Accident Database

Report ID# 945

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Other
  • Other

Accident Description

Eric Jackson, in his posting to, recounted the scary consequences of getting off line at Great Falls of the Potomac. In addition to his very impressive skills, Eric has more runs of Great Falls than anyone. On October 8th he missed a boof and became stuck in Charlie's Hole. Knowing of a previous fatality and several harrowing near misses, Eric used all of his playboating skills to hang on until Scott Shipley and Nec Poberj could grab his bow and pull him out. Just shows that you can miss a move and get into trouble no matter how good you are, or how well you know the river. And good friends can really make a difference!


It has been about 12 years since I have found myself in a side surf in Charlie's Hole at Great Falls on the Potomac.  It is an especially nasty spot that has increased in the scary category since Scott Bristow swam in the hole and never resurfaced. A rock that creates and especially bad backwash is just downstream of the hole and is apparently undercut. If you saw it you wouldn't be surprised.

I have run the rapid about 10 times in the past 10 days. The drop itself is quite fun and challenging.  The entire move is getting through the hole that is blocked off in all directions once you get stuck in it.

The scene was this.

EJ, Scott Shipley, Nec Poberj, and Danny Stock were doing a run down the falls. Scott was up for a wedding in DC and wanted to do a run. It all started off normally. freewheel off Pummel, some cartwheels in all the small holes leading into the falls. Everyone doing well. Everyone but me took the Z turn line around Charlie's. I was the last one to go and did the right to left charge into a boof. The same one that has worked for 12 years (when I do that line). This time I got too close to the wall too early and had to pause losing the right to left charge needed. I got a big jumping boof stroke in but the didn't clear the left blocking wall and the incredibly strong eddy feeding in locked my into a sidesurf.

You have to see the shape of the hole to understand that a sidesurf is not an easy task nor do you get much air. I tried several times to pull myself out into the oncoming eddy but only got my bow around the rock. I backed up into a the other corner(standard reaction to getting blocked on one side, go the other way) but it was much worse there. Dark from the overhanging rocks and I was being surfed under water. My right forearm was already burning from holding on so tight and trying to keep above the water. I had taken at least two bad breaths taking in water. I needed a brief break. I initiated the bow into a bow blast and held it for about 5 seconds to rest my fore arm, through a couple of righty blastwheels to get back to the side of the hole that was at least brighter and had my friends in it. I was able to get my bow out enough that Scott Shipley was able to grab the loop with Nec holding his stern and the rocks. I was on my way out and with a few hard strokes I was clear of its grip. Wow, that was interesting. Swimming was so out of the question knowing what haned to Scott Bristow, yet the grip of the hole was quite convincing. No freebies here.

My day was given a sense of accomplishment, and satisfaction. fight for one's life is always a good way to put things in perspective. Of course there is no way to know if I was in fact fighting for my life or whether it was an imaginary fight for my life. Either way, swimming would have been giving up the control of my life to chance (stuffed under the rock or not) and holding on while fiquring a way out and then executing it would keep my life in my hands.

I would have made it out on my last attempt with our with out a hand, however, having Scott hold on to my grab loop while making my last struggle out was something I wouldn't turn down. My only communication to him was "grab my bow, grab my bow" and he did, with someone holding his stern so he wouldn't pull himself in.

Cool, That was my latest adventure.

p.s. I did probably 25 runs down the falls in the past 10 days and did 5 our more hours of training in the hole just above horshoe. But that is another story.

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