I was on the ColdRiver in Massachusetts at seven feet. Four feet is pretty high; it’s solid Class IV then. The ice had just broken and the river was brown with silt. The first rapid is Class V. I flipped and tried to roll, but hit icebergs while sweeping. I camp up on my second roll too exhausted to stay upright. On my third try I was loose in the boat and my roll just rolled me out into the river. I was very conscious of the seriousness of my situation-absolutely no one could help me. I held on to my paddle and boat for a short time. The holes kept endering my boat and nearly ripped off my wrist, so I had to let the boat go.
I dropped into one hole after another, concentrating on clearing my airway and breathing in before the next one came. I used my paddle to try and ferry my body to shore, but it was only slightly effective. Although my brain knew what was happening, I could feel my body shutting down. I felt very calm I was too tired to panic. I got over to the river left shore where the current wasn’t too strong, and tried to grab some bushes, but I couldn’t open or close my hand. “You’ve got to do it,” I thought, but my body wouldn’t react. Then my legs went over a pourover and the water stood me up. I guess I was pretty stiff from the cold water. I aimed for shore as I toppled over, then rolled onto the bank and somehow stayed. I still had gross motor control of my legs and arms. I had a splitting headache. My breathing required a major conscious effort. My diaphragm wasn’t contracting on its own so I was forcing air in and out by working the abdominal muscles.
After a time my breathing became easier and my headache went away. The shuttle bunny saw my gear floating by and drove upstream to help, but I was on the wrong side of the river and had to walk upstream to a bridge. After about fifteen minutes I could get my legs coordinated well enough to walk along the steep embankment to a bridge. The group retrieved my gear and regrouped. We paddled a Class III river later in the day. I can’t believe I tried another river after getting so badly spanked!
Editor’s Note: This is a remarkably vivid description of what it feels like to escape from a cold-water flush drowning.
I was running the Deerfield River in Massachusetts at 3,000 cfs (800 cfs is the release level) with a group of five hairball Class V boaters. It was a cold air and cold water situation again. I flipped at the top of Island Rapid, a Class V at these levels. My first roll popped my sprayskirt; my second was a deep low brace; I was really loose now and fell out on my third attempt. I tried to hold my boat, but it was ripped out of my hand. I concentrated on breathing and using my paddle to get to shore. I got tired fast. Someone paddled up to me and asked if I was OK, I couldn’t answer, so the person paddled away. I got caught in the fold of a powerful eddy line and got sucked way down.
I thought it was goodbye world, but my paddle got caught in a swirl and pulled me back up. I couldn’t talk or breath; it was like my lungs were frozen. The same guy came over and asked if I was OK. I couldn’t answer or grab his boat, so he paddled away. What a jerk! Somehow I forced some air in with my abdominal muscles before the eddy line sucked me down again. I let go of my paddle before it spat me out again. My lifejacket zipper was undone and it was held on just by the waist tie. Finally another guy came up to me and I was able to grab his stern. It was very hard to breathe and I was scared now. Turns out I was the only person on the trip who knew CPR. If I’d lost consciousness, I’d be dead.