Local kayaker survives accident on Oh Be Joyful
Written by Than Acuff Wednesday, 20 July 2011 “
All I did was concentrate on keeping my air pocket”
On Monday evening, July 18 at approximately 7 p.m. Crested Butte Search and Rescue (CBSAR) received a call of a kayaker pinned underwater on Oh Be Joyful Creek. Oh Be Joyful is a little over four miles from Crested Butte in the Slate River drainage and is a popular Class V steep creek run for kayakers during the runoff.
Local kayakers Chris Goodnough, Ethan Passant, Chris Menges and Paul Muirhead decided to run Oh Be Joyful Monday evening.
Goodnough has been paddling Oh Be Joyful since the late 1990’s including competing in the Oh Be Joyful steep creek competition. This summer he’s run it four times and the four boaters decided to get another run in before the steep creek season on Oh Be Joyful ends as the runoff disappears. “It’s been an exceptional year,” says Goodnough. “We wanted to get another lap in. It was at a good quality level, boatable but not bony.” After taking a look at the creek level and scouting a couple of the drops, they decided to run the ‘race course’ section of the creek. The four boaters worked their way down the creek through the series of waterfalls and rapids, eddying out and taking turns going first. “Everything went fine,” says Goodnough.
Things took a turn for the worse at a six-foot drop called Old Growth Drop. Menges went through first and hit an eddy to turn and watch Goodnough.“I saw him come over the top and get stuck and get pinned in the falls and disappear,” says Menges. “Previously this summer I’d run it river right with no incident,” says Goodnough. “Monday, my nose pitoned and stopped me vertically and I said, ‘oh this isn’t good’.” The stern of his boat swung around and landed in the water perpendicular to the river and Goodnough was pinned under the waterfall. “My spray skirt started to implode so I looked to get out and rotate downstream,” explains Goodnough. When Goodnough was exiting his kayak, his left foot got stuck in the boat and he was pinned under the full brunt of the river flow.
“I knew I was seriously in a bad situation,” says Goodnough. Facing downstream with his left leg caught in the boat and water pouring over him, Goodnough pushed the upper part of his body up locking his elbows creating an air pocket directly in front of his nose and mouth. “It was just pounding,” says Goodnough. Goodnough felt throw bags hit him in the arm and a kayak paddle and a stick but he couldn’t move to grab any of them. “I couldn’t grab anything, all I did was concentrate on keeping my air pocket.” Goodnough knew that even if he had grabbed the throw bag, because his leg was stuck in the boat and the boat pinned under the waterfall against a ledge, there was no way they would be able to pull him out. “The only way they could get me out was they’d have to free the boat.”
After attempts to reach Goodnough by paddling to him and perform a “T rescue,” Passant and Menges had to come up with a different plan. They rigged up a “V-system with live bait” with two individuals on either side of the river holding a rope across with Menges and Passant taking turns working their way up stream to reach Goodnough while tied into the rope. “Typically with a pin like that we get access from upstream and do a V lower system,” explains Menges. “In this particular case we thought that was impossible because of the nature of the drop. It was a really sketchy place to be.” They made several attempts to jump into the waterfall and grab Goodnough and pull him out and as time wore on,
Goodnough’s air pocket started to shrink and cold started to set in. “A body came over me and grabs me but I knew my body wasn’t going to pop out,” says Goodnough. “My air pocket got smaller and my hands were getting so numb. My whole body was getting so numb.” Goodnough held his position and waited until another attempt to grab him proved unsuccessful at which point things went from bad to worse, before it got better. “The water changed again, the pressure increased and my air pocket was minimal at best,” says Goodnough. “At that point it really got bad. That lasted maybe 10, 15 seconds and then boom, I was floating.”
Still roped in, Menges grabbed Goodnough and flipped him over to get his head out of the water but his leg was still stuck in the kayak. Passant grabbed the boat and got his leg loose and with the help of another bystander, he was pulled to shore after spending an estimated 25 minutes getting pummeled by the waterfall. “As soon as I was on shore I was done,” says Goodnough. “I couldn’t move anything. I knew I was better, but not great.”
They pulled his wet clothes off and almost immediately, CBSAR was there to assist in warming him up and getting him out. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” says Goodnough. “I knew I was going to make it. I just had to get warm. I’ve never been that cold.” According to CBSAR president Nicholas Kempin, the team was on scene within 15-20 minutes of the call and had to remove trees through the use of winches and other ways on the road adjacent to Oh Be Joyful creek to reach the scene. CBSAR took Goodnough from the creek’s shore down the drainage and across the Slate River before transferring him at a waiting ambulance. “Search and Rescue’s role was to get him from where he was onshore to the ambulance waiting at the road to give him medical care along the way,” says Kempin.
Goodnough remembers every minute vividly and recalls that one thing kept him fighting the whole time. “All I was just thinking is, I cannot leave Gage and Andi,” says Goodnough of his wife and child. “People have their power or force that keeps them going, for me it was the love for my family.”
Goodnough was treated at Gunnison Valley Hospital and released that night with trauma to his left calf and ankle but, miraculously, nothing more. He points out a couple things from the whole incident from making sure you have your search and rescue card to making sure you choose your kayak partners wisely. “If you’re going to be boating class V stuff, even roadside park and hucks, there should be a quality of boaters and expertise with you,” says Goodnough. “Never take it for granted. Even the East River can still spank you. Chris Menges, Ethan Passant, Paul, Adam, Nick and search and rescue all saved my life, it’s that simple.”