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Accident Description


 Bailey Canyon Near Miss From Mountainbuzz.com

Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:01 am

Sunday We're running Bailey Canyon, coming into the first significant IV after SuperMax. I think people call it Trash Can. I've done this run at least 20 times and am pretty much unconcerned, but get flipped in the manky stuff and end up swimming. Current is taking me towards a big rock on river left, so I "assume the position" to bounce off feet first. I hit the rock and go under and around the right, where the current is, and then YANK!!! Something's got me by the waist and I'm stuck underwater in a lot of flow.

I managed to get my feet on some rocks and push up to get an air pocket, so I can breathe, but I'm stuck, I can't see what's got me and there's a shitload of water pouring over my shoulders and occasionally head. Somewhere between the YANK and scrambling for footing, my skirt got spun around backwards, which is what had me confused. I didn't think "skirt" when trying to figure out what could be pulling me from behind, so it probably took me about a minute or so to figure out what was snagged. There's probably a couple hundred pounds of water pouring down on my back, so it's REALLY tight on front (I've got a ring of bruise across the front of my waist) and I'm not sure I can slide out of it. In any case, doing so would mean surrendering my foothold,

which is my air, so that's the last thing I want to do. So I pull out the knife and go at the skirt. I had lost my last knife in the river late last season, and thank God I replaced it before my first run this year! I got a Bearclaw, because of the blade shape. It's curved blade looked to me like it would be ideal for cutting rope, which I expected to be the most likely use. What I hadn't really paid much attention to was the finger hole right below the blade. This is a GREAT FEATURE in a river knife! I spent at least 10 minutes stuck there and I don't know if my numb hands could have held onto a normal knife handle that long with the river blowing on me like that. By now, I can see Jeff on a small cliff river right offering to throw a rope, but I'm waving him off, because that would just occupy my hands that are cutting a skirt. Ture is on river left, he can't get any closer than rope distance either. I start to realize that I'm the only one who's going to be able to free me. The rock is too tall to get anything but a rope to me and nobody would be able to stay where I was without being tied in, in which case they'd be just as screwed as I am. I can't feel my hands and I'm getting really tired fighting the current. If I relax, my head goes under.

And the damn skirt ain't cutting! It's really hard to see what your doing, since it's all under water and the current's blowing my hands all over the place. It's more shielded from the current in front, but the thing is SUPER tight around my waist due to the current and I'm not wanting to slice into a major artery in my gut. I keep working at the sides in the current. Eventually, the blade finds good purchase on a thinner section of kevlar on the side and goes all the way through in one slash. It wasn't like "I'm getting closer...almost there...", more like "this aint working, but what else to do?" and then all the sudden it worked. The thing cut in one swipe and I was instantly blown downstream for an exhausted, bumpy, but very relieved class IV swim. I'm posting this is in the hope that others can benefit from my experience.

Here are some "lessons learned": 1) Always, always, always wear a river knife someplace easily accessible when kayaking. I've paddled over 15 years with them and never used one in a real emergency until yesterday. Sometimes you wonder why you keep replacing them when they fall out every few years, but if I didn't have mine yesterday, I doubt I'd be typing this today. 2) Kevlar rimmed skirts are really hard to cut. This didn't even cross my mind when I initially made the purchase, but I won't be owning another one. 3) Bad things can happen very quickly during a swim. Better to stick it out, take a few knocks and get the roll than to bail. Soooo, what to say? Thanks to Ture and Jeff for all their help. Thanks to Red (local fisherman) for giving me a ride out at Deer Creek. See above for lessons learned. Keep a knife handy. Bearclaw's a good choice. I'm in need of a skirt and it won't have a Kevlar rim.

Also, if anybody comes across a Woody Creeker paddle in the North Fork of the South Platte, it's got my name and contact info on it. Loads of river Karma and fine beer for its return.