South Fork of the American River Hypothermia Rescue Story
My kayaking crew and I encountered a hypothermic kayaker on the class 3 Gorge run of the South Fork American (SFA) on a cold and sunny Sunday afternoon in December 2017. Air temp peaked in the low 60°s F, dropped to the 50°s F and into the 40°s F as night hit. Water temperature was around 45°F. Our group (Jeff, Ellis, our expert, our EMT, and I) worked with members of the victim’s group to move the victim downstream, call 911, and stabilize, and egress him with a Search and Rescue (SAR) raft team at night. We helped a fellow kayaker get home safe. We may have saved this guy's life. Therefore, I’m proud of my group’s actions. Throughout the rescue, we had successes and mistakes. Whenever we made the situation worse, we made it better after. I'll describe the full story in length because the details in any rescue are crucial. I will list the lessons. Feel free to share with others. I have changed or omitted some names to respect privacy.
No rescue is perfect. My goal here is to educate, not brag. I want to ignite conversations about what worked and didn’t work. I want people discussing what they would do in situations like this. We applied our training, skills, available gear, and knowledge in good faith and with our best intentions to help a fellow kayaker get home safe. We fixed our mistakes and the rescue ended in success. As you read this story, please put yourselves in our shoes. You are in a dynamic and changing rescue situation. The sun is setting. The air is brisk and the water is frigid. We were tired, hungry, and cold. Rescue scenarios evolve. After a kayaker’s first swim, you don’t immediately jump to hiking out or calling SAR. You get there as day turns night and the scenario unfolds.
Our group of five kayakers (class 4-5 skill level) launched at Greenwood Creek around 1-1:30pm for a lazy Sunday Gorge lap. This is our backyard run. Most of our crew has done this run dozens of times. At launch, we had about 3 hours of daylight, followed by 1 hour of graylight. It was warm in the parking lot and I only wore a base-layer and sweats under my drysuit. Our most experienced kayaker, a class 5 boater, did wear a drytop, but not a drysuit. This kayaker is also diabetic. She brought all of her medication, blood sugar testing gear, and snacks for sugar. I will refer to her as our expert from now on. The fifth boater in our group is class 4-5 paddler and an EMT. She has mostly boated outside of California. Her knowledge of the South Fork American is limited. I will refer to her as our EMT.
The rest of our group wore drysuits. Between our group of five, we packed two Verizon smartphones, a small amount of snacks, water, a spare beanie, one-set of take-out clothes, at least two first aid kits, storm-proof matches and two lighters, and one headlamp. We did not have a river map with egress points. I think Jeff, Ellis, and I all have Wilderness First Aid training. The diabetic expert is a Wilderness First Responder. Plus, we had an EMT. The expert took hand-paddles and forgot the break-down paddle in the truck at put-in.
For whistle blasts, we used a system from our swiftwater training
one blast - look upstream
two blasts - look downstream
three blasts - emergency. We only blew three or more blasts when SAR dispatch asked us to. Their hiking party needed help finding our campfire.
Encountering a Swimmer
At 3pm, we encountered a lone kayaker, Dan, 48, swimming in an eddy on river right in the Upper Haystacks. Dan's group was MIA. A third group of five kayakers was here. Dan was severely underdressed and he had just swam from Fowlers into Upper Haystacks. Dan had a dry-top with insufficient insulation and just leggings. His shoes were downstream with his boat. The third group of kayakers had Dan hang on to the front of one of their kayaks. They transported him, in the river, downstream to the bottom of the Upper Haystacks. From there, Dan hiked to his boat in the large eddy on river right before Satan's. Dan's group was here. Dan's friend Paul, 45, had hiked uphill with the swimmer's shoes, looking for Dan. The shoes were not river appropriate, they were crocs. Paul, the hiker, went in the wrong direction, perhaps looking for a road or trail uphill. A boater from the third group and I, used two whistle blasts to communicate to our upstream people, and Dan, that we found the boat. We used two whistle blasts and shouts to get Paul, the hiker, to return. One was on river left, communicating with hiker. He was an experienced kayaker but not taking much initiative. To put it lightly, his lack of initiative and general nonchalance bothered us. The fourth kayaker in Dan's group was nervous on class 3, but mostly confident she could run clean lines and roll. She clearly understood that her job was to run clean lines and not swim. She did this well for the rest of the day. These three all had drysuits. The only member of the Dan's group without a drysuit was Dan, the swimmer, himself. The experienced kayaker and the nervous but mostly confident class 3 kayaker were not close with the Paul, the hiker, and Dan, the swimmer. They had met for the first time on this trip.
Seeing the sun getting low, the third group, who had transported Dan, asked us if we had the situation under control. We said yes and they departed downstream. Now it was our crew of five and the Dan's group of four. Our group took charge. We couldn't remember where the egress points where and we didn't have a river map. Not having a map was our biggest mistake. One member of our group suggested there is a trail on river right at Hospital Bar. Having nothing else to go on, the whole group agreed that if we could get Dan to the pool upstream of Hospital Bar, 1.25 miles downstream, he could hike out with his friend Paul and one of our crew.
Hindsight is 20/20 - Bring a Map
The group was unaware/had forgotten about egress trails and roads near Satan’s Cesspool and Bouncing Rock. These egress routes were very close to where we first encountered Dan. Had we known about our egress options here, we would have used them. However we didn’t have a map and couldn’t remember where the routes were. We thought our nearest egress was above Hospital Bar, about 1.25 miles downstream. If we had egressed Dan at one of these sites, Dan wouldn’t have swam again and most of the group still would have had time to paddle out before dark. We didn’t think to pull out our two Verizon phones and searching for trail maps online. For my part, I kept a SFA river map in my PFD from 2011-2017. In 2017, I gave it to a beginning kayaker because I didn’t think I’d need it. On most kayak-only trips, kayakers get back in their boat after the a swim.
Hindsight is 20/20 - Hiking Rapids vs Stranding Kayakers on the River in the Dark
We overestimated the Dan's ability, especially after a LONG cold swim, to kayak class 3. The group agreed to reintroduce Dan to the river because we thought we could support him through two challenging rapids (Satans and Bouncing Rock) to get to our perceived egress before sundown. After one swim, the whole group thought Dan was capable of more paddling.
We strongly considered having Dan walk rapids. The group agreed to run the rapids because we did not have the daylight to walk Dan around each major rapid. If Dan had walked each major rapid, our entire group would have been stranded on the river in the dark. We didn’t want to put the rest of the group at risk with night paddling with one headlamp. The whole group, including Dan, agreed to run the river toward our perceived egress at Hospital Bar.
We left for Satan's with about 30 minutes of daylight and an hour of graylight. We saw no moon in the sky. No moonlight tonight. Our expert rafted up with Dan. The plan was for her and Dan to hold onto each other's boats while she paddled with one-arm. Our expert traded her hand paddles to Ellis. For the rest of the day, Ellis ran clean routes with the hand-paddles while our expert used Ellis's paddle. I think Dan kept his paddle while rafting up with our expert.
Hindsight is 20/20 - Bring the breakdown on your backyard run
If we had brought a breakdown paddle, we could have used it here. Having a breakdown would have increased Ellis's ability to support us on the river.
Jeff ran downstream safety through Satans. The rest of our group ran upstream safety behind the rafted kayaks. We also kept an eye on the rest of Dan's group. A second swimmer would be bad. I asked everyone if they were comfortable running the upcoming rapids. They were. Ellis, our EMT, and I ran safety for the nervous kayaker. The rest of Dan’s group, including the nervous kayaker, did great. Keep track of the whole group. Don’t let anyone else become a victim.
Despite the raft-up with our expert, Dan swam in Satan's. We immediately got him and his gear to shore on river left, before Son of Satan's. I made Dan stand on the rocks, joked with him, and made him move around while I drained his boat for him. I didn't want him in the water trying to lift and drain his boat. Also, a hypothermic person is slow. We had limited daylight and needed to keep going downstream. Our group of nine saddled up and ran Lower Haystacks and Scissors. Dan and our expert kayaker rafted through Upper Haystacks, taking cheat lines. We tried to give them space. I got too close at one point and almost knocked them over. Dan paddled Scissors, our expert kayaker at his side.
Dan’s successful paddling gave us confidence in his kayaking ability now. We thought we could get him down one last rapid: Bouncing Rock.
We were now above Bouncing Rock, a shallow rocky rapid that sucks to swim. As I mentioned earlier, our group's key mistake was not knowing about the egress point here. On river left, across the river and upstream from Bouncing Rock, Weber Creek flows into the SFA. Kanaka Road runs along Weber Creek down to the river. I understand that a high clearance vehicle can get pretty close to the river here. If we had known this, we should have left Dan here with his friend Paul and one of our group. Later, SAR would launch a rescue raft from here.
Our expert kayaker rafted up with Dan and tried to run Bouncing Rock left to skirt the hole. Paddling with one hand, her other on Dan's kayak, she was unable to overcome the current. They both went upside down in the hole. Dan swam bouncing rock. This was Dan's third swim. We couldn't get Dan to shore on river left before Ambulance Run, so Dan climbed onto the front of our expert's kayak. Dan told our expert he couldn't hold on for long. This sent alarm bells off in my head. They were floating into Ambulance Run, the shallow class 2 rapid before the jumping rock pool above Hospital Bar. Ambulance Ran is shallow and rocky on the left and clean on the right. My immediate concern was that Dan would swim Ambulance Run, lose consciousness, and get a foot entrapment. Approaching the rapid with Dan clinging to the front of our boat, our expert shouted for help.
The EMT and I rafted-up with our expert, forming a three kayak raft. Dan was barely holding onto the front of our expert's boat. The expert and I one-armed paddled us towards river right. Our middle kayak, our EMT, used both hands to hold our rafted kayaks together. She may have used one hand to hold onto Dan so he didn’t slip off our expert’s boat. As a team, we got right. I consider this a huge success. We missed the boof rock at the middle bottom of the rapid by a few feet. We helped our expert and victim move from a shallow rocky riffle to a deeper wave train. Cold splashy waves are better than a foot entrapment.
To Dan's credit, he hung on like a champ through the wave train. We got to shore on river left at the beginning of the jump rock pool, upstream of Hospital Bar. The two other kayakers, my crew's diabetic expert and our EMT, and I got Dan out of the water.
Hindsight is 20/20 - Rafting up kayaks failed twice and succeeded massively once
Rafting up an experienced kayaker with a cold or beginner kayaker does not work well. It failed in Satan’s Cesspool and Bouncing Rock. Our expert only had one arm to paddle two kayaks because the Dan was hanging on with both hands. Maybe we should have had Dan paddle his own way through Bouncing Rock, charging hard right to cheat the hole? Maybe he would have made it? Maybe not. Three experienced kayakers rafted up, with Dan hanging on to the front of one kayak, did work as an emergency measure to avoid nasty shallow rocks.
We immediately knew that Dan's hypothermia was moving from functionally cold to dangerous. We were now in scary hypothermia territory. Our EMT immediately started monitoring him closely, keeping him moving and his spirits up. We asked about his medical history some more, especially for any heart issues or leg injuries (in case he needed to hike out). Dan still knew his who/what/when/where questions. Turns out this was his 48th birthday and he was getting back into kayaking with his friend Paul after a 15 year hiatus. The used to run class 4 together.
The third swim sinking in, Dan was becoming slower and more distant. Dan's hypothermia was getting worse. He had nothing else to worry about. At the diabetic’s expert’s instruction, I fed Dan snacks from the diabetic's spare snack reserves. Our diabetic expert kept what she needed to maintain her blood sugar. The sun was down and we had about 45 minutes of graylight left. No moon in the sky. Jeff, Ellis, and the rest of Dan's group were bringing Dan's boat and paddle downstream. I decided to call 911.
Calling Search and Rescue
At about 4:30pm, I decided to call 911 on our expert's Verizon phone. I credit my guide school trainers here. They taught me that the moment you call 911 is the first time you ask yourself, "Should I call 911?". I thought it for the first time here. I'm thankful my group had at least one Verizon phone. Fortunately, I was with our expert and her phone. Our second Verizon phone was upstream.
I called 911 within a minute of deciding we needed it. On river left, where the canyon wall is steep, the call kept dropping. I told 911 dispatch the most important things, "South Fork American...Hospital Bar...hypothermia". The 911 dispatch didn't know where the South Fork American is. Fortunately, she called the El Dorado County Sheriff and they started calling us repeatedly. The calls kept dropping. Dan and Ellis brought Dan's kayak and paddle downstream to us. The group of nine was all together on right left. We were still thinking that Dan would hike out on a trail on river right above Hospital Bar. We asked Dan if he could paddle across flat water to river right. He said yes. Our group crossed the river. I paddled across last because I was on the phone. The expert left me with her dry-bag, which had her diabetes medication and snacks.
When I paddled across, I gave her the drybag back because I didn't want her to get separated from her meds and snacks. Keep the medical history of your whole group in mind. Don’t let anyone else become a victim.
With 30 minutes of graylight left, we were now across the river from the jumping rock in the pool above Hospital Bar. We knew Dan wasn't going back on the river, so we got him into dry clothes. Ellis, Jeff, and our expert gave Dan their own layers. Our expert gave Dan her take-out clothes. Jeff gave Dan the spare beanie he keeps in his first aid kit. Our expert, lacking a dry-suit was now underdressed for the cold. The rest of us, were cold but could function better. Our EMT continued to monitor Dan and asked about his medical history. The headlamp was now in use.
I got up on a rock and started talking to SAR. We described our location, and then used Google maps to drop a pin for lat/long coordinates. They told us they were launching a Zodiac from Skunk Hallow and sending in a hiking crew down Weber Creek via Kanaka Road (the road that goes to Bouncing Rock) on river left. No helicopters were available (probably fighting wildfires in SoCal). SAR told us to keep Dan warm. They told us to stay in place because we were far from any trail. The original trail we sought, the one we had come all this way to get too, was several hundred feet uphill of us. We couldn't hike to it. Before the dry clothes, I'm told Dan started dropping from alert to verbally responsive. His level of consciousness was falling. Once our group got Dan into mostly dry clothes, he stabilized. I was talking too loudly too close the group. Our expert reminded me to move away from the patient.
My Decision to Stay Behind
With 15 minutes of graylight left, it was time for most people leave. Ellis, Jeff, and our expert, the WOOFR without the dry-suit and with diabetes, decided to leave. They could support the two kayakers from Dan's group (the experienced kayaker and the nervous but mostly confident class 3 kayaker) and look out for each other. Plus, Jeff and Ellis know the remaining rapids well and could assist SAR at Skunk Hallow.
We knew Dan, his friend Paul, and one of our group would stay. It was between the EMT and I. I offered to stay because Dan was in dry-clothes and stablish, I know the river super well, had been on the phone with SAR the most, and felt confident I could build a fire with Jeff's storm-proof matches, lighters, and first aid kit. If we got a fire going, we could keep Dan, and the rest of us, warm until SAR arrived. Don’t let other people, including yourself, become victims.
The EMT, though a stout boater, was running the Gorge for only her second time. For the reasons I above, I offered to stay behind so she could leave with the group. We choose to not leave two of our group behind because we didn't want to increase the burden on SAR. The group put Dan's spray skirt on my kayak and towed it with a rescue vest all the way to take-out. Unfortunately, they took my helmet and water.
The group also left Jeff's headlamp, first aid kit, which included some clutch components: a WOOFA manual, a rite-in-the-rain notepad and pencil, matches and lighters. We had my first aid kit too. Our crew left extra pogies in case we needed them for our hands. I keep spare AAA and AA batteries, a sam-splint, and an ankle brace in my first aid kit. We could have replaced batteries in the headlamp.
The decision to leave Jeff's headlamp was tough. It's waterproof and they could have used it to get safely down-river. However, they decided to leave it with us. Without it, we would have struggled to build and light the fire. Eating burgers later that night, Jeff and I agreed this was the right choice. I'm thankful we had the light to gather wood and build a fire.
It was now about 5pm. We had 10 minutes of graylight left. SAR was on the way. I knew that communication and calm leadership was important from here on-out. I clearly told my party what the whistle blasts were for or what the meant. I instructed Paul and Dan to gather wood and grass with headlamp. They were in good spirits. I reminded them to walk carefully. Dan was doing great. He was functionally cold. The dry clothes alone were beginning to warm Dan out of scary cold territory.
I built a fire ring safe from nearby vegetation. We were about 25 feet from the river, on sand and rocks. After 20 minutes and a few false starts, Dan and I got the fire going together. Paul diligently collected more fuel. We burned most of Jeff's rite-in-the-rain paper, finally lighting the small twigs. From there, the fire was burning and we slowly added bigger sticks and logs. The fire gave us all something to do and ended up keeping us plenty warm. Everyone was in good spirits. Paul used his Verizon phone to contact Dan's family. Dan got to talk to his wife and daughters and tell them everything was ok. The fire helped SAR find us too. Without it, our only other light was Jeff's headlamp.
Around 6:30pm, we could see the flood lights from SAR's hiking party across the river, on river left. Their dispatch called on our expert's Verizon phone. He asked us to blast the whistles non-stop. He also asked if we could bring Dan across the river. We only had two kayaks: Dan’s and Paul’s. Dan was finally warm and stable.
Paul, Dan, and I agreed we didn't want to risk getting Dan wet. Dan also said he wasn't able to paddle across. We told the dispatch no. I gave dispatch Paul's Verizon phone number. Our expert's phone had low battery. The hiking party reached the jump rock on river left and started shouting at us. I decided to paddle across to establish communication with the SAR hiking party. Keeping communication in mind, I told Paul that one whistle blast meant I was coming back, and for him to come down to the river. I used Dan's helmet, boat, and paddle to cross the river. My gear was at Skunk Hollow by now. I shouted at the hiking party to light up the river with their handheld flood lights so I could paddle across. They did great. I shared information with the hiking party.
SAR told us they were launching a raft from Kanaka Road across from Bouncing Rock. Their plan was to take Dan downstream in the raft. SAR must have decided that a 20 minute trip downstream on a raft was safer and faster than ferrying Dan across the river and hiking him up to the road over steep rocks in the dark and cold. SAR told us to hang tight and keep Dan warm. I told them I was going to whistle to tell Paul I was coming back. I told the SAR guys to whistle if they wanted me to come back. This pre-established a method for us to communicate with each other.
To avoid confusion, I told everyone why I was whistling before I did it.
We kept the fire going. I have to emphasize that Paul was outstanding here. He collected plenty of wood. Paul supported Dan, keeping him talking and in good spirits. We shared boating stories. Both of them live in Davis. They kayaked a lot of class 4 and 5 in their 20s. They stopped after injuries and/or kids. Fifteen years later, they wanted to get back into it. All three of us contributed positive attitudes. This, plus the fire and the SAR presence, kept morale up.
I kept an eye on Dan to make sure he didn't burn himself. I told him to take off wet socks and dry them on rocks by the fire. I tried to take his pulse several times, but could only find it and count it once. This is my own flaw, I have trouble finding people's pulses. I did write down the measurement. It was 60 bpm at 7pm. He was warm and talking. I was disappointed with myself for not being better at this, but I was also confident that he was warming up. I will practice this skill. Dan's skin temperature was rising and his alertness was increasing. After I kayaked across the river and back, his hands were warmer than mine.
At 8pm, the raft arrived. A local guide on his private 14ft raft with 4 SAR persons, all wearing dry-suits. They had a thermos of hot water for Dan. SAR took over monitoring Dan and helped him get into the raft. Paul got into the raft. SAR rigged Dan's kayak and paddle into the raft. I offered SAR to safety kayak with Paul's Nomad 8.6. They wanted the support. The SAR guys told me they felt safer having a kayak in front to set downstream safety and show the lines. The raft guide knew as well I did, but he wanted the backup.
Why did I safety kayak at night?
I was making the situation safer if kayaked safety. The raft was about to cheat-run Hospital Bar, a big class 3 hole, with a single handheld floodlight. In the unlikely event someone fell in or the raft flipped, I would be their only support. I would rather be in my kayak than swimming out of a raft. I felt safe running these rapids because I could see every move of the remaining rapids (Hospital Bar, Recovery Room, and Surprise) in my head.
During shuttle, I had observed the reservoir was low. Therefore, I knew the bonus class 2 rapids below Surprise were in. I know these rapids too. They have rocks to avoid and some small waves. I felt safer and more useful in a kayak than in the raft. I also am comfortable paddling a Nomad 8.6 on class 4. I own the same creek boat and I know that my rand spray skirt will fit over the cockpit.
If you have a rand skirt, don't assume it will fit over any cockpit. My rand spray skirt was too small for Dan's kayak. SAR lashed Dan’s kayak to the raft.
The raft and I left around 8:20pm. There was no natural light in the sky. No moon. On the raft, Paul used a handheld flood light to light up the river. He did a great job lighting our way. The frothing white of waves is easy to see. Rocks are invisible. The raft guide was solid, but we both felt better having me in front. I entered the Hospital Bar riffles middle left to avoid the hole at the bottom. I should have gone more right. I bounced over some rocks. That was the only scary part of the night kayak. The raft stayed more right. We both missed the big hole in Hospital Bar. Clean lines.
Approaching each remaining class 2 rapid, I checked-in with the raft guide and communicated lines. I used simple arm gestures to show which part of the river was cleanest. Paul kept the light on me. He rocks. Our verbal and arm-signal communication ensured we stayed away from rocks and sticky holes. Recovery Room is clean down the left. You can skirt Surprise on the right. We avoided rocks in the bonus rapids and met the SAR zodiac in the reservoir. They towed us to Skunk Hallow where we met the 911 cavalry. EMS warmed up Dan while I debriefed with my group.
Ellis and our expert had run shuttle and got into warm clothes. Jeff had going hiking with a second search party. They walked upstream from the Skunk Hallow trail on river right, looking for us. When their trail got to where Hospital Bar is, they were a quarter mile uphill from the river. This was the trail we originally thought we'd hike out on. Unfortunately, it wasn't close to the river.
Lessons for Winter Boating and Rescue Scenarios: Prep for getting stuck on the river in the dark and the cold
Not a boater? Maybe you ski or backpack? While many of these lessons are detailed for winter kayaking, they have components that apply to all wilderness sports. Communication. Planning ahead. Handling and monitoring the victim. Keep track of all people in the rescue to prevent more people from becoming victims. Keep track of key pieces of gear. Start the day with all the right gear. Start the day early.
1. Start earlier in the day.
2. Bring a water-proof map. Know your egress points. If the paper isn't waterproof, add it your first aid kit. SFA River Patrol prints waterproof river maps for the SFA. I carried one from 2011-2017. Last year, I gave it to a beginner because I thought I wouldn't need it anymore. My mistake. Most rivers don’t have maps handy. Make one use Google Earth’s topographic map layer and put it your first aid kit.
3. Everyone needs a drysuit with sufficient layers and river shoes. Even if you are confident that you won't swim, someone else might. If someone has a cold swim, get out of your boat to help drain their boat.
4. Pack dry clothes in your drybag. Pack more water and food then you think you need. A wise guide taught me to keep chocolate candy in my PFD.
5. Add a beanie, headlamp + batteries, storm matches and lighters, paper to burn, a space blanket, and plastic jar of peanut butter to your first aid kit.
6. Carry a breakdown paddle. We started with 4 paddles and one set of hand paddles. After our expert starting rafting up with Dan, Ellis used the hand paddles like a champ during the middle of the scenario. He was paddled out with my paddle.
7. Make sure someone has phone coverage on or near the river. Verizon markets itself has the cell phone company for rural areas. They are the only provider with coverage on the SFA. Make sure the phone is charged and/or bring a fully charged USB charger. Program the number for the El Dorado County Sheriff. They know the river. Calling 911 worked, but it was slower. Calls will drop. Open the call with location, river mile, and injury, "South Fork American, Hospital bar, hypothermia". If you boat other rivers, add the county sheriff number for that county too. Know how to drop a pin on google maps and find the lat/long. I struggled here.
8. Practice building a fire anywhere you can with different fire starting tools and different materials. Practice in a fireplace, backyard fire ring, or out camping. Practice with wet and dry kindling. Practice in the rain. Building a fire kept Dan stable and kept Paul and I from getting cold and becoming victims too.
9. Add glowsticks and zip ties to your first aid kit. I could have attached these to my PFD, increasingly my visibility on the egress.
10. If you're warm in the parking lot, wear the extra layer or pack it in your drybag.
11. Help cold swimmers drain their boats, especially if they don't have drysuits. Don't let them stand in the water.
12. Take the initiative, but don’t try and be a hero. Aim to be a zero
1. Keep track of key gear, including keys, phones, meds, and first aid kits. As the sun was setting and our group was leaving me with Dan and Paul, People were trading drybags and gear very quickly. I made sure our diabetic expert wasn't separated from her meds and snacks. While I kept my drybag at the campfire, I made sure my car keys went downstream with Ellis.
2. Check-in with your crew and with people that join your group. Ask if they are comfortable with the next rapid, can roll, and know the lines. Keep track of everyone else's temperature too.
3. Maintain communication within your crew. Define what whistle blasts mean.
4. Only considering kayaking at night if you are solid, can see the lines in your head, are adding safety, and have a light source. I am comfortable with my decision to night paddle. I wanted to support the raft and help it find safe lines. I knew I was less likely to swim from my kayak than a stranger’s raft. The only mistake I made on the night paddle was going too far left on the riffle entrance to Hospital Bar. Everything else was smooth. Rocks are harder to see by flash light than waves. If I had to do it again, I would have stuck to the waves more.
5. If you have a rand skirt, don't assume it will fit on any boat.
6. If you are good at an outdoor sport, take a long break, and then come back in 15 years, don't assume you can run the same stuff you used to run. Start small and rebuild your skills.
I'm proud of my group because we helped a kayaker get home safe. Our actions may have helped saved Dan's life. We had mistakes and successes along the way. When we made a mistake on the river, we fixed it. We stabilized Dan and helped egress him. If we had known our egress points, we would have gotten Dan out earlier and with less swims. Please learn from them. We have learned from the mistakes we made on the river and in the gear and knowledge we didn't bring.
Everyone from my group and Dan’s contributed solution-oriented ideas, actions, gear, and positive morale to the rescue. No one else became a victim. I am thankful for my training and time with the my raft guide program, my swiftwater rescue and wilderness medicine training, and my adventures throughout the boating community. I'm also thankful to many people I’ve boated with for teaching me valuable skills that I used on this rescue, consciously or unconsciously. I'm proud to boat with stellar people who care about their skills. I'm proud that we always take initiative and rise to the occasion. I hope this story and lessons are educational.
Stay safe out there,