Accident Database

Report ID# 116099

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Shoulder Dislocation

Accident Description

A kayaker suffered a shoulder injury in a class IV rapid on the South Fork Gorge run of the South Fork Salmon River (California). This required an evacuation from a fairly remote river setting where there is no cellular service and the drive to the nearest hospital is at about two hours. Although the injured paddler was safely extracted from the river with help of his paddling companion, there is useful information in his companion's report on the incident.

The flow at Salmon River gauge near Somes Bar was 2,200 cfs. This translates to the low end of a medium flow on the South Fork Gorge. The river narrows considerably at Amusement Park, the rapid where the accident happened, and at this flow most rocks are well covered up and the water has a pushy feel to it.

Here is the report from the companion to the injured kayaker (edited slightly for clarity).

For description purposes I would break the rapid [Amusement Park] into four parts:

    1. the entrance that is easy and smooth
    2. the juicy part starting at the horizon line consisting of an S-turn, boils, waves, unfriendly eddies, , etc.
    3. a calm spot with some friendly eddies
    4. the class III run-out.

We were both having a great day, though he was a little more gripped than me. Having done this section more than 50 times, I still was taking the rapid seriously because I know it can catch people off-guard. I pulled into the eddy on river left of part 3 and waited for him. Shortly after he came around the bend was knocked over by a wave on river right, just before part 3. I never would have thought that this spot would be a bad place to be upside down, not that anyone wants to be upside down. He immediately came out of his boat, having hit his shoulder squarely on a rock under water.

He and his boat and paddle stayed in the river right eddy. He was in a lot of pain but at the same time reluctant to let his gear float out. We wasted some time with me being on shore and throwing a rope to him in the hopes of pulling the boat over to my side on river left but he couldn’t hook the carabiner to his boat. Eventually he pushed it out into the current, and I launched back in and pulled him back to river right bank.

At that point we decided there three options: 1) summon search and rescue, which he decided against; 2) swim/tow through the run out (part 4) of the rapid to get to a place to exit the river, or 3) hike up the bank then back down to the river followed by crossing back to hike out to the road [Cecilville Road]. He preferred the last option so I ran the last part of the rapid and then hiked back up to meet him. The hike back to my boat was steep but not too bad. His boat was now stuck [pinned] on the river right side of part 4, and with him injured the boat was a non-priority. His paddle was in a lower eddy and it took only 20 seconds for me to retrieve. I left my own gear except my drysuit at the river so I could devote all my effort to getting him out. The hike out to the road was full of ankle deep poison oak but not too bad. At the road, I took off my drysuit and ran down to the take-out for my pickup [about one mile], then returned to take him to the hospital. We drove up to the summit where we got cell service, and being desperate to get out of pain, we called for an ambulance to meet us on the way at Callahan. At the hospital in Yreka the X-rays revealed a "dented humorous"  but no break and they re-set it.

What would I do differently? Knowing how to re-set a dislocation would be ideal. I would spend less time discussing gear retrieval and just work on extracting the person. Having a Spot beacon/inReach is something I will look into.

Because there is no cellular service in the area and neither paddler had an inReach/SPOT or other satellite communication device, it would have added a significant amount of time for the injured paddler's companion to summon help from the local volunteer search and rescue (which has very limited capabilities). The only way to place a call for help would have been to first hike the mile to the vehicle at the take-out then drive about 20 minutes away from the victim to reach a landline phone in either Forks of Salmon or Cecilville and then drive back. It was no doubt much faster to for the two paddlers to work together to get out of the river canyon, into their vehicle, and drive toward the hospital themselves. A satellite communication device would have allowed them to quickly call for assistance and could have helped facilitate a faster transfer to a ground or even air ambulance.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!