Twas the night before halloween, and all though the land, creatures and ghouls were about to haunt the lands. They flocked stores for last minute tricks and possibly treats but I was as possibly white as a sheet. For before I could go out with the ghouls in the land, there was one task that was at hand…. and that task was to jump and float into a raging river without a boat.
I had signed up for the SwiftWater Technician class through my school (put on by rescue 3 International) taught by Erik Sol, and co taught by Brett Turnbull (owner of Alliance Training LLC) and the day before (October 30), nervousness and panic had started to set in. It felt like I had a million thought racing; was I ready? Yes I am. Nope I’m not Did I have x gear? I have it, no I don’t. I’ll need to make a trip to the store… Did I get all my work done? yes..? But most importantly, can I do it?
The next day I got to find out. Bright and early on Halloween day, a crew of students caravanned to Nugget rapid, a section on the Rouge River near Gold Hill Oregon.
We unloaded the personal gear that we need (dry suits, helmets, pfd), suited up and got the show on the road. The first part was kind of a blur; we went over throwing a throw bag (had practice rounds) cow tail release practice. I felt a little bit nervous but felt confident enough on dry land. After that, we headed down to the river to set up the swimming drill and had been explained the flow to the drill. There would be a rotation; swimming and then to help people out of the water and repeat it all again. After the demonstration it was our turn to jump into the churning water. I was in the line to jump in and watched others acrobatic dives. The line seemed to move up pretty fast and sure enough it was my time. I got the go ahead, and I tried not to fall flat on my face on the slippery rock (it’s one of the more dangerous parts to getting in the water). I was so nervous but there was no turning back and I had to face the music (well the water in this case). Before I knew it I had jumped in; My arms and body were straight and my chest was out (so that my pfd would get the impact) and I was in the water. Somehow I remembered to turn on my back with my butt and legs up (defensive swimming) and got a delicious face full of water up my nose.
Almost immediately after jumping in (and turning over) there was a hole in the river/dip where it drags you down a little bit, but shoots you out. That was surprising and scary because I had never been in a hole like that before. After that it was time to flip over to my belly and aggressively swim to the shore and attempt to gracefully get out of the water. The group did that for a couple of rotations and then it was on to..
LIVE BAIT! (A.K.A jumping in to rescue a person) This was probably one of the challenging things for me (the entire class was, but if I had to pick one thing this would be it). It involves a belay team, a swimmer and a rescuer.
The rescuer is tied to a rope that’s attached to the back of a PFD, that is controlled/monitored by a belay team. That person has to time her jump so that the swimmer/victim is barely in from of the rescuer. The reason for that is so that the swimmer doesn’t grab the front of the pfd of the rescuers , also it would impact swimming ability.
Not going to lie. I avoided being the first tethered rescuer to go because I lacked confidence in my timing abilities and also didn’t want to land on the swimmer.. So I opted to be in the rotation for swimmer.
It was a bit odd being a person who needed rescuing since we had just practiced swimming to the shore. My instincts told me to swim but orders where to stay put and let the rescuers rescue you.
After swimming I got in the end of the belay line and rotated till I got to the top of the belay (the lead belayer). The lead belayer controlled the rope (with the help of the other belayers) with commands of “slack” “ tension” and “feather.” to help guide the rescuer safely back to shore. It took me a couple of times to get the hang of it, but I sort of did it and pretty soon I got to rescue someone. And did it over and over again.
The next day November 1st was split up between dry land training and river time. On land we spent time on learning about knots, anchor systems and how to unwrap and rescue a boat. I had some prior knowledge of building anchors (thanks to my rope rescue technician course) but it was great to review and learn how it applies to water based scenarios.
The other portion of the day was going over shallow water crossing and going down a rapid! I was nervous because I didn’t want to fall in and or lose my paddle. Fortunately I had a pretty solid person who was guiding the raft that I was in. Once we got down we practiced getting out of the raft and back in. I was very sore after that.
All in all it was a great two days filled with great people, great instructors and lots of learning opportunities.
Like any skill I’m going to have to use it (and practice it) or lose it because it’s something that can be lost very easily.
Most of these photos are from Bouldering Badger Outdoors. “Like” their facebook page to stay connected and be apart of Bouldering Badger Community at Bouldering Badger Community