Thursday, June 4, 2009
The first time I went whitewater rafting I think I was 14 and at the Telluride Mountaineering School in Colorado. About 20 of us kids did a week long trip down the Green and Yampa Rivers in western Colorado. I happened to be with Dave, a short, fit man with a handlebar mustache. He was one of the more experienced rafting guides on the trip so when we came to a particularly difficult section of river, we were the first ones to go through so that others could follow our lead. On July 4 we got to a section of river that required us to stop, get out of our rafts and walk the banks of the river to survey the best way to navigate downstream. This part of the river had a "hole" in it that we were told had claimed 15 lives. For those unfamiliar with whitewater jargon, a hole in a river is where the water rushes over a large boulder , creating a depression, or "hole" on the downriver side and then recirculates back toward the boulder. Fast moving water over a large boulder makes for a deep hole, and therefore, a very strong, forceful current of water that can trap a person under the surface indefinitely - not good.
With the rest of the group watching from the shores we set off to show the group how to do it. With Dave yelling commands above the roar of the river we seemed to be on course but as we neared the hole the current seemed to suck us in its direction and as hard as we tried to paddle to avoid it, the river would not let us go. We went sideways over the top of the hole and the raft flipped over throwing everyone in. I was hit hard in the head - I think it was the oar. I remember the feeling of panic - of wanting to breathe but then realizing I was under water and that would mean drowning. So I held my breath and swam hard, fighting an unbelievable current of water. Somehow I popped up and caught a breath of air. A bit dazed from the hit, I opened my eyes to find 2 or 3 others on the flipped over raft reaching for me. I grabbed on to the raft hoping to be pulled up. From the shores I could see the others yelling frantically to look downstream. We were headed for another hole. All of a sudden I was sucked beneath the surface and and was forced to fight the river again. When I popped up this time the raft was further downstream with most of the group on top. I faced downstream and rode the rest of the rapids out until we were able to regroup on the shore.
The Toachi River in Ecuador presented us with a similar sized hole that we had to navigate around. This time we made it without flipping. The sketch was done where we put out and had lunch.