Accident Database

Report ID# 114454

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Other
  • High Water

Accident Description

Canyon Creek of the Lewis Incident Report

Date: 11/15/20

Name: Blaine

Other paddlers: Orion Junkins and Thomas Franco

Age: 20

Boat: 9rII

River: Canyon Creek Lewis

Section: Classic (Fly Creek bridge to Yale Bridge on Merwin Reservoir)


            Blaine had been in my life since childhood, but we got close in New Zealand. I was over there for a year of school and he was roaming free trying to find himself through paddling and climbing. We chased rivers all over both islands, growing very comfortable on steep read and run boulder gardens trusting each other immensely. He’s saved my life. I've saved his.

While I came back in February, Blaine stayed on for several more months after numerous cancelled flights due to Covid. As was his way of life, he embraced this and kept on living, building a life on that side of the world. He flew home in early November, spent only a single day with his family and jumped in a car to chase rain like we always have.

            After a day on Truss and a day of laps on Canyon Creek, the heaviest rain came saturday night. Not sure where we would head in the morning, we parked at Sunset Falls to set ourselves up for several options. Gavin and I slept in the back of his truck and Blaine was just short enough to stretch out across the bench seat in the cab. We got a groggy early start at the crack of dawn and drove back into coverage to check levels. Hagen Creek had been on all of our lists so we headed that way to meet Thomas but it was just a touch too low. As we looked for other options, we saw a rising Canyon Creek level and drove back to that area first seeking out Kalama falls. 

            Blaine had run the falls 2 years prior but it was new for the rest of us. From previous back injury waterfalls are no longer to my liking, so I just brought a camera in and ran safety. Gavin and Thomas took their first laps - Gavin went over the bars and ejected, losing a paddle, Thomas styled it but missed his hand rolls. Blaine was up next, laying down a perfect line. Gavin and Thomas both went for redemption, keeping their paddles this time and styling it.

            After the hike out I was still eager to paddle as I hadn’t been in a boat yet that day. We dropped Thomas’ car at Canyon Creek takeout on the way up, checking the level at the Chelatchie store. 1750 and dropping fast. The rain had stopped early that morning, and it was now just after 2:00. All of us had run the creek numerous times before and I had previously been in there at about 1500 which had felt good. 1750 didn’t seem like a huge step up, all of us were feeling strong in our boats and we all trusted each other. We didn’t have a full day, but we felt it was enough time and I brought along two headlamps just in case a hike out was necessary.

Gavin, now without a paddle, was content just driving shuttle, dropping Thomas, Blaine and I at the top. We began to float through the warm up, getting acquainted with the volume, growing apprehensive but excited for what was below. The three of us reached Swizzle Sticks, eddy hopping as best we could and moving slow. At Terminator, we all jumped out on the right bank. There was definitely a doable line and bank safety was reasonable, but all of us chose to walk. We had a group discussion emphasizing that we were not there to send hard lines, just get down safely. We could come back at that level with a big crew and more time and get everything. After the portage we kept moving efficiently. Prelude was a very full-on, backed up hole which I came through cleanly, but Blaine got backendered prompting Thomas to walk. Again we had a group check in, ensuring we were all comfortable, reiterating the extent to which we needed to be conservative. We all felt good and carried on.

Thrasher went smooth. We eddy hopped the lead-in to boulder garden before giving it a long scout - it was huge and intimidating, but very flushy so we all chose to give it a go. I had a good line but got hung up on the right wall at the bottom for a moment. I grabbed the wall just long enough to see Blaine fly through the last two moves with a proper 9rII skip-out before peeling back out into the current. Like Terminator, Kahuna had a line, but our ‘get down, don’t send’ headspace which was dominating the day again prompted us to portage. We seal launched below.

We continued to just above Champagne and had a talk. Looking at the walls, scouting seemed like a daunting task and for one of us to hike down for safety purposes would be incredibly time consuming. From memory of lower water levels and how everything had felt up to that point on the run we had a very good idea of what things would be like: Champagne would be fine, potentially a sticky spot but a good easy boof. The boil would be bigger, wanting to reject you right or left of the line to the hammering spot boof. Hammering spot would be an intense hole, but the river right flake would still be present. The run out would be big, and Toby's would be powerful but everything below Hammering spot would be reasonable.

Our plan was simple. Drive off Champagne erroring a bit to the right (while hard to escape, ending up in the river right eddy would be better than running Hammering Spot left of the flake). We would run Hammering Spot direct and regroup in the river right eddy which is present regardless of flow. We all felt comfortable to a very high degree of confidence, opting for 5 second staggers in between our peel outs up top so that if any of us did get surfed, the other two would be close enough to offer help.

I went first, carrying my speed off Champagne all the way into the eddy below Hammering spot. I drove straight to the bank, finding a handhold and getting ready to hop out in case it was needed. I turned around just in time to see Thomas skip in just behind me. Blaine followed shortly after, and while he was still on the flake, he was a touch further left leaving him less room to pull a stroke. He still got a boof, but his tail was in the curtain just enough to catch. Time slowed down.

As soon as I saw him ender, I jumped out and began pulling my bag. He gave a solid fight in his boat, but it was too violent and chaotic to bag him out while still in his kayak. He pulled his skirt and went deep. After a few seconds he popped up in the river left eddy near the wall. A brief memory of a swim I had witnessed there years prior flashed through my mind - that paddler flushed to the same spot and pushed downstream along the wall until he could self rescue. I hoped the same would happen for Blaine, choosing to save my rope for the time being - it was a long toss which I didn’t feel fully confident in. He had a handhold on the wall for a moment, but suddenly started drifting back up stream. At the top of the eddy he hit hole again and went deep. I believe the eddyline caused him to flush deeper than he otherwise would’ve as it took several seconds to come back up. He surfaced at the bottom end of the eddy and again seemed like he was on the verge of drifting downstream, as he swam hard against the eddy to the left shelf. Again, he began to slip back upstream slowly at first but picking up speed. He was visibly exhausted so I used my bag but missed. It was a hard throw but it was the one that mattered and I failed, landing the rope a bit upstream and a bit short. 

            At the top of the eddy he hit the hole again, going deep for the third time. At this point Thomas jumped onto the bank tossing me his bag while he pulled his boat out of the water. Blaine popped up further out in the middle of the hole, but I was ready a second too late and he disappeared again, this time for a long time. Frantically we contemplated options as we waited for him to surface, even considering live bait for a moment. Thomas took his bag back and found his footing for a throw. I began to repack mine just in case - coils would have been borderline useless due to the distance away we were, but even a half packed bag may have been enough. 

            After far far too long Blaine popped up, this time below the boil line, but before either of us threw we realized he was limp and face down. Both of us jumped back in boats immediately and chased with myself just in front of Thomas. I got through the run out just in time to watch him tumble over Toby’s. I made a gamble and assumed the normal river right line would be fine at this level, charging off the curler as fast as I could. I saw his paddle or some other piece of gear on the right bank, causing me to hesitate for a moment, before seeing his body further downstream. I got to him just as the rapids flattened out, pulled my skirt and dove on top of him dragging him onto the bank. I started compressions over the PFD for a moment before reaching underneath. Thomas was out a second later, taking over compressions while I loosened the PFD and pulled it up. For several minutes we alternated compressions and breaths. Each of us took a turn at compressions when the other fatigued. Thomas had more medical experience and took the lead counting off compressions, checking pulse and giving breaths appropriately. We got a couple of small coughs and twitches but no real response. After several minutes it became clear we needed to send for help. Due to my lesser medical knowledge I elected to paddle out taking Thomas’ boat as mine had drifted after I dove out. In between compressions Thomas told me that there was a PLB in his car and described where his keys were stashed. 

            I sprinted to the takeout bridge as fast as possible, pulling my boat up on the rocks and running up the stairs. I banged on Gavin’s truck window getting his attention. I was rushed and hyperventilating but gave the information I could, sending him on his way to the Chelatchie store to call 911. I tore Thomas’ car apart and found his beacon, pulling the antenna and pushing the button - I had no idea who exactly this would call and whether or not they would communicate with local police but at that time I didn’t care. I wanted to stay at the takeout with the beacon to communicate with Gavin and whoever came but wanted more help if possible. Pulling my headlamp from my PFD I set it to a strobe and started waving at passing cars pleading for help. A family in two cars pulled over and I gave a brief explanation. I articulated that we needed a boat - heli would have been useless in the canyon and there was no way that I knew of to hike into that spot. They were locals and knew where the sheriff’s office was, driving straight there to seek help. 

            Minutes later Sheriffs and ambulances arrived all asking the same questions. They got three boats inbound from three different sources but none of them were close enough, all with 20-30 minute response times. I was brought in an ambulance across the river to Cresap Bay Rec area from which they were coordinating the rescue and launching boats. I continued answering questions as needed but it eventually became a painful helpless waiting game for the boats to arrive. As I understand it, bolt cutters and a hacksaw were used to cut a boom blocking the ramp and the boats set off quickly with swiftwater teams once they arrived. I wanted to be in the boat with them guiding to the location but instead they had me pin the exact location on a map and stay put. They set off and I sat helpless. 

            The ambulance brought me back to Yale bridge, and Gavin and I brought both cars to Cresap Bay to sit and wait. One fireman stayed with us and maintained communication with those on the boat. After an eternity we heard they had arrived on scene, now roughly an hour and a half since I first paddled off. After another eternity we heard that Blaine had not made it. 

The boats returned to Cresap. Thomas approached us and gave a long hug as we all broke down. He had continued compressions the entire time and done everything he could. The medics had given several injections and used a CPR machine on site also doing everything they could. The body was loaded into an ambulance, Sheriffs took the information they needed and we were told there was nothing else we could do. 


Acknowledged mistakes and lessons.


PLB. Blaine and I did not have one. Thomas had one in a dry bag at takeout, but we were rushing to ensure we had adequate light and we neglected to throw it in the shuttle going to the top. Every paddler should have one on their person.


Medical Experience. I have first aid training but nothing beyond the basics. I was comfortable giving CPR but lacked the composure to remember to count compressions. Thomas knew far more and was able to take the lead. Every paddler should have a WFR or something similar as a minimum.


Headlamps. Headlamps left with Thomas for signalling the rescue boats would have been very helpful. We had two, but one was in my boat and the other in my PFD, which I neglected to leave when I departed to call for help. Every paddler should have a waterproof headlamp on their person especially when days are short, runs are long and/or start times are late.


Time. We had enough light and were willing to hike out, but we definitely sought to move efficiently and quickly which put a slightly rushed tone into how we ran things. We had made good time up to Champagne, so we had more than enough time to scout and set safety more extensively, but we were in the headspace of moving quickly and failed to slow down for the final drop. That said, had we scouted, we still would have run it how we did - it looked exactly as we expected. If we had opted to traverse along the canyon wall to set safety before running it, we would have put a bag on river right at Hammering Spot where we ultimately were anyways - setting safety beforehand would have yielded the same outcome. 


Blaine’s gear. Blaine was in a borrowed 9rII with a borrowed paddle. For this kind of run every paddler should be dialed in their kit and have the best gear they can get ahold of. Blaine had paddled a 9rII a bit in NZ but it still wasn’t his boat, and the paddle was worn and shorter than ideal. 

None of these things would have made a difference in the outcome, but they are still points worth acknowledging and learning from. The only thing which could have changed the end result would be not paddling in the first place. I know I did everything I knew how to do. I know Thomas did the same. I know Blaine knows that.


A Sunriver man died after getting trapped underwater while whitewater kayaking Sunday in rural Clark County, deputies say. Blaine M. Davis, 20, became trapped in Canyon Creek where the creek flows into the Lewis River, the county sheriff’s office said, citing a 911 report from one of Davis' friends.

Davis was removed from the water, and his friends tried to resuscitate him, the sheriff’s office said. One friend paddled back to where they parked their cars, then drove for help. The other stayed behind to continue lifesaving efforts.

Authorities in a rescue boat found Davis and his friend on Canyon Creek — in a remote area the sheriff’s office said is accessible only by boat. Authorities continued trying to resuscitate Davis, but he died at the scene. His body was taken back to a boat launch and recovered by the county medical examiner’s office.

Davis was wearing a lifejacket and appropriate whitewater kayaking gear, according to the sheriff’s office. He also had an emergency locator beacon that helped authorities find him. and his friend, the sheriff’s office said.

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