Lava Falls the Hard Way - Page 4

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Meanwhile, Scotty had entered the rapid and I turned my attention to him for the duration of his run. They say Lava Falls is the most exciting 8 seconds in water sports. I do believe it takes a couple seconds longer than that, but it is fast. Scotty elected to not wear his dry suit or a helmet. So, with flannel shirt sleeves flying, he stroked his way down into the meat of the right side like a madman on a mission. His run looked great… and he passed safely to the left of the grater. But then in an instant he was out of the boat. I later found that I had caught a photo of him exactly upside down, legs scissoring in the air as he plunged over the left side of his cataraft. I waited until I saw his head pop up before pulling my finger off the shutter button.

Scott, Amanda and I quickly huddled. Instantly and mutually we realized that we had broken a cardinal rule: none of us bothered to bring a throw bag to the scout. So our immediate plan was that Scott would race back to his boat and get a throw bag while Amanda would climb down to John to let him know we were on our way and do what she could to assist. I would follow behind Scott with full rescue gear, water, and anything else I could think of.

Before I reached my boat, I met Scott on his way back toward John. He muttered 'take your time' as we passed. It had a calming effect. The three of us were on our own and would have to deal with this situation ourselves – we knew no other groups would be coming by that day. It was time to start thinking – thinking hard. I took the time to put on my felt-soled boots and dug out some leather gloves. These would turn out to be fortunate decisions. I grabbed a couple Nalgene bottles of water, two more throw bags, a long length of Spectra line, and pulleys, carabiners, and webbing and headed out. The hike down to John was tough – steep, sharp, and loose basalt scree, finishing with a crawl on hands and knees under a house-sized rock.  I arrived bleeding.

By the time I reached the top of the rock above John’s boat, he was on shore. He'd tossed a rope and Amanda had anchored it and John extracted himself, climbing up the basalt outcrop. John was totally spent and we got him into some shade and gave him water. The boat was bucking around a couple feet out from the solid basalt shoreline. The footing was treacherous - steep and slimy. Off-loading the gear onto shore was not an option due to the danger of falling in on the upstream side of the Cheese Grater and the slot, and other strainers beside it.

So 'Plan A' was hatched: get a rope on one end of the boat and pull with a z-drag to rotate the boat out of its current broadside orientation. We looked to get it in line with the current and hoped to move it upstream. Then we would look for a surge to flush it out into the main current or get it far enough upstream to jump in and row it out. Scott crept out so he could reach the bow and hooked on a line. We set up the z-drag far upstream where we could find the nearest anchor point. Much of the ‘shore’ is solid basalt and house-size boulders, with no flat ground. Places to anchor were few and distant. Once we finally got set, we huddled to make sure that everyone understood that if the boat did get free, we would have two lines under tension and might need to immediately cut them, depending on the outcome. So we made sure our knives were free. And we became very conscious of the loose rope lying around at our feet.

On a very lucky day, this plan might have succeeded. But from our position, pulling on the line, we could not see the boat or the surge of the rapid. Timing the surging water was the key, and we tried to do it verbally with a spotter but could never quite make it happen. We might have gotten more leverage but we didn’t have enough of the right diameter prussic loops for the throw bag line we happened to have attached to the boat. I’ve since added more sizes to my pin kit.

We continued trying for a while and just as we gave up, Mike joined us, having hiked up from the spot known as 'Tequila Beach' below Lower Lava rapid. Martin stayed behind to watch for gear if any floated into that eddy. Mike said Scotty was totally trashed from his swim, almost catatonic, was banged up pretty bad, and was with his boat. While we were discussing the situation with Mike, and collecting our lines and anchors from plan A, a surge flipped John's boat. Our situation had now gone from bad to worse.

We moved on to Plan B: we would attempt to re-flip the raft by getting a line on the far side and then pulling across it to flip the raft over toward shore with as much mechanical advantage and strength as we could muster. Mike crawled out across the bottom of the upside-down boat and reached down to connect a 'biner to the chicken line on the far side. This was no small feat – spread-eagled across the slippery bottom of the bucking boat with his nose inches from the water roaring by. Scott and I searched for anchors on the hillside above. This plan never really got very far as anchors and footing were scarce and we all remembered the effort and leverage needed to flip the other boat earlier in the trip - it took all 7 of us then. We just didn’t have the power to make this plan happen. And even if it had succeeded, the boat would not be free - we'd be right back to where we were when we launched plan A.

Mike then suggested the previously un-thinkable – we should dismantle the boat and squeeze it edge-wise through the slot beside the Cheese Grater. With the boat upside down and surging violently in the mouth of the slot, this would require that we first drag it as far up onto the basalt as we could. We would then reach down under the boat and cut the gear off the frame and then cut the frame off the boat until the whole thing became light enough for us to tip it up and shove it through the slot. I found a piece of driftwood and some cord and lashed Amanda’s river knife to the end, spear-like. Amanda’s knife had the only handle style that would facilitate a real strong lashing – a nice feature to think about when buying a river knife.

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