College Ambassadors

Unpredictable Rivers

Rivers are interesting characters with a mind of their own.  You can run the same stretch of river a thousand times and it may never look the exact same twice.  The North Platte River through southern Wyoming is usually a calm and easier river to fun on canoes.  However, you have to be ready for anything, as we soon found out, when leading a trip for an outdoor program for a university.  On these trips, you always have someone who has never done the activity before.  In this case, we had 6 people who had never canoed before.  We thought that it would be a great idea to start them off on the “easiest” stretch of river, however that “easy” stretch turned out to be a lot more technical than it was when we had last ran it.  There was a particular bend in the river where a bigger strainer was hanging out and caught a couple boats up against it.  One of the boats was able to escape the strainer, however the other one dumped and got pinned with great force from the water.  All of the participants escaped quickly and safely, however this boat was stuck with little movement at all.  Me being a trip leader, had to swim to the other side of the river with my partner to figure out what we could do in order to get this boat out of the water.  The participants were all pretty shaken up by the event, so we wanted to get the boat out nice and safely so they could see that everything would be fine. 

Well, as it turned out, the boat that was pinned under the water was the boat that had my phone, wallet containing our p-card, the truck keys, one of the first aid kits and two participants backpacks full of gear.  It had all been put in a dry bag that was secured to the inside of the boat, however we knew that with that much force coming from the river, the bag would surely fill with water.  This made us want to get the boat out of the strainer just that much more.  My partner and I found a way to crawl out on the strainer where we could see how it was stuck a little better.  We decided that I would crawl out onto the boat while my partner held on to my life jacket in a safe position so that I could jump on it with my whole weight so that we could potentially get movement out of the boat to try and get it unstuck.  It took over an hour of this till the boat finally made its way out of the strainer and down the river.  All of our belongings were recovered with little damage.  The whole group was able to calm down a little after this since we were able to recover all of this gear.  My partner and I gave another safety talk to the group and showed them that even if a river may be slow and easy in some parts, there will be somethings to be aware of ahead and to prepare for.  The participants then understood that it was not their fault and that because they were safely ejected from the boat, there was nothing to be seriously stressed about anymore.  We told them that they did everything they could have to get away from the strainer, it’s just that sometimes the river is unpredictable. Nobody was injured and nothing was lost.