Section Four December 7th, 2014 The morning of the GCA Christmas party we set out to enjoy what would be a really nice day on Section 4. I met up with David Peek Sr and we rode to Woodall. We met up with Tony Butler, Randy Barfield, Matthew Hickey, Jimmy Jones, Mark W Brown & Justin Brown. We briefly caught up with Paul Prather above 5 falls. This was a very mixed group of comfort and skill levels for this section. Some were having laughs moving down while others were struggling to conquer their fears.
At this point I have run this section a handful of times. So for me, when I get to 5 falls I still watch others lines before I go. We all know that this section has high consequences associated with it. Over the last few months I’ve been personally bumping up what I’ve been running. With that I have had some swims and twice have required help getting my gear. The other, at the end of Gauntlet on Tallulah, I self rescued. In all my swims I have gotten myself safely to shore as I feel we should be able to do in most situations.
We got to 5 falls and started working our way down. Some walking parts and others running everything. I had never felt the need to walk any portion of 5 falls or section 4 prior to this. We got down to Jawbone and this is where it got interesting. The only way I have ever run Jawbone was to run the first part and quickly catch the eddy above Hydroelectric Rock. I generally attain and cross back in the flow and run to the left of Hydro. This had never been an issue in past runs and I must admit I did not realize the consequence of what could happen while making this move. In 5 falls I simply assume every rock is undercut and basically I should stay off of them.
Like I said I have not run it enough to even remotely say I know the lines or features names. My focus has been on a safe run with a good group. I safely caught the same eddy above Hydro as I have done before. I made my attainment and was looking at the current trying to set up to head down stream. It took me a second and I wasn't feeling as comfortable in my eddy as I had on past runs. David Peek Sr was standing on a rock to the left of Hydro with rope safety set. We made eye contact and I yelled a question to him about what I was doing. He confirmed I was correct on where I wanted to get so I finally jumped in the current. It didn't feel solid but when I looked down stream I was lined up with my drop on the left of Hydro. So I felt all was well and charged hard.
Apparently I did not ferry across the eddy line correctly because just as I was getting to Hydro I was rejected. The current quickly shoved me sideways against Hydro. I flipped and attempted a roll. I felt like I had made it half way up and was being flushed down the rapid. I was wrong. I came maybe half way up but was being sucked into Hydro. I was face down for a few seconds and became face up looking in the direction of David. I heard him yell rope! So I looked up and he had made a perfect toss. I couldn't move anything but my right arm and the rope was so close I grabbed hold. I felt him pulling with all he had. So hard the rope was slipping in my hand. I double downed on my grip and started pulling as well. Hoping something would give and get me moving.
My head wasn't staying much above water and we were losing this battle. I knew I had to get out of my boat. Two reasons, one being David was not going to pull me and a boat out of Hydro. Secondly, I was getting wedged and knew that any deeper and I would be unable to do anything but drown. I pulled the skirt and the boat went. I didn't know where but it was off of me. Sadly my body also went. My head was a good foot or better under water. I still had the rope and could feel the pulling but I was only be sucked deeper. As the moments were ticking by I knew my time was running out. My chest was burning and I could feel myself letting air out. I had all ideas at that moment that I was about to drown.
I don’t want to sound overly dramatic yet I really did feel this was the end. We feel like I was under water for a good 45 seconds. I still had hold of the rope and had no idea what was going on at the surface. All I knew was the rope went slack. I knew in my head something else was being done to try and rescue me. But what? I held the slack rope for several more seconds in case something new was being set up top. It was taking too long and I knew if I didn't do something else I wouldn't be able. I was not familiar with the hydrology of this spot. I had no idea that a sieve or slot was below me. It wouldn't have mattered since my boat was there blocking the way out.
Little did I know on the surface David had decided to hold on to the rope and jump in the river below Hydro. He used it as a pendulum to get on the river right of Hydro. I also didn't know Randy Barfield had gotten to where David had been and was trying to get a new rope to me. I know Matthew Hickey had set upstream safety to let a group coming down know that ropes were in the water. So here David is clinging to the river right side of Hydro. He reaches in and manages to get my grab loop and pull my boat out of the slot. As he did this I was looking around trying find another exit. Just as I looked down I saw light and knew I had to go that route. I didn't know if I would get stuck or make it out. But I did know I would drown within seconds if I remained where I was. So I went for it.
When I popped up I couldn't figure out how seconds ago David had been on the other side of the river and suddenly here he was holding my PFD. He seemed kinda mad! Kept yelling a command at me but it took a second for it to come together in my mind what he wanted. I saw my boat within arms reach and i used it to lean on and float over the features on the right of hydro. As quickly as I hit the pool above Soc ‘em Dog I shoved the boat away and swam river right for the rocks. Justin Brown was next to me in his boat making sure I got to shore. After a moment I realized I didn't know where David was and saw him swimming in the middle of the pool. I’m not sure who it was but someone got to him with a boat and got him ashore. After I somewhat composed myself I saw Jimmy Jones below the dog towing my boat.
There are many lessons to be taken from this day. For all involved and for all of you. I have no problem with any comments or questions so feel free. Just use common sense please. Everyone involved did the best that could be done to bring about this outcome. If it weren't for David I would not be writing this incident report. I have much I feel the need to share when it comes to being safe and staying safe. Everyone knows SWR is important to me. It just became even more important. I know I scared everyone in my group more than anyone ever wants to be scared. Sorry about that guys… In the future I will make every effort to keep the gnar on the safer side.