Accident Database

Report ID# 622

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Near Drowning
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description

Or...Great Falls 1, Swilldog 0 (And damn lucky he survived)

Note: This was originally posted to the Monocacy Canoe Club Bulletin board by Swilldog, AKA Bryan Ragan, on November 27, 1999 at 12:22:47 and later removed by executive order because someone believed that it might start a rash of Great Falls runs in nothing more than truck tire inner tubes(or something like that). Needless to say, illegal run or not, it is instructive and worth the hassle of digging from the cachefile to repost.

Looking back now as I am writing this, I don't know what I was thinking. I am fairly new to the area, and have only been paddling for the last six months, in which time most runs have been dried up. The hardest thing I have ever run was the Lower Yough at 15 in. with a group Mothra led down late this summer. I was quite nervous because some of the stories I have heard.
Needless to say I found nothing to be worried about. That kind of gave me a big head. I went back to Ohiopyel Falls race, but arrived too late, and couldn't run the falls.

I found out I was moving recently, and decided this was my last chance to run a fall, so I got a friend to videotape from the Maryland observation deck, and away I went. I never scouted anything, I didn't even know the level of the river that day. I walked down the boardwalk towards the MD observation deck with my kayak, and my friend with the video camera.
When no one was around, I jumped the rail, and ran through the woods; this proved to be more bloody than the falls itself.

When I got to the river, I got in and paddled out. I had a good idea where the falls where A. because all the noise, and B. mist was shooting about twenty feet up in the air. The water was much more turbulent above the falls than I had expected, and I didn't know what line to take.
My biggest fear at this point was landing on rocks down below, so I aimed for the center of the drop.

It was over in the blink of an eye. The next thing I knew, I was upside down under the falls getting worked like never before. It took three hard rolls to bring me up and out; I had made it without pulling out. "The hard part is over now," I thought, WRONG! Trying my hardest to avoid Charlie's Hole, I made to Z turn. What a suprise I was in for. What you can't see from the observation decks is that Z-turn is a huge hole, falling off into an even bigger hole. I was sucked under, and came out doing an ender, which then fell right into the rocks on the Maryland bank. I wash the rest of the way down the slide after Z-turn upside down; when I roll up, I am in a hole surfing.

Not wanting to surf at this particular time, I try to get off it, and find that I can't. It was actually a nice break, at least I could breathe. Finally I get out of the hole, and for the next twenty yards or so, it is pretty calm. I paddle over towards the VA. side in front of Charlie's Hole. I head down river again towards the next drop. The water in front of this drop is very big, and before I know it I am backwards on my side bracing, and then I go over the drop. I felt like I sank ten feet under, when I popped up I was of course upside down and getting worked in the hole. I kept trying to roll, but could only come up enough to get enough breath for another try. I am now up against the VA side rocks, and I am released from the hole upside down.

I am now totally exhausted, and totally out of breath, I set up for one more roll, and give it everything I got, it was too much, I rolled all the way over, but instead of going back under water, my body is laying in the rocks, but my boat is still in the water getting sucked down where people are always surfing. My head hits every rock on the way down, and I still can't breathe. The last rock I hit knocks me back upright, and over the other side. I go through the hole people surf (there is only one guy there at this time). It takes three more rolls to bring up, and I don't know why, the water wasn't real big there in between the surf hole and O-Deck, but it was swirly, and I couldn't keep upright. Finally I get up eddy out above O-Deck totaly exhausted, and happy to be alive.

The reason I can tell you what happened with such accuracy is it is all on film, except the first big drop, because my friend didn't know when I would be coming, they saw me go over, and hit record. I really don't know why I made it without serious injury, but I feel very fortunate. This videotape is amazing, I have watched over a 100 times, and can't understand why I am still alive. I am moving today, so you all will not have to worry about any more dumbass stunts from me.

Happy Paddling everybody.

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