Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stuck between a log & a hard place (4.3.11)

After heading to Cali last weekend for a multi-day on Deer Creek and being denied by high water, we headed to Downieville for some classic roadside whitewater. We were able to get on Wild Plum (upper NF Yuba), Lavezzola Creek, and Pauley Creek. We had plenty of sun and fun, although we did have incident on Lavezzola in the form of a river-wide log. Two of us are lucky to be here today, and for the second time this year I found myself questioning why I boat, and if it’s really worth it.

This time it was captured on my head-cam, which has allowed me to analyze it over and over to determine what could have been done better. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have done anything much different. It was a class III drop, which we could see the eddy/pool below. The log was both hidden by the glare of the sun as well as being mostly submerged. In fact I didn’t even know it was there until I was stuck underneath it. Obviously the vertically pinned paddle could have given me some indication, but it all happened so fast that I didn't have time to process it.

In the end, I concluded that whitewater kayaking, just like other sports of its kind (e.g. climbing, mountain biking, mountaineering, etc.), has inherent danger, and sometimes things just go wrong. However, this is also one of the reasons that it excites us and draws us away from the daily grind and the rat race.

Some are probably wondering why I share my carnage stories. I’ve never been too proud to show myself getting worked in a hole and going for swim for entertainment purposes. However, ones like this are more serious and meant to be used as a learning tool. My hope is that I can receive constructive feedback to help reduce and/or prepare myself for the next time. I also hope that others can learn from these events without having to go through it themselves. If you do have feedback, please add it to the comment section below so that others can also read it.

Stuck between a log and a hard place:


  1. I'm curious why you pulled your skirt when you did, and why you took a rope instead of going underneath the log after your boat proved the space beneath was big enough for you to pass through.

    Also, any injuries?

  2. Wow, great effort getting off of that thing and glad you guys are ok. Thanks for putting this up - footage like this this is so rare and so valuable. I've thought about the same thing, and I just don't think the rewards of paddling come separate from the risks.

  3. @Dwight,
    The reason I pulled the skirt so soon was because I thought I was going to be pulled under, and I was certain there wasn't enough room for me while I was in my boat. I could feel the boat hitting the bottom of the creek, and looking at the stuck paddle next to me, it was shallower than I was willing to gamble with. My hope was that the boat would get flushed downstream first and allow me passage, which even then I only felt was about a 50/50 chance of making it through.

    Without actually going underneath it's hard to say for sure, but my full effort was to go over the top. In hindsight, I would have waited to pull my skirt until I had the rope, but as you can imagine, sometimes it's hard to always make the right call in a time critical / stressful situation.

    Regarding injuries, I now have a nice set of bruised ribs. Other than that, A-Okay.

    Thanks for posting.

  4. Glad your safe! Couldn't get the video to work here..i'll try again later. I saw your email and was wondering how it went down there..always impressed by the cool paddling missions you seek out..and with the sport, yes, comes risks that sometimes are hard to know of even with following all the right precautions. super cool, as always,that you're willing to share so much with the paddling community-helps everyone have more knowledge and tools to be safe and have fun out there!

  5. it going. So, it appeared the paddle was there when you came to it? I could say a thorough scout would have allowed you to see that..but also that is a tough call because it is not always practical (and sometimes impossible)to scout every single drop/every rapid of each river. I found myself wondering how clean the miracle mile was a couple weeks ago..knowing it's somewhat continuous and not practical to scout everything. No new wood and one at a time approach, but that said even if the person in the front probes and signals for the group, there is still risk for the first person if not scouting. Not sure what else could have been done differently once you were stuck there!Definitely makes me think more about being aware in a group and considering how fast I can get to my rescue equipment and get a strategy going!

  6. Joni,
    That was actually Roman's paddle who had gotten stuck on the log just before me. His situation was also pretty bad, as he was back-endered and sucked under upside-down and backwards. Luckily he was further right (where it was deeper) and came through without getting snagged.

  7. @Nate

    Thanks for the answers and the insight. I shook my head at the early skirt pull because I didn't see an advantage, and it seems like a waterful boat would only intensify the pin by adding weight. Hard to say without having been there, and it's always easy to be an armchair expert in these matters, correct or not.

    Sounds like you got off fairly easy on this one. Glad you're okay -- we need these TRs to continue! :)

    Makes me want to carry a folding saw in my PFD!

  8. Hey Nate,

    My only feedback on this would be that wrapping the rope around your wrist was probably not such a good idea. In this particular situation, it doesn't look like it would have been a big deal. In another potential situation, however, the guy with the bag may not have been able to hold you against the force of the water, and the rope could possibly snag. If the rope doesn't come off your wrist, you could get pulled under water. Just my two cents....... Glad you're okay bro!


  9. Ryan, you're absolutely right, in hindsight I would not have wrapped the rope around my wrist, for the reason you stated. At the moment, I felt I needed to in order to get a good enough grip. I was pulling with everything I had, white knuckled and red in the face. Probably why I now have bruised ribs.

  10. Glad you're okay man. I hate armchair critics, but I agree with what has been said. I also wondered what was anchoring your friend on the slope who threw the rope? I would want him to be secure for both your safeties.

    The situation reminds me to practice safety more often.


  11. That's another good point Aaron. His only anchor was his own two feet, and afterward he mentioned that I almost pulled him into the water a couple of times.

  12. Hey Nate, Thanks very much for posting.
    Some things are hard to see in the video and you do not say exactly.
    The boat went under the log?
    The log pinned you right at the top of the cockpit?
    About how thick was the log diameter?
    When you pulled the skirt, the boat did not flush till later. Surprised?
    Do you think the boat was pinned between the bottom and your body?
    Ideas on what caused the boat to release when it did?
    You were somehow able to pull yourself over the top of the log, despite your lower body in the full force of the current. Can you recall and describe how you did that? What it took?
    Was the rope angle optimal? Were you and the roper able to communicate on positioning the rope?
    How far out from shore were you and how deep do you think it was there?

    No advice from me on how to avoid the log. I could not see it in the video even with repeated viewings and could barely see it when you were pinned on it.

    I do have a comment on Aaron's question about the rope thrower being anchored. The belayer only needs to hold as much force as the swimmer can take, which isn't very much. That is why Nate wrapped the rope around his wrist, cause his grip did not feel that strong. (right?) The belayer can take lots of force just by sitting down and bracing his feet or various other tactics worth practicing. But there are lots of advantages to the belayer being able to move around and change position as the situation changes.

    Here is a simple practice scenario. In you house or back yard or wherever, get into belay position with rope around your waist. No caribiners or anchors, just the friction of the rope around your waist. Brace yourself in a doorframe or anything that is handy. Have a friend simulate a swimmer and pull on the rope as hard as they can with their hands. Have one or two other friends pull on the "swimmer's" waist to simulate the pull of the water. See who slips or lets go first.

  13. Paul,

    You are 100% correct in your scenario and explanation and I can see where mobility is beneficial. But all I saw in the video was a lone man standing up, not sitting down with braced feet, on a mossy slope.

    This is an excellent thread with EXCELLENT feedback.

  14. It appears to me the only two realistic options were either to go over or under the log. I believe you chose the best route.

    I am not way a "rescue" expert, but I have spent a portion of my life practicing scenarios. Even in a controlled environment scenarios rarely go perfectly by the book.

    The best rescue is one where no one gets hurt or dies.

    Thanks for posting

  15. Nasty. This reminds me too much of an incident on Canyon Creek, OR. Innocuous looking, class 3 rapid with a mostly hidden, unpleasant surprise. You should post a link on PDXK. This is a good lesson. Glad you are okay Nate.

  16. Paul,

    1. Yes, the boat went under the log.

    2. The log was resting against the bottom of my ribcage, and just above the cockpit.

    3. I’m guessing the log was probably 8-10 inches in diameter.

    4. Yes, I was surprised that the boat did not get pulled downstream once I popped the skirt. It was very difficult to get free from it and I actually lost one of my booties in the process. I attribute the difficulty to the shallow conditions.

    5. Yes the boat was pinned to some degree against the bottom and my body. Not wedged, but I could feel it bumping rocks below me.

    6. What caused the boat to release was a continuous effort to kick it off. I think I was basically just making slow progress the whole time.

    7. I knew that pulling myself over the top was not going to be easy. Basically I just pulled with everything I had and shifted back and forth trying to a position that reduced drag. From there I slowly backed my legs out while pulling on the rope. Once again I just attribute it to slow and steady progress.

    8. As for rope angle, you can see me point to where I wanted to be pulled from, which seemed to work. I’m sure we would have tried another position had it not. And yes, we were able to communicate, but I was basically screaming.

    9. I was probably about 8’ from the left shore. And I’m guessing based on the stuck paddle, and boat bumping against the bottom, that I probably had 2’ or less under the log.

    10. Yes, the reason I wrapped the rope around my wrist was to get enough grip.

    Hope this helps,

  17. Glad you're okay,
    I had a close call myself wednesday on Hoffstadt Creek.
    I wrote out a incredibly long and detailed explanation of what happened but then I didn't copy it before I tried to post it so of course the post didn't go through and I lost it all. so here's the abridged version:
    I swam out of the bottom hole of the flume drop below Gnargasm. I was floating downstream over the next small ledge (tried to get out right away but the current was fairly strong) I was floating over the river left side of the small ledge (maybe class II) with my feet up and pointing downstream, on my back, just like you're supposed too, when the back of my sprayskirt got caught in a upward projecting rock on the ledge. I was instantly thrown forward, with water pouring over my head and all around me. Thankfully I had a air pocket to breath in. Chris hit me with a bag from river right but my skirt stayed caught on the rock, I knew the only way to get free would be if my skirt was cut, I slid out through my skirt over my head, or Chris pulled it off the rock it was caught on. I stopped trying to grab the bag after the first time because i knew it wasn't working. Eventually chris jumped the creek, tied off a rotten log, and lowered down to me batman style. it took a few tries but he popped my skirt off the rock. A conservative estimate of how long I was stuck would be 5 minutes. I was absolutely beat down, couldn't open my eyes, my legs were too tired to move. Chris had to drag me out of the creek (not easy, I weight 200 lbs and am 6'6") I couldn't move for at least half an hour. I could tell that I was getting hypothermic and needed to get out of there. I crawled then was eventually able to walk out to the car. Chris and I left our boats in the canyon. We're going in this weekend to hike them out, and to look for some of my gear that i took off while stuck in a attempt to slide through my skirt. (helmet, both elbow pads, right glove, paddle)

    lessons learned:
    1. no one is invincible. I was at most a minute from drowning when chris got me free, when I sat up I had a air pocket, and my sprayskirt was cutting into my diaphragm. If he hadn't gotten me when he did I would have drowned. I owe my life to him.

    2. Plan and be ready for the worst scenario. Thankfully he was out of his boat with a bag, setting safety, while it might take a little longer, is much better than someone dying.

    3. Don't swim in class V 'nuff said

    4. On a class V creek, especially one the you haven't done before, have a minimum party size of 3. an extra hand would have sped up my rescue greatly.

    Stay safe everybody!

  18. Man you could have at least pulled your buddy's paddle out. You were right there. Help a bro out.

    I'm only joking of course.

  19. Fair play for a humble and unadulterated account, dude. I don't think anyone can fault you for popping the deck when you did, or for not chancing sliding through under the log. One thing that did strike me was as mentioned before, the angle of the roper, I'd have preferred to have him much more upstream, it looked as if he were trying to pull you directly downstream, up and over the log, and I'd say that could have been fairly tiring stuff.

    Good to see everyone's safe and sound though.

  20. Nate this is great footage epically knowing that you guys are ok.

    In the UK when doing our safety exercises we are advised to NEVER go under a strainer. Always try and go over or as you did round.

    It was fortunate they were able to get a line to you as often pins are inaccessible or difficult to get to quick enough and the the best for of rescue is a self rescue.

    My thoughts on the your options

    1) Tie a swim line to your boat this is a line that is tied to your rear handle of your boat with no loop. The ends of the rope should be tucked in your cockpit and always in the same position so you know where it is.
    a) On being pinned reach round and grab your swim line.
    b) bring it round over your shoulder and pull your self up to wards the back of the boat.
    c) Bring one foot up and place it on the rim of the cockpit use the strength of your legs to push yourself further up the stern of the boat.
    d) get your second leg on the the rim of the cockpit. Its important that your legs are first to leave the craft to avoid getting your legs broken.

    2) Always carry the same kit regardless of the river class. Accidents can happen at any time.

    Getting over a streaner when your legs are already below the streaner is really difficult and I am not sure what the best coarse of action would have been in your circumstances but the method you ended with worked with no casualties so maybe the method you chose was the best.

  21. Nate, Thanks for the further details. They make it easier to understand the difficulties you had to deal with.

    Aaron, Good point on the instability of the standing belayer. I was spouting off in a generic fashion rather than dealing with the specifics of this situation.

    Really educational stuff. Glad you posted this, Nate. Really glad you are here to post it.


  22. Awesome resource for understanding river dangers. Recommendations:

    1. The kayaker before you (Roman?) appeared dazed and confused as he went to rescue you (which seemed weird until I realized he had his world rocked just prior). He was also rope-less. Everyone should get into the habit of carrying a safety line when you scout a run or hear a call for help, even if you have to borrow one. That way it becomes automatic and therefore (hopefully) something you do even when you are not in a responsive state of mind.

    2. It might be a good idea to wait until you see the boater before you eddie out, or continue downstream, when entering a rapid with poor visibility.

    These are very humble suggestions. More important than any procedures, you did very well to keep your cool and it probably saved your life.

    Thanks for sharing,

  23. Thanks for posting the video, glad you guys are ok. An observation late in the video. I noticed you were wearing a wedding ring. It's not often stated but "rings and rivers dont match". The reason being, if you were to take a swim and were trying to grab a rock near the edge to get out but still in the fast water, there is a chance the edge of the ring can "grab" the rock and if you get pulled away, the pressure can pull the skin off your finger it's technically called "de-glove" the finger. This actually happend to a friend back in the 80's. Extremely painful! Anyway, still a good idea to spread the word. Leave the rings at home.

  24. Nate,
    This is such a great post. The video is quite popular with us boaters here in Utah and I'm sure it's the same all over. Nice to see someone who can put it out there when it's really real. I lost a good friend to a root cluster on a class III run at flood level. Amazing how fast a good run can turn terrifying.
    A couple of thoughts (armchair 20/20 stuff). The end of the throw bag is a much better place to hold on, no need to wrap for better grip. In case the first throw missed, it may have been better for the second shore man to have been right there to throw next(?). Could the thrower have been a little further upstream for better leverage to get you away from the log?
    Great to see all went well and that you guys kept it together. Cheers

  25. @Dwight - "why you took a rope instead of going underneath the log"

    Swift Water Rescue teaches self-rescue above all else. Strainer pole drills teach going over instead of under. Going under a strainer has additional unseen hazards that can result in drowning. I recommend finding a SWR workshop to try out your theories in a 'safe' environment.

  26. @ Brighton, "The end of the throw bag is a much better place to hold on, no need to wrap for better grip."

    I disagree, If your holding the main body of the rope and some of it slips, then there is still some to hold onto. Also throwbag loops are being made smaller and smaller to reduce snag hazards. many bags have loops which are only big enough for a krab and nothing else.

  27. Hello all; very educational vid, we have studied it repeatedly. Memories of getting pinned on a log in a class II local stretch; playboat and log level with water surface turned into a sternsquirt + pin; 5 minutes of struggle, inescapable; pulled skirt, flushed under log; lucky not to pin underwater.
    A suggestion for all kayakers interested in rope work; learn to body belay. Here is a funny video with good info:

    Scout and read carefully, especially as water levels change. Where there is water, there is wood.

  28. Thanks for posting. Very eye-opening. Question though: Is there sound on the clip? I get static and what slowed-down voices at one part, then no sound at all.

  29. @Skip,

    I have no idea what happened to the sound, for some reason it recorded the whole thing in that static form. Then when I uploaded it to Vimeo it cut the sound completely out on the last half -- not that it would have been better with the static though...

  30. Just thought I'd pass along other discussions about this video on others boards -- seems to be getting a lot of attention:


    Boater Talk:

    Mountain Buzz:

  31. Cheers to Nate for putting it up.

    I just wanted to comment on the rope size. I've found that small throw bags are handy but difficult to grip and not as suited to prusiks/tibloc etc. I use a fatty bag with a fatty rope, but it is definitely more cumbersome.

    Secondly, Nate was able to free himself but had he been stuck so tight he could not move the situation may have been different and worth talking about. I believe Roman and Shaun should have taken opposite sides of the river and gone for a stabilization line if Nate could not free himself. They could have used it to give nate some more force upstream to assist in backing away from the log. Just throwing that out there for discussion and communication sake. If both rescuers don't know the technique it would be nearly impossible to pull off with out an impromptu class when time is critical. I think it is one of the best ways rescuers can directly assist a victim with out going on live bait.



  32. Great thread and glad things worked out okay. Thank you for being willing to share your experience. I would add only, that where possible it could be advantageous for the belayer on shore to work themselves upstream of the victim. The victim could then get one ed around waist for more friction and the angle of pull could be more helpful in aiding your extraction.
    Whatever happens, it is important for it to happen quick in some of these cases and your buddy on the rock was indeed quick.

    Than you again for allowing us all to discuss the situation.

  33. Nate thanks for posting, super valuable to see footage esp. of high quality. Also great to be able to discuss and hear other peoples minds. There are a couple comments here about roping with a more upstream angle and while its been a while since I pulled myself over a "log" I seem to remember wanting a hold more downstream. Kinda like you had. The rope coming from downstream keeps you (for better or worse) folded over the log until you, hopefully, get your legs up and over. An upstream vector seems like it would "unfold" you and you'd be relying wholly on your grip and the belayer pulling your entire body upstream.
    I agree with Daniel and others that if you were immobile or just can't get yourself over then upstream is the way to go. Obviously been too long since a SWR class for me, better go refresh.
    Glad you and Roman are okay.
    sidenote: is that Roman, Aaron's brother Roman?

  34. Excellent post, and video. Thanks for sharing! I'm glad everything worked out well in the end, very scary stuff.

    Some very valid comments, but just one thing I wanted to point out without criticizing your mate in the yellow boat too much ;-) No point taking 50 seconds to get out the boat, only to return. In order of importance in a rescue, equipment comes last... Obviously the real thing happens fast and you cannot ever really prepare for it fully but a swiftwater rescue course (maybe every year to every second year) can help for those bad times.

    Keep safe! Keep paddling!

  35. I'm a reformed creek boater, who now just playboats (among other hobbies).

    I have been in a few scrapes similar to this one, and this pin is almost identical to one which resulted in a lengthy rescue of my friend (who subsequently was hospitalized for hypothermia - this was prior to the widespread adoption of drysuits).

    I'm impressed with how well you kept your cool and handled the situation.

    That said, this scene is just too scary for me. I'll stick to my playboat, my kiteboard, and my SUP. We'll have to agree to disagree that these activities have similar risks.

    But thanks for posting!

  36. Could you imagine how weird it would have been if you had drowned and it had been caught on video.
    The dark side of our tech age.
    No bad karma meant.

  37. Hey interesting video glad it all worked out.
    The rescue worked well.

    I have a few things to add having been pinned 4 times in the last twenty years. Twice on logs, one vertical rock pin and one nasty narrow canyon gateway pin.

    The priority is air pocket stability while buddies rig a fast efficient extraction.
    The idea of clipping into the cow's tail on the victims jacket as early as possible is key, so if the victim were to let go of the rope or go unconscious then the rescue can keep rolling.
    As a result some prefer this biner to sit attached onto the shoulder of the pfd rather than around at waist level. In a log pinning situation the benefits are obvious as the victim may not be able to reach their waist as they hold onto of log, plus a rescuer can externally clip a biner positioned on the shoulder.

    Stephen from uk idea works great for vertical rock pins but extracting oneself backwards out of the boat in log situations forces you underneath the log which is often fatal. However if the log is clean and the water deep enough then going under is a quick effective solution before you get too tired. Often however going under is not an option.
    As max pointed out pulling downstream holds you on top of the log and keeps that vital air pocket, however pulling upstream can work well.
    1. Clip in victim with spectra line
    2. go upstream.
    3. anchor yourself so you don't fall in
    4. 2nd rescuer vectors the show into shore
    (If you are single rescuer then need MA/sea anchor rig which frees you up to do the vectoring.)

    Daniel's idea of a stabilization line is vital to keep the valuable air pocket and any extra rescuer should be moving onto river right to set this rig in motion asap.