KAYAKER PINNED ON NORTH PAYETTE STRAINER
Near Banks, Idaho: July 3, 1992
Gradient 106 fpm; Volume 1100 cfs; Classification V
DESCRIPTION: The North Fork of the Payette in Idaho above Banks is the working definition of continuous class V water. The rapids are very powerful and full of debris. The victim, Jim Yetter, was a guide for Glacier Rafting Co. on the Lochsa. He was a boater, ski instructor, and mountain biker and very fit. He had been boating for about three years, had run the river several times, and on this river was boating at the limit of his ability. He met a boater from California and ran the river together several times. On July 3 they decided to attempt the tough "Middle Six Miles" from the suspension bridge to Big Eddy Campground. The volume was 1100 cfs, which people who know the North Payette say makes it "as easy as it gets".
S-Turn rapid is the last drop above Big Eddy. They agreed to run it by eddy scouting. Yetter eddied out on the left, peeled out, and got trashed in a small, but steep pourover. He flushed out, and seemed to be attempting a roll before hitting a number of rocks downstream. His partner gave chase, sliding over a barely submerged log, but Yetter's kayak rolled on its side to show that it was empty. He told a bystander to call for help, hit the stopwatch on his watch, and started to paddle upstream. The log he had jumped went all the way across the river, and spanned 1/3 of the river before being submerged. He ferried to the far side and got out his throw rope. Walking upstream he could see Yetter caught on the log about 20 feet from shore.
His partner tried to go down the log. It was a telephone-pole sized pine, full of stubby branches. It was far too slippery to climb down safely. He tried shaking the log, lifting it, then moving it with a Z-drag. Nothing worked. The sheriff arrived in 30 minutes; an ambulance a half hour later. They all attempted to move the log without success. At the two hour mark a group of catarafters arrived. They lowered a cat on a telfer system and cut him free. This is the pinning mechanism according to Brock Lovehand:
"Water was breaking over the log, forming a miniature dam. I think he hit feet first, went under the log, threw his arms up, and caught the lacing on his life vest under his left armpit. His right shoulder dropped, and he rolled face down, pivoting and snagging an upstream facing stub. We had to run the skids of the cat up on the log; I used both hands to hold the knife when I cut him free so I wouldn't drop it."
SOURCE: Steve Jones, Cascade Raft Co., Terry Kruger, Brock Loveland, Alan Hamilton
ANALYSIS: Swimming Class V rapids is really dangerous, and it was clear Yetter had taken a pounding. The coroner found evidence of significant head and neck trauma. The way to deal with a log as a swimmer is to go head-first and try to swim over it. A chancy prospect in such powerful water, but worth a try. It would have been a good idea for the victim to scout the drop.