Accident Database

Report ID# 115556

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

From Greg Lee: For the White Salmon incident, not sure if you differentiate between a cave and an undercut. I've been in the cave at Big Brother at lower water, and it's not really undercut. It's more of a pocket, that's very difficult to paddle out of, even at medium water. 


November  12, 2021

Flow - High; River Difficulty - Class V

Cause - Caught in a Natural Eddy formed by a Basalt Cave / Failed Rescue , Injury Type - Drowning

Boat Type - Whitewater Kayak; Experience Level Expert

Victim Name - Finnigan Woodruff; Age - 22

By: Pat Corcoran, Leif Anderson, Dave Wells


On Tuesday November 16, Finn Woodruff, David Wells, Pat Corcoran, and Leif Anderson met up for a morning run on the Green Truss section of the White Salmon, a section they were all familiar with. The water was high, which was a big part of why they chose that run. At the “Big Brother” waterfall, Finn was pulled into a small retentive eddy, often referred to as “the cave,” below an overhanging rock wall on the river right; a common trouble spot that the group had taken precautions to avoid. Finn backendered after a great line off the far left line of Big Brother, he was swept across the river and pulled along the right wall while attempting to roll. The rest of the group tried to get ropes to him, and managed to rappel and live bait a rescuer into the cave, but by that point Finn was unresponsive. The group attempted CPR and extracted Finn to a more accessible ledge to continue CPR, but were ultimately unsuccessful.


Detailed account:

The level was high; about 4 feet at the Husum gauge, but feeling higher at the Truss bridge. As a reference for anyone who knows the Truss well, the cradle rocks at the put-in were underwater and the seal launch was much smaller than normal. Finn was paddling great and in particular had a great line at Elbow Basher. The left line was the preferred line on Bob’s Hole.

Arriving at Big Brother, the whole group hopped out to scout. At low water there are several possible lines, but at high water, paddlers always choose the left side to avoid a small walled-in eddy, the cave, on the right side of the base of the falls, which can be difficult to paddle out of. David and Leif talked about the entrance options; David had once flipped at the top of the main drop by entering over the rocks on the left, so he wanted to enter the left line by running right to left. The group scouted Little Brother as well (a second drop about ten feet tall that's just downstream of the main Big Brother drop), and there was a fair amount of conversation about Little Brother. It presented a river wide hydraulic with multiple lines through. Pat decided pretty quickly to portage. Finn was on the fence about whether he would run it or walk the pair of drops.

Finn and Pat set up safety with 75’ static throwbags, primarily ready for Little Brother. David went first. Finn was on the bank to see how David’s and Leif’s lines went. Pat had a rope and was the main safety. David’s line went great. Leif followed. Pat started scrambling down to Little Brother because that was the spot that Leif had expressed concern about. Leif got a good skip off Big Brother and coasted all the way across the river to the right bank. After a very brief touch against the right bank and slight pause there he continued down Little Brother. Both David and Leif eddied out below Little Brother, David on river right, Leif on river left.

There was a slight pause while Finn got into his boat. Pat and Finn exchanged thumbs up. Pat moved his boat halfway down the portage but walked himself closer to the top with his throw bag, since David and Leif were below the bottom. There was strong current in the pool below Little Brother and the group was concerned a swimmer could be swept around the corner towards Double Drop and Karen’s. David and Leif couldn’t really see anything from their viewpoint.

Pat watched Finn enter left over the rocks, a good controlled entrance. As he landed at the base of Big Brother, he went deep and completely submerged. He resurfaced in a stern stall, left of center of the river, well downstream of the falls. He slowly went the rest of the way over the top of the stern stall to land fully upside down. While upside down, he was pushed across the river to the right wall. His bow was very close to the rock point which created the eddy. The rest of his boat was downstream of that spot. At lower levels the current would have pulled him downriver from here, but at high water, the cave eddy is large enough that this was within its backtow. At this point Pat started blowing his whistle. Hearing the whistle, David and Leif communicated to get ready for a swimmer downstream of Big Brother shortly. After about thirty seconds it became apparent that no swimmer was coming. Neither of them could see what was going on yet but knew that the cave is always a major hazard. Finn struggled for a long time to roll against the wall. He slowly floated the rest of the way up into the cave, tried a few more rolls in the eddy but was being surged against the wall, and eventually swam.

Pat attempted to reach Finn with his bag across the river. At this water level the eddy line was extremely powerful and would submerge the rope instantly. In addition the throw was exceptionally difficult. The bag did not make it across to the cave. After Pat’s first attempt he immediately started re-coiling the bag and retrying throws, which is substantially faster than fully re-packing the rope into the bag. None of the re-coiled throws had as much range as the original throw. Finn got a grip on the slightly overhanging wall of the cave and was able to hold himself stationary against the pull of the eddy current. There are not many handholds in the overhung cave.

David got out of his boat and started working upstream immediately. There was a faint game trail on an extremely steep sidehill that led over a cliff band and back toward the upper waterfall. His climb was difficult and he was concerned about falling off the slippery ledge downstream of the cave. Meanwhile Leif scrambled up the portage trail and began attempting to get his throwbag to Finn, at a slightly different ledge than Pat. They were both trying different angles. David got to the flat area directly overhanging the cave, and started setting up an anchor with thoughts of a rappel but at this time Finn lost his grip on the overhanging wall. Hearing the shouts from across the river, David abandoned the anchor and moved to lower a rope directly above the cave. His vision was obstructed and could not see the end of the rope. Pat and Leif were able to see that Finn always seemed to be on the upstream end of the cave while the rope was on the downstream end of the cave, and they would circle around out of phase with each other.

David pulled his rope up and attached unlocked carabiners to add weight in order for the rope to deploy better through the overhanging branches and allow Finn the opportunity to easily attach the rope to himself. At this time Finn resurfaced unconscious. This was the first time David was able to see Finn and his weighted rope finally was able reach Finn. He moved back to securing the anchor about ten feet downstream of where he had been in order to rappel down to river level. Seeing this, Pat grabbed his boat, ran up to the moving flatwater above the falls, and ferried across. David and Pat exchanged carabiners and made a plan: David would use a Munter Hitch to repel from his Astral Green Jacket’s harness loop, while Pat would mind the rope and be able to provide the crucial strength to pull them both back. Finn’s boat was floating around in the cave and blocked David’s first attempt to connect with Finn. David was able to grab Finn with his left hand while his right was keeping the friction on the munter hitch. He was able to grab the unloaded line and tie that in two one-handed half hitches to Finn’s shoulder strap on his life jacket, which freed up one hand to start moving them both, and gave Pat a way to start pulling them both from up top.

David was able to get Finn on a narrow ledge. He started rescue breaths while Pat descended and together they managed to stabilize Finn on a tiny ledge out of the water. They started CPR. During this process, David went off the system and put Finn on the system by rigging a makeshift Swiss Harness. They loosened Finn’s lifejacket and helped each other stay systematic with the compressions and breaths. During this time, Leif finished bringing his boat up the left side of the river to the top of the falls, and paddled across just like Pat had. Soon all the paddlers were on the river right side, with Leif alone up top on the large ledge next to the anchor.

The group decided that Finn should be moved up to the top ledge. CPR was difficult and dangerous at river level. Leif, being the strongest of the crew, climbed down the ropes to the lower ledges and Pat and David moved to the top. Together they were able to hoist Finn up to the much larger upper ledge. The final push to the top was the hardest because there was a 6 foot section with no footholds or handholds.

At this point, the group split up to go get help. While Pat and Leif continued CPR (which turned out to be until EMS and SAR arrived about forty five minutes later), David headed out of the river canyon to Highway 141 and flagged down a vehicle to initiate an emergency response.

 A paramedic who is also a boater and friends with everyone in the group was the first responder on the scene at roughly at 10:00AM. Leif had happened to note that it was 8:50 during the initial scout of Big Brother. Only after an hour had elapsed without a pulse did CPR stop.

After David returned everyone took a moment. Immediately after that, Finn’s boat left the cave eddy and floated off Little Brother upright and had a great line down the slide on the right. It skipped across the pool and eddied out on river left, pausing momentarily before heading downstream just like a paddler would have. 


Bowdoin College senior, Brunswick native drowns while kayaking in Washington state

Finnegan Woodruff, who was set to graduate this year, was the son of the school's outing club director.

BY ERIC RUSSEL, Portland Press Herald

November 19, 2021

A Brunswick native and senior at Bowdoin College drowned this week while kayaking in Washington, the school’s president announced. “This afternoon we learned the terribly sad news that Finnegan Woodruff drowned today while kayaking in Washington state,” Clayton Rose said in a letter to members of the Bowdoin community on Tuesday. “This tragic accident took place on the White Salmon River in White Salmon, Washington, as Finn was doing something he loved.”

Woodruff was the son of Mike Woodruff, a Bowdoin College alumnus and director of the school’s outing club, and Lucretia Woodruff. He grew up on his family’s farm in Brunswick and was the salutatorian of the Brunswick High School class of 2017 before staying close to home for college. He was one month shy of his 23rd birthday, according to an obituary published online in the Bowdoin Orient on Friday.

“When an injury forced him to take a medical leave during his first year, he discovered a sewing machine in the Woodruff basement and began experimenting with fabric,” Rose wrote. “Vests, hoodies, shirts and the perfect pair of pants would follow, building into a funded internship. What Finn discovered in the process was a deep devotion for creating things matched only by his steadfast and boundless love for the outdoors.”

Woodruff was an environmental studies and music major at Bowdoin and was taking classes at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon, to earn the remaining credits for his Bowdoin degree. “Finn wrote like a budding essayist, played fiddle like an angel and skied like a demon – but above all he proved you could be talented, smart and kind at the same time,” Matthew Klingle, an associate professor of history and environmental studies, told the Orient. Klingle was Woodruff’s teacher in the spring of 2020 and skiing companion for many winters.

Matt O’Donnell, a close family friend, said Woodruff and his girlfriend renovated a trailer and drove out to the West Coast in late spring or early summer. They went to Oregon, he said, “because they’re outdoorsy and adventurous” and it provided an outlet for their love of nature while allowing Woodruff the opportunity to continue his education and stay on track to receive his diploma from Bowdoin next month.

O’Donnell was not aware of the difficulty of kayaking on the White Salmon River, but said Woodruff “enjoyed adventure but was not a risk-taker for the sake of taking risks,” he said. “I think it was just a normal day on the river.”

Woodruff “was a consummate student in whatever he did” and would have known what he was getting into on the river and confident in his ability to handle it, O’Donnell said. Woodruff has been a paddler “for most of his life,” beginning on trips with his father and continuing up to the present. “He was super fit and super strong and super smart,” O’Donnell said.

While still in Maine this past spring, Woodruff was already working on his senior music performance project of original fiddle music, the Bowdoin Orient said in a feature story about him in April.

Woodruff told the paper that he began playing the fiddle at 7 when his mother was learning to play. Growing up, he attended fiddle camp, took private lessons and performed with local bluegrass bands, calling himself a “freelance fiddle player.” The original songs he was working on for his senior project drew on his experience playing bluegrass, jazz and folk music, he told the Orient.

“This is an unfathomable and devastating loss for the Woodruff family, for Finn’s classmates and friends, and for our entire community,” Rose wrote. “In many ways, Finn grew up here – Bowdoin was home. There are really no words to express the profound sadness many of us are feeling as we think about Finn and the Woodruff family. Our hearts go out to them, and to the many people at Bowdoin who watched Finn grow up and who came to appreciate all that he contributed to our community as a young man.”

Woodruff spent much of his childhood paddling with his father and helping out on the family’s farm, Milkweed Farm. “He was a dedicated farm hand and inherited (Lucretia’s) work ethic and nurturing spirit,” family friend Lisa Bossi told the Orient.

His friends described Woodruff as a “small but confident, curious and caring” child and later “a doting older brother to his three younger siblings, Seamus, Maeve and Daire, ages 18, 16 and 13.” “This was his dream, to be in a place where he could be paddling all the time,” Jacqui Boben ’22, a fellow paddler and one of Woodruff’s close friends, told the Orient of Woodruff’s move to Oregon. “He wouldn’t have wanted his life (to be) any other way than what it was.”

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