NEAR MISS AT FIST ROCK
I was leading two good friends of mine down the Russell Fork Gorge in eastern Virginia on October 2, 1992. Both women are great boater. One had done the Gorge a few years back and wanted a ‘refresher’ on the lines; the other had never run it before. We went downstream to the staging eddy above Fist Rock where we saw some open boaters finishing a rescue of their own. The rapid was described to both women; they had no questions so I ran it first as an example. The second boater followed and had no problems.
The third boater got surfed left above the undercut at First. She hit it head-on, and the boat spun around and flipped. Half in and half out of her boat, she washed into the corner of the rock above the entrance to the undercut and pinned. Her face was half in and half out of the water; she described it as like being in the surf because she could get a breath between wave in her face. Unfortunately, she had not managed to get entirely out of her kayak, and was now being crushed between the boat and the rock. She was clearly in great pain, judging from her screams.
The open boaters who were packing up from a pervious rescue were the first to respond. She had hold of the first rope in seconds, but could not get free. A second line was thrown; she tried to tie it to her grab loop, but it was crushed against the rock.
A group of us climbed on top of the undercut rock so we were directly above the victim. We assessed the situation quickly and realized she was going to have to be pulled straight up. We lowered another rope, which she clipped into her PFD. This helped her get her face above the water. I then made a sit harness out of a prussik loop, clipped into another rope, and lowered my way down. I brought another rope to try and clip into the grab loop, but it was hard against the wall and very difficult to reach. So I assisted my friend in getting the rope around her body. I climbed back up and told the six people above that we couldn’t pull the boat off; we would have to pull her out. We would run the risk of breaking her leg, but we couldn’t leave her there. So we pulled straight up. She screamed like hell, but came straight out an up onto the rock.
Nothing was broken, but there was massive bruising on one leg. She had spent between ten and fifteen minutes in the water. We spend about an hour warming her up and getting her out of shock. She later walked out with the help of some other kayakers. The next morning we walked into Fist before the water was turned on to rescue the boat. After we repositioned the seat and reinflated the air bags the boat was fine, and I paddled it out when the water arrived. We inspected the undercut with the water off. It is huge. It has an entrance big enough to crawl through, a truck-sized cave beyond, and a final exit through yet another crawl space. At that time it was completely free of debris.
This undercut apparently ate two rafts and an open canoe in addition to this unlucky kayaker. Fortunately, no one was killed.
SOURCE: Chris Hipgrave (first person author); Richard Hopley posting to rec.boats.paddle
AUTHOR’S NOTE: A very smart response to a nasty situation.