It was a beautiful September day. The last I had checked the upper Dolores River had risen to over 1200 cfs. I checked multiple websites to confirm if this was really true. Usually I'd be bow hunting for elk but not today. Its river time again. There was a break in the weather so my buddies and one of their two year old sons loaded up their raft and headed for the river. We launched from "Big Rock". I was on my standup paddle board.
I have paddled this river for almost 20 years and every time it sure is nice to be out on the water. This section of river is not technical, class II, maybe III at " big water". Today however unbeknownst to anyone it was class VI, death. I successfully negotiated a drop in the river as we floated "through" the Lightenburger ranch and was charging through the wave train when I heard by buddy in the raft behind me yell "fence" a fraction of a second after I saw the fence myself but was left speechless due to the instant severity that I knew I was in. The raft behind me up river containing my two buddies, one with his two year old son, was able to get to the riverbank safely. I however could not spin and ferry over fast enough and got pinned against the fence with the river pounding against me trying to take my head down under water.
I thought, you got one chance dude, make the right moves and make them fast. I somehow had gotten the majority of my body over the top strand of barb wire and was able to stabilize myself with my head above water. I couldn't move. The fence, the barbs, my sup leash, the water pressure all had me pinned in the middle of the river. Unbelievable. All I remember thinking is "you better pull this together". I looked up river to see if there was anything my buddies could do to help. I saw there helpless eyes wishing those were not the last eyeballs I ever see. I put myself here and I have one option, get myself out.
First I carefully unwound my arms and legs out of the fence trying not to cut myself any more than I already had. Something still had me. If I cut the fence with my Gerber tool in my chest pocket I would flag myself and if still caught on the fence would surely drowned. I pulled the release cord on my safety paddle jacket. Nothing. I grabbed my river knife and cut my sup leash once. Nothing. I made another cut and my sup went down river with the current. I sure wished I was on that thing. Nope. You are still stuck in the middle of the river on a freaking fence. Looking up river standing on the bottom wire and hanging on to the top strand of barb wire I assessed every aspect of my self to ensure I was free from the fence. Checking everything multiple times. Wow. I have never surfed a fence before. All I wanted to do was dive backwards down river off the fence and be free floating down the river again. If one thing was still entangled that I was unaware of then that could be lights out.
I slowly began to side step to my left, river right, down the fence dodging barbs until I could step off the fence and feel the river bottom beneath. One foot off. The other foot off. I took my hands off the fence and there I was standing in the water , free. No paddle. No paddleboard. I chased down river and fetched my sup. My paddle was found days later by another paddler and is back in my possession. My hands were cut up. My paddle pants were shredded. My wrist still hurts. I can't wait to get back on the horse.