Narrative by Christopher Reeves on 2006-02-07
Victim (myself): Class III+/-IV paddler, who has been paddling for about 2-3 years. Group: Two friends (Same level of paddlers) Weather: Sunny, although the sun had already went behind the ridge line. Air Temp.: Mid 40's Water Temp.: Unknown (high 30's / low 40's just to guess?) Gear: 1 throw rope (in my boat). Appropriate cold weather gear: I was properly dressed with helmet liner, helmet, neoprene undergarments, fleece l/s top under neath l/s drytop and waterproof bibs, neoprene and wool socks under booties, gloves, nose-plugs.
Accident: After eddying out and walking up to read the line, I decided to run the class III rapid after each of my friends ran it without problems. About midway down the rapid I got washed to the right a few inches which caused me to hit a rock, which seperated the flow about 60/40. It forced me to catch an edge which flipped me causing me and boat to rotate into the undercut boulder (this is where about 40% of the flow went). I could not roll up and soon my boat, with me in it, began to be pulled underneath while I was upside down.
I bailed and resurfaced on the face of the boulder being dragged underneath by the current, with my boat following. I took a deep breath before I submerged and was forced head first after I tried to push off the face of the boulder as I was going under. I was forced through the sieve in which the passage became narrower and narrower. I could feel both the belly of the boulder and I what I think was the riverbed, or other boulders, below me. I could see nothing but pitch black. I was feeling with my hands and trying to guide myself the best I could with the current pushing me. I soon felt that the narrowing passage had a small opening in which I was able to kind of pull myself through with help from the current. People who have witnessed this area at low water said the passage is barely shoulder width wide and is usually clogged with debris on any given day.
Once I was through the water turned from black to a dark blue and I resurfaced quickly. I came up in a daze and was dissoriented. Once my friends started shouting at me to swim I regained my train of thought and self rescued to a boulder within the middle of the creek. Injuries: None Rescue: Self supported swim into an eddy where I climbed up on a rock in the middle of the creek. Once I regained my composure, I to swim to shore in a large calm eddy, with friends on shore for retrieval if needed. Friends would have been unable in any way to have set rope or other safety measures to have prevented this accident.
I am sitting here writing this while my Lil' Joe is drowning on the Bowling Alley of the North Chickamauga creek...luckily I am still here to tell about it! A couple of friends and I decided to get a nice little low water run in this afternoon. The nice little run turned into a scary nightmare for me that still has me shook up. I am writing this while it is still fresh in my head. The more I think about it the more it really does frighten me to think what could have been the outcome. We walked up the trail a little ways from the normal put-in to try and get a little creeking fun. I think we walked 600-700 yards up the trail (not sure about the distance). We looked at the first rapid and it didn't look to nice due to a deep sticky hole and we decided to put in a few eddies down. It looked like class III all the way down except for the one where my Lil' Joe is spending the night.
I ferried out into the current and rode through the little rock jumble area, flipped and rolled up in a sticky side surfing hole which worked me and forced me to bail. I recovered my gear and boat without a problem and got back in my boat. We got through the next rapid and eddied out to check out the lines for the upcoming rapid. It looked nice. Clean lines on river left but some sketchy water separated by a small boulder in the middle with the river right side flowing into a huge riverside boulder propped up by slanted boulder(s) jutting out from the riverbed. I think this is right above a huge boulder in the middle of the river bed that has gauge on it (which I finally made my way on after the event that I will explain). There was no question that it was undercut, but in the back of my head I was wondering if this was sieved out and whether or not it flushes? Regardless, I didn't know and I didn't want to find out. Well, I did find out first hand. My two friends paddled down, hit the line and eddied out below. It was a simple line...I thought. I paddled down hit the correct line but got surfed a little right and hit head on into the boulder in the middle. I thought to myself its okay just hip snap, no luck, so I hit a brace, still no luck and I find my self going under. I try to roll but I can't because something won't let me. I tried again...still no luck. I am running short on air so I pull the eject button. I come up on the face of the jutting boulders that were on the river right which I was thinking about just before I got back in my boat. The worst is about to happen. In a split second, even before I can realize what is going on, the water slowly begins to pull me and my boat, which was behind me, under towards the right.
The first thing I try to do is to fight it but I can't. I am reaching and trying to find a notch on the boulder that I can hold onto to keep my head above water. I feel that I have no grasp, so I take a huge breathe, the biggest I think I ever have. I am going under. Darkness, complete darkness. Something in my head tells me to loosen up. Don't fight back. I can feel the belly of the boulder with my hands above me as I am stomach down, head first heading deeper as the current carries me. Then I feel rocks below me and I start to say a little prayer to myself because I still can't see light and the walls are closing in and apparently my Lil' Joe is tailing me cause something is nudging me from behind. The whole time I am carefully trying to stay calm while a thousand things are rushing in my head. Please let me flush, just please let me flush.
I don't know how long I was under. Probably about 25-35 seconds from what my friends said, but to me is was as if time didn't exist. All that I was concerned about was finding out if I was about to hit a dead end. The current was forcing me through a narrowing tunnel. I clench my chest to make sure what air I have will last as I start thinking what if? I start to pull myself through the tunnel, just hoping I don't snag on something that would hold me indefinitely. Finally it felt like the tunnel was widening and I saw the darkness turn into a shade of light blueï¿½?ï¿½light at the end of the tunnel. I just hoped that I wasn't going to die knowing there was an opening. I would have rather it stayed pitch black to tell you the truth, if that was the case. I can feel my heart beat in my chest as my oxygen is being used up. I pull myself through the end of the opening with what strength I have left and I can finally feel that I am not constricted any longer.
Before I realize it, I am bobbing in the current as I gasp for sweet air and fill my lungs. My boat surfaces beside me so I reach and grab it to keep afloat. I can't hold it so I let go and swim to the large boulder in the middle of the creek as I see my boat wash on downstream. It is hard to describe what I felt as the adrenaline surged through my cold body as I stood on the rock. My mind cleared as soon as I realized that I has flushed out.
Thank God I flushed. I just couldn't believe what I had just experienced. My friends were out of there boats on river left with looks of astonishment. There was absolutely no way that they could have helped me in this situation. They still can't believe it. I can't either. My only thought is what would have happened if I would have stayed in my boat. I don't think I would be writing this post, but someone would have been writing my obituary? I know that I wouldn't have flushed while in my boat and I know that I wouldn't have been able to bail out of the Lil' Joe if I had been submerged.
I still don't know how I or the boat came through it? My Lil' Joe is still buried up to its neck, pinned in a slot. I am heading back up there tomorrow to try and recover it as well as take some pictures of where I swam. I can not find any shots of that particular spot on American Whitewater (not to mention there is only one photo of the Bowling Alley). I just want to make sure that other boaters know of this dangerous spot. I will try to follow up as soon as possible with the photo, along with a detailed diagram of where I got pulled under. I am humbled by the fact that today could have been my last. I am not over exaggerating by saying I truly felt that I was not going to make it. All it would have taken was a submerged log or a rock in the wrong place. I still do not think I have truly analyzed everything that happened to me yet? To all my friends out there (you know who you are), it may be awhile before I see you on the river again? I am not giving up on the sport that I love so much, but I feel that I need to collect my thoughts and make sure I am comfortable with getting back in my boat.
his is from a guy who helped me recover my boat the following day who is familiar with this run from Tennessee Valley Canoe Club. He posted it on the club's web forum: Chris' Crack is the massive boulder which takes about a third of the Chick behind and under, narrowing into a tube, about 12 feet long, narrowing to less than shoulder width. Chris had the good taste to have much air in his lungs, stay loose, and keep hispaws against the under-cut boulder, while he was stuffed headfirst into the ever-constricting tunnel sieve. The Chick had the good taste to not endow Chris'Crack with the usual stack of lumber, creating a dead-end deal for floating forms. Chris popped out the bottom of the tube; the kayak was stuck within. Chris stayed loose and saved his goose. For the record, Chris was paddling smart, with two others; they had bank scouted this rapid. They had intelligent designs. But Chris' run got pushed toward thelarge rock in front of the sieve, where he popped that rock. Upstream edge gotpulled under, he tried to roll but was against that rock, then washed into, downand under the friggiing humonguous boulder, the Chick pushing him into the slot. With so much going right, it is wicked weird how quickly things go wrong. That is our sport.