A State of Confusion
Rivers pass through some pretty rugged country. You can’t know just how rugged until you’re faced with the challenge of transporting someone who can’t paddle. I was leading a first timer’s trip on the Cheat River in May, 1992. We’d seen the group ahead of us take an unconventional route down High Falls, where one of their folks had flipped and swum. After the run, we paddled over to them.
The swimmer was banged up, cold, and scared. There were nasty bruises on one cheekbone, and her right hand was cut and swollen. She couldn’t hold a paddle. The options were not good. It was late and getting cold. Three big rapids separated her from the takeout. Looking downstream at the Maze, I saw that the shores were steep and the portage options weren’t appealing. The group couldn’t decide what to do; I talked to them a bit, but really couldn’t offer much help, as I was responsible for the 12 inexperienced people following me.
Fortunately, Chris Koll and his wife, Caron, showed up. Chris is one of the strongest kayakers I know, and he was paddling a high-volume creek boat. I asked him if he could help the woman, and then continued down with my group.
Impatient with the group’s indecision, Chris instructed the woman to lie on his back deck and lock her hands around his waist. Thus loaded, he paddled the “dog-water” (anything under Class IV). At the big drops he landed, walked the injured paddler around, then came back and ran his boat through. At his urging, the group took the empty kayak, attached the sprayskirt, and tied the waist-band shut. This allowed them to herd it downstream to the takeout with little effort.
The injured paddler’s group was using a shuttle service with several dozen other people on board. The others didn’t want to wait, so we agreed to shuttle everyone else out. Some of the paddlers in our party gathered towels and dry clothes as I sat on the bridge and waited nervously. Chris and Caron appeared first; we helped the injured paddler get dry and clothed, then one of our vehicles took her to a hospital in Morgantown, where she was treated and released. The rest of the two gro9ups piled into the remaining cars for a crowded ride back to the put-in.
In retrospect, things worked out well. River evacuations, when possible, are the fastest and easiest alternatives. Had they sent for help, it almost certainly would not have arrived before dusk. A night out would have been uncomfortable—perhaps worse. A walk-out would have taken several hours and would probably not have been finished before dark.