First of all, I must say that I am a pretty novice rafter. My friend and I wanted to do an easy stretch of the Nenana to get some more experience under our belts. So, we decided to put-in at the Jack River by Cantwell, and float down to the Glitter Gulch area(Mile 238 Parks Highway). This was last Thursday 8/13/09.
We rented an NRS Otter raft, and the rental came with life jackets, a repair kit, and three oars. The only thing it didn't come with was drysuits. We made the STUPID STUPID HORRIBLE decision to neglect the drysuits, because of the $350 deposit needed to rent them locally. This was my 4th time on the Nenana this summer, so I know the river really well, and knew that it was a really calm stretch of river. But, that is no excuse whatsoever to neglect drysuits, which I now know.
The trip was mostly a calm float, and we didn't start seeing many rapids until we passed mile 231 or so. It took us about 10 hours to get from Cantwell to the Kingfisher bridge at mile 238. We hit a couple of stretches where it was nearly impossible to miss rocks, but all in all didn't have any problems maneuvering the raft for 99% of the trip...
This last 1% is where the disaster occured...We were about 100ft from the bridge when hit a pretty rough stretch of water. The gusting winds, some rough rapids, and the current of the river carried us straight into one of the supporting concrete beams of the Kingfisher bridge, flipping the raft and sending us into the 36 degree water. The cold shock instantly hit, and I was completely disoriented. We were trapped under the raft so first thing was to get out from under it. When I did this, I was probably a good 30ft from the east bank, so I knew I had to start giving it my all and swim. The river was moving quick and I felt like I wasn't getting any closer to the bank, and was losing feeling in every part of my body. I was experiencing muscle discoordination and I could barely breathe at all making it extremely difficult to swim. But there was NO WAY I was going to let myself be in this water for more than another minute or two, because I felt like I would have been toast if I hadn't tried to swim out of it. I thankfully reached the shore and crawled out of the water with every ounce of adrenaline I had left. I could barely even crawl, let alone stand up and walk away, which was scary, but at least I made it out along with my friend. It took us 5 minutes or so to even be able to walk straight, but we got up because we had a mile long walk back to my room so we could warm up.
Anyways, we survived, but we definitely need more experience before heading out on these ventures. And DRYSUITS, wow I feel so stupid. I'm sure you all will laugh at our stupidity, but I wanted to share my story.
We actually were able to save the raft the next morning which was a shocker, as it only floated about 1/4 mile further down the river where it got caught on some rocks. Hell we even salvaged our cooler, with everything still in it! But the most important thing was our lives, which we will no longer take for granted with our stupidity.
I know this is my first post, but I am here to learn from some of you more experienced Alaskan rafters and I am all ears. I am only in Alaska for the summer, but next summer I plan on coming back, and returning with better preparation and more experience.