So, it's that time again to talk about ropes in the river. Seems like this discussion comes up every year, but it's a good one to have. Here we go:
The Tale of Rope #1.
Rope #1 has one serious problem. It's too short. The new ropes that everyone is carrying in their PFDs are awesome......AS BACK-UP ROPES! They are generally around 40 feet and simply too short for many uses. Always carry a full size - minimum 80 feet - throw bag in your boat! When you get out of your boat for any reason, but especially scouting, always take your full size rope. This is as simple as river safety gets. Don't boat with people who can't figure it out. You never know who will run the rapid first or maybe someone from another group will drop in, get pounded and need a rope.
To illustrate my point about rope #1, here is a picture of me running 57 Chevy on Escalante Creek. In the shot you can see Kyle Hagadorn digging out of the pothole on river right.
(Photo: Lori Merritt)
Later that day we watched in horror as a paddler dropped into the pothole and swam. We were gorged out below and couldn't get back upstream to help from the bank. The paddler's buddy threw rope #1 at his recirculating friend and guess what? The rope didn't reach. You can tell from this photo that it is not a long distance throw across Escalante creek. But it's longer than a chest throw bag. Thankfully, the swimmer was not being recirculated too bad, was able to stabilize himself in the pocket and then swim on his own back to shore above a class V killer rapid. No thanks to his paddling buddy.
In short, definitely carry a PFD throw bag. I've swam and then needed to rope my buddy out of the same hole with my PFD throw bag. I've swam and then needed my chest bag to pull my boat off a rock. However, you also always need a full length rope in your boat and in your hand on scouts. I've personally witnessed a long rope save a life, where the swimmer definitely couldn't be reached with a short rope.
The Tale of Rope #2.
Rope #2 is plenty long enough and was on hand while scouting/setting safety. The problem with rope #2 is that it was thrown at the wrong time. In this case, three kayakers had come cleanly through Rigor Mortis on Clear Creek and were immediately below the hole. The fourth boater came through and swam. All three remaining kayakers peeled out and were within reach of the swimmer from the instant he swam. At this point, rope #2 was thrown at the swimmer without any eye contact between the swimmer and thrower. Rope #2 landed well within reach of the swimmer, but right behind his head - he never saw it. Now rope #2 was draped across the river, nearly ensnaring the three kayakers. Have you ever tried paddling with a rope draped across your paddle? It's nearly impossible as the snare becomes worse and worse. Rope #2 definitely could have caused another swim and possibly an entrapment in this scenario.
A Shot of Rigor on a better day with higher flow
There are a bunch of lessons from rope #2. First, always make sure to get eye contact with the swimmer before throwing a rope. I will never throw a rope to a person who is not looking directly at me. They will miss the rope and you will have missed your shot at a save. Second, if rope #2 had entangled someone, it is essential that everyone has a knife accessible while underwater. Not in a pocket, not binered to something, but removable underwater. I know these accessible knives fall out and occasionally you loose them - call it the price of boating and just buy a new one every few years. Third, never throw a rope into other paddlers. Kayakers in the water are frequently the best option for swimmer safety - let them do their job. In short, be very conservative about throwing ropes. Just because you have one in hand does not make it the best option and frequently it is not.
The Mank Crew rallied up to the Poudre and set safety at Whiteline. It was running a solid medium 2.5 feet. We scouted Whiteline extensively and noticed a little spray coming out of one of the entrance holes. As my homie dropped in, he pitoned the hell out of that little spray. I also didn't realize how solid the rock was right behind the spray and thought we'd go right over it. Wrong. Homie surfed the first hole, which fed out river right. Then he dropped over the next hole with no speed. This hole is bad at that level. He cartwheeled for awhile, but lost energy and swam. Thankfully, Ben was setting safety at that hole with rope #3 because just downstream 20 some odd feet is a powerful 8 foot waterfall. After homie body recirculated for two rounds in the hole, he popped up on the river right wall headed for the waterfall. The entire time homie was swimming in the hole, Ben could see his helmet and kept yelling to get his attention. Ben didn't just throw rope #3 into the hole with the swimmer. Ben kept cool, waited and threw the rope after the swimmer came out of the hole and looked up at him. Rope #3 was long enough, timed right and a perfect throw. The strength of the current almost pulled Ben into the river and almost ripped the swimmer off the rope and into the falls, but both barely held on as the swimmer pendulum into the eddy.
Look closely and you can see rope #3 coming for the swimmer in the pic below.
(Photo: Joel Bakken)
I had the huge advantage of a second scout after the swim and got to boof the living daylights out of it. Thanks to Kevin - I do think Lefty is the way to stroke it!
Photo: Joel Bakken)
So, carry a long rope, throw it judiciously when in contact with the swimmer, have a knife handy and be prepared to take a big pull into the river when you catch someone on line. Safe lines out there and have a great season everyone!