But the currents were a little squirrely, and they were little upstream they had the wrong angle.  Instead of moving towards the chute, I swung towards the main falls and they just didn’t have enough muscle on the rock to pull me any closer to them.

So there I was being held from just above Rainie Falls right where the falls makes the turn from basically being perpendicular to the left bank to downstream towards where the fish ladder rejoins the main stream.  Crap.  I was in a new place, so I needed to reassess the situation.  Now, the reality of me running the falls was a distinct possibility, so I needed to be ready for that.  The bow of my boat was about 10 feet from the drop and pointed straight at two converging falling waves.  Not good.

Rig to flip.  Was I really rigged to flip?  Just how “rigged to flip” was I?  Mostly, but not entirely – so I spent a few minutes rearranging and tightening straps and making a game plan for myself in case something happened and I headed over the falls.  One of the things I did was to study the route I thought my boat would take and figure out what I thought what would happen.  Would it turn end over end over the falls?  Would it hit the rock that was sticking out and I could sometimes see and other times not?  Or, would it go over the falls and pile drive down deep but surface mostly in tact, kind of like what happens when a raft goes over Husum Falls on the White Salmon?  Thankfully, I never found out, but I had made a spot for me to jump down into, get low and hold onto a few straps I put into place.  The only thing I knew for sure was if I rode the boat over the falls, I wanted to have something to hold onto because it would probably surface faster than I would alone and I wanted to have my boat pull me to the surface.

While I was preparing for the worst, people on shore were preparing a Z-drag that would pull me at a different angle and pull my boat back into the current that headed toward the guide chute.  It took about 40 minutes to get the second rope out to me, realize it wasn’t long enough to reach the Z-drag anchors, bring it back out the guys on the rock to tie another rope to it, and then get it back to the Z-drag anchors.  Firefighters Sam and Cabe took turns holding me 10 feet from disaster for 40 minutes.  That was amazing for me to watch, because every time I looked at them they had a smile on their faces – no matter how much their hands must have been cramping from holding the rope.

After things on shore got sorted out, I was pulled back into the current headed to the guide chute, I cut the rope from the Z-drag and away I went – except for one thing.  I still had the first rope the guys on the rock that pulled me out of the first place I was attached to my boat.  Do I cut that one too?  I didn’t cut it for one primary reason: I was right back where I started, only this time I already had a rope attached to me.  I was in the current headed towards the guide chute with not enough forward momentum; in fact, I was stopped, being held into place with this rope.  I decided I should keep the rope attached in case I got stuck again.  And because I needed to use the rope to pendulum myself off one more rock on the way to the chute it was a good decision, except for one thing.  What I didn’t know was there was a handle tied into the other end of the rope that could have gotten chalked between two rocks.  It turns out that nothing happened and the rope followed me through the chute without incident, but if it would have gotten caught on a rock, the stopping force that would have been created could have caused serious injury or damage.

Luckily, nothing like that happened and I rode the guide chute while towing the rope without any further incidents.  Whew!  Day one, rescue one complete with nothing injured except my ego.

The weather that day was beautiful – the high was around 60 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to be found.  Other than the guide chute incident, we had a perfect day to be on the river.  When I got to camp at Horseshoe Bend, there were people enjoying the sun with various concoctions in hand and just enjoying life to its fullest.

Dinner that night was spectacular.  Russ Pascoe and the kayak crew served spaghetti with homemade puttanesca sauce.  What a treat it is to have such a wonderful meal in the wilderness.

We woke up the next morning to clouds looking greyer than I would have liked to see.  The weather forecast was for a 30% chance of showers, and I figured we stood a good chance of being in that 30% that day.  No matter, Steve Herring was preparing to make his infamous cook-to-order omelets.  After a great breakfast, we rigged the boats and shoved off.

About 30 minutes after leaving camp, it started to rain.  Two hours later it was still raining and I was thinking about how good the weather the day before was, but what did I expect – this is November after all.

We regrouped at the Rogue River Ranch and had lunch where we were treated to a mother bear showing her two cubs how to get down to the river for a drink of water.  Some people suspect she was thinking of taking her cubs across the river to the pear orchards near the Ranch, but we interrupted her plans by being right where she wanted to swim her cubs to.  Whatever mama bear’s intensions were, we got about a five minute show of them wandering around the rocks just across the river from the Rogue River Ranch.

Next up is Mule Creek Canyon.  Russ and I decided the kayakers should be ahead of the rafts that were all leaving, because kayakers paddle forward and will want to go faster than the rafts.  As the kayakers left, I made a joke and said, “Also, if you end up swimming, we’ll be right behind you to pick you up.”

A few rafts had already left, so they were ahead of the kayaks as we headed towards Mule Creek Canyon.  Anyone who has run Mule Creek Canyon with a group of other rafters knows there are two basic things you need to do: keep your distance from the boat in front of you, and don’t stop.  What ever you do, don’t stop because that will cause everyone behind you to run into each other.

We enter the canyon and things are fine.  Pat Barry is on her cat just ahead of me and Rick Carman is rowing his raft with his daughter Jen as a passenger just ahead of Pat.  For most of the way through, everything went well.  I got to Coffee Pot and things got a little squirrely – as I enter, a wave pushes me to the left and it takes me a minute to get back into position so I could leave Coffee Pot.  Bruce Ripley is on his cat just behind me and sees that I need a minute to clear Coffee Pot and holds up to give me the time I need.

Just as I am leaving Coffee Pot, I look ahead and see that Rick Carman has pulled into an eddy on river left and is stopped.  Pat Barry is having trouble stopping and is working to avoid hitting Rick, and I am thinking, “Rick, what are you doing?  Go!”

Then I see Jen stand up in the front of the raft and gets ready to deploy a throw bag.  Uh oh – you only do that when someone needs to be rescued.  So, I do my best to hold back, and then I signal back to Bruce to stay back.  I’m not sure, but I think he stayed above Coffee Pot until the rescue was complete.

Jen waves Pat to float down but stay as far to the right as possible.  Pat does that, and when she passes a small protrusion from the cliff on the right side, she spins around and not much else happens, but she does wedge herself into a small alcove on river right about 25 feet downstream from a kayaker who had taken a nasty swim in Coffee Pot and managed to pull herself onto a small ledge on river right after being pulled under two or three times.

Then, Jen gives me the same signal – come down and stay as far to the right as I can.  As soon as I pass the protrusion from the cliff, I saw her standing on the ledge, but I was too far away for her to jump.  So, I then ran my boat into Pat Barry’s and with her holding me in place I hoped the back of my boat would be close enough for Marie, the kayaker, to jump onto it.  Not quite, so Rick pushes himself across and jams into the back of my boat.  Close enough, Marie jumps and doesn’t quite make it, but Jen grabs her arms and is able to pull Marie into their raft.

One of the rafts that was ahead of the kayakers pulled the kayak and paddle out of the water and then transferred it to Rick’s boat, but Marie was done for the day.  Blossom Bar was around the corner, and after the swim she just had, Marie was in no hurry to get back into her kayak.  She spent the rest of the day in Rick’s raft.

Day two, rescue two complete.  The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but we did learn that you can’t bribe everyone to get the camp you want.  When the first people in our group got to Tacoma, our usual spot was taken and no matter what was offered to that group, they weren’t moving.  So, we took the next spot down and then shared the meadow up on the hill where we put tents for 42 people.

The third day was mild by comparison of the first two days.  We woke up to a wonderful breakfast prepared by Mark Wade and then a two hour float to the boat ramp.

What a trip – two rescues in two days.  As a club we often talk about rescues and boater safety and we talk about many of the same things over and over, but these two experiences told me there are some glaring shortcomings in what we talk about.  Following my rescue at the guide chute, there was a spirited discussion as we floated downstream where we talked about what we did right and what we did wrong.

What do you mean – I was rescued and didn’t get hurt.  Where did we do wrong?  Also, Marie made it into Rick’s boat just fine, what’s wrong with that?  After a day or two to reflect on what happened, there is enough to talk about. 

In both rescues, communication was an issue.  In fact if the communication was better, both rescues probably could have been easier.  In both rescues, I saw hand signals I didn’t understand.  In Mule Creek Canyon, I blew my whistle to signal Bruce to stop and he didn’t hear it – it’s just too loud in there.  In my rescue, the rope that eventually pulled me into the current that took me to the chute was sent to me with a knot in it and a locking carabineer on it.  I didn’t even think to double check the knot, but the wrong knot was tied at the end.

There’s more, but my point is this: we all participate in a risky sport and most of us lack adequate knowledge to understand what to do in an emergency.  We all need to know the basic set of hand signals and whistle signals.  There should be at least one person on every boat who knows how to tie a figure-eight, a bowline and a half-hitch.

My rescue causes me to ask two questions: If I’m the one being rescued, when I get that rope that will be used to pull me to safety, how do I secure it to my boat?  If I tie it to a D-ring, will it rip off and put a huge hole in my boat?  Also, all of the rescue scenarios we talk about at club meetings more or less assume the boat being rescued will be pulled all the way to shore.  I have never heard anyone talk about how to separate the boat from the rope in the scenario I was rescued under.  The answer to that seems obvious, you cut the rope, but I had never heard that talked about before.

I don’t want to criticize either of the rescues, because they both ended up being successful and without injury, but they can definitely be used as learning experiences.  You can never know too much about boater safety and swift water rescue, or get enough practice.  After every rescue, there should be a discussion about what went right and what went wrong.  A lot can be learned from those discussions. 

We boat with each other for camaraderie, but we also boat together for safety.  If we are on a trip together, I depend on you for my safety and you depend on me for yours.  The more we all know about safety and rescues, the better off we all are.  Safety in numbers is good, but knowledge is power and the more knowledge we collectively have the safer we all will be.

There was a lot more to this trip than these two rescues; most people on the trip say it was a great trip.  In fact, some people on the trip were ahead of both rescues and didn’t know about either until after the fact.  The truth is, this was a great trip but it could have turned out differently.  A lot of lessons can be learned from these two incidents and we can gain collective knowledge moving forward.

One of the most important lessons I learned was make sure to have enough beer.  I took eighteen beers for one person on a three day trip – you would think that would be enough, right?  After being rescued at the guide chute, I gave away so many beers to those who helped me that I ran out the next day.  To everyone who had a hand in my rescue, thanks again.  

Tags: Rogue River Galice Blossom Bar Veterans Day Rainie Falls Mule Creek Canyon
Category: Trip Report

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