Think Fast, Move Faster
In the spring of 1970, my buddy Jim and I had been kayaking Class II and were looking for more excitement. We called our contact at the Penn State Outing Club and got invited on a trip down Loyalsock Creek. This Class III run in north central Pennsylvania is known for its frigid climate and icy water. In addition to our two kayaks, we had four tandem and solo Grumman canoes in our group. Putting in a few minutes behind us was a nationally known group of C-1 racers I’d seen at Penn State’s pool sessions.
All went according to plan until we reached S-Turn rapid. I flipped and immediately executed my first river roll in hurtfully cold water. I was whooping and hollering until I was suddenly confronted with a huge pour-over. As I went over, I saw that the pour-over was created by a pinned Grumman open canoe. One of the Penn State paddlers was caught in the mess. He was struggling for breath and was obviously in desperate trouble.
I eddied out but had no idea what to do. Several other guys were looking at the pin from shore. Suddenly, lie the cavalry in a grade B western, three C-boaters paddled around the bend. They paddled into an eddy in a tight cluster. John Sweet grabbed a rope that Rick Rigg lowered from upstream and waded out to the side, followed by Tom Irwin. Sweet shoved his Norse paddle between the boat and the rock and rested it momentarily against his shoulder as Tom held the trapped paddler’s head above water. Sweet spoke quietly to Tom, “I’m going to move the boat, and when I say so, I want you to move fast and get him out.” He then threw his weight into the paddle, and Tom pulled the victim free. The whole maneuver took less than a minute.
Tom and John, using Rick’s rope, pulled the trapped paddler to shore. He was so cold he could hardly walk. They bundled him into the bottom of a canoe and sent Jim and me for help. We got to the road and flagged a car, who took the victim and his rescuers to Forksville, 5 miles downstream. A local person opened up his house to us; someone ran a lukewarm bath while others removed the victim’s clothes. We made hot, sugared tea. The victim said he’s been holding onto the back of his boat just as he’d been taught. The boat hit the rock, the current pushed him underneath, and the opening closed. An hour later he was still shivering but was able to get into dry clothes and ride home.
I decided then that if I was going to be a paddler, I’d better learn to make rescues.