Accident Database

Report ID# 3545

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Other

Accident Description

This section of river is sustained 5+ - 6 with steep, slick granite cataracts full of powerful rooms of doom...huge granite tubs with immense holding power at even low to moderate flows.  At high flows it's simply impossible to survive any mistake.  This is not the regular Class 5 Cherry Creek run...its above that on a section of river/cataract that is even more unforgiving when flows are above those carefully suggested as runnable. This is such a touchy word with extreme boaters.  If you say unrunnable, someone else will push those limits. Its a dangerous game.  When you increase the flows in these steep creeks, on the slick granite it accellerates the water to create immense consequences to any mistake made. 

On many difficult runs the only real chance of survival is to stay in your boat with the protection it provides or have immediate precision throwbag skills from fellow boaters. These are skills that need practice, practice, practice.The recent drowning on Upper Cherry Creek in Waterfall Alley was a room of doom type recirculation drowning where numerous throwbags and rethrows ALL missed their mark....his arm was up searching...but to no avail. 

Its an 11 mile hike in to the put-in of this run.  Maybe everyone was too exhausted or not well rested, but the bottom line is you cannot miss, and if you do its usually too late to try again..

Mike Croslin

Swift H2O listserv


We lost our brother Allen Satcher on August 7th to a kayaking tragedy that occurred on Upper Cherry Creek - a tributary of the Tuolumne River in California. This is an account of the trip that was written by Jay Lynn who was a member of the expert crew of which Allen was a part.  This was a very strong team of kayakers that handled every situation they encountered on this challenging creek with the utmost safety and professionalism.
Zak Sears


Since the first time Allen and I paddled together, and I think every time we paddled together, it always came back to Upper Cherry. Last year Allen’s trip fell apart last minute and I sustained a rib injury a couple weeks prior to the trip, so our first time trips would have to wait. This year rolled around, and I hurt my knee and Allen hurt his ribs, so we were both thinking that again, Upper Cherry would elude us. But with our amazing snow pack this year, the flows held off until we were sufficiently healed and decided to make the trip happen.

Scheduling the time off from work and guessing at the flows had us planning the trip for a couple weeks. The crew was solid; myself, Allen, Greg Speicher and Zack Lannoy. It was mine and Allen’s frist trip, but Zach and Greg had each been in there 5 times or so, so Allen and I were psyched to have some experienced partners in there with us.

At the trail head, Zack had a backpack malfunction and despite several hours of “MacGuivering” wasn’t able to get it together and eventually bailed. We had also met up with Nick Murphy, a hard charging young buck from Tennessee who had missed his trip the day before with a stomach illness, so we brought him on board. That evening we hiked for about 2 hours, covering maybe 3 miles Thursday night, camped on a beautiful ridge overlooking Cherry Lake. After a good nights sleep, we got an early start to tackle the remaining 9 or so miles to the put in before the heat of the day really set in. Allen led the charge most of the way.

Arriving at the put in, we met up with a couple other groups that we knew and after taking some naps, scarfing some lunch, we put on with friends Chris Harjes and another friend Allen who also had been on UCC several times. After paddling the first few slides, we couldn’t pass up an amazing camp spot on river right amidst the moonscape granite wonderland. Harjes quickly pulled out his fishing pole and on his first two casts, pulled out two little Rainbows; perfect for sautéing with a little butter and garlic. It was a great camp.

The next morning, we again got an early start, hanging out at camp once the sun is up, is pretty intense, much better to be in the cool water…We made fairly quick work of the slides, boulder gardens, portaged an intimidating rapid named “West Coast Gorilla” and got through the Class IV Gorge to the beginning of Cherry Bomb Gorge. Allen’s ribs had been bothering him slightly, so he let prudence reign and portaged the commiting gorge with Greg and Harjes while Nick, myself and the other Allen made our way down through Cherry Bomb, the Jedi Slide and Teacups to wait for the portage crew. Spotting them putting in, I grabbed my camera and ran up to get some shots.

After a quick break at the lake below the teacups, we headed on down through the Groove Tube and Perfect 20, and after a little scare at Double Pothole, which resulted in Nick swimming the rapid, we all opted to portage. Meeting back up with everyone below the drop, and exhausted from the day and previous days we all agreed to camp a little earlier than planned and enjoy the afternoon sun above Waterfall Alley, Kiwi in a Pocket and Deadbear. That evening we got to watch a crew of paddlers rally through Waterfall Alley with no problems. We decided that we’d wake up, paddle through Waterfall Alley, portage Kiwi and Deadbear and enjoy the somewhat tamer paddle out on Sunday.

Enjoying camp with plenty of sausage, Mountain House, instant potatoes and fresh trout, we passed out early looking forward to the basking in the glory of nailing our first Upper Cherry trip. The next morning after another look at our first rapid of the day, we all watched the “other Allen” paddle through series of boofs with no incident; we were fired up. Harges went next, and Greg and Allen dropped in as I walked back up to my boat.

Charging through my line, just as I got the last drop, I decided to catch a small eddy/pothole on river left to adjust my line, as I peeled out, I saw the look in Greg and Harjes eyes and quickly jumped back into my eddy. Nick, who was running safety on the first drop, ran down, took a look and quickly and expertly downclimbed onto an exposed ridge and threw his rope into the pothole. Harjes was immediately out of his boat and onto a small rock in the middle of the river with a rope trying to get to Allen as quickly as he could.

Allen ever so slightly missed his line and was just a hair right, getting pushed into the pothole, he flipped and eventually swam. Greg and Chris saw him pop up to the surface briefly and was submerged again almost immediately. After what Greg and Harjes figured was a couple, maybe 3 minutes, Allen was flushed from the pothole unconscious. Greg immediately jumped out of his boat onto the rock with Harjes, pulled Allen up onto the rock and began CPR. Working together until they were exhausted, Greg and Chris did all that they could. It was just too late. All I could see from my helpless eddy was Nick’s reaction. When he squatted down with his hands on his helmet, I knew.

Nick ran back up, hit the Spot transceiver to get us a helicopter, and got a rope to me and helped me climb out above the drop. Harjes paddled down and helped the other Allen collect all the gear they could and came back up to help Nick and myself get Greg and Allen out of the gorge. We threw a rope into Greg, he clipped Allen in and the four of us set up a z drag and pulled him up the 40 or so feet to the lip of the gorge on river right. Looking upstream at Waterfall Alley and Double Pothole, it was the river right side of the last drop that caused the trouble. A few minutes later, a group of 4 that we knew, Rok Sribar, Little Dave, Robby Hogg, and Jason Hale caught up to us and agreed to wait with us until the Helicopter arrived and paddle out with us.

A couple hours later the helicopter arrived and was able to land a few hundred yards away. The pilot and medic were very professional and understanding, we helped get Allen loaded on the backboard, wrapped himi up, and carried him up to the helicopter. The pilot and medic loaded him and his gear and took off. We made the walk back down to just below Deadbear to our boats, assembled breakdown paddles and began to put one blade in front of the other. Reaching the lake, we make the quick paddle across, hiked to our cars, and gave each one last round of teary-eyed hugs and all headed home. Greg and I stopped in Sonora to fuel our exhausted bodies and to phone Lisa.

Allen was one of the most positive, easy going, happy people I’ve ever met. To call him an expert kayaker just falls short; he was an expert human being. He loved to talk about Lisa and Duckie, and moving back up to Portland with them. Paddling with Allen was always filled with big smiles, fist pumps and high fives. I will carry his easy smile with me forever. I cannot express enough how sorry I am for him and his family and especially Lisa. I wish to God there was more we could have done. Allen will forever be in all of our hearts.

Expert kayaker dies while paddling in Calif forest (08-08)

13:05 PDT STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) -- An Oregon man known as an expert kayaker died while paddling in the Stanislaus National Forest at a spot called Waterfall Alley over the weekend. Tuolumne County sheriff's officials identified the man Monday as 28-year-old Allen Michael Satcher of Portland. Authorities say Satcher was kayaking with several other people on Cherry Creek when he encountered an area where the water formed a whirlpool Sunday morning. Witnesses told authorities that when Satcher's kayak started spinning uncontrollably, he jumped out and tried to grab ropes tossed out by others in his group. But he couldn't reach them and went underwater. Someone from the group was able to eventually pull him out and performed CPR, but couldn't revive him. A California Highway Patrol helicopter responded to an emergency beacon and helped the group after the drowning.

by Chris Harjes
Stumbled across a great crew at the put-in for Upper Cherry, including Allen Satcher. In the two days we paddled and camped, I got a healthy glimpse of his kind and casual nature, became infected with it. We ran beautiful rapids, enjoyed a swim up to one of the most incredible little spots I've ever been in, camped out at Double Potholes.
The next morning he got stuffed into a random little pocket eddy at the bottom of Waterfall Alley. We tried throwing ropes from boats, from the cliffs above, and from a little rock just a tiny bit too far downstream. Missed him by less than two feet at least once. He flushed out unconscious only five or so minutes after he'd washed in. Greg Speicher grabbed him, pulled him over to the rock I was on, ditched his own kayak in a walled-in gorge, and took turns doing CPR with me for what seemed like an eternity.
At first I was confident we could bring him back. Our hopes drained as the minutes passed, and we finally admitted defeat. Our friend and trip companion now lay dead right in front of us. It was horrible.

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