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Thread: Learned some lessons, flipped our raft on the Nenana

  1. #1
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    Default Learned some lessons, flipped our raft on the Nenana

    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.

    Curtis

  2. #2

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    Good story, Good lesson, glad your safe. Welcome to the Forum......

  3. #3
    Member tboehm's Avatar
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    Default glad for you

    Thanks for taking the time to post your story and I'm glad to hear that you and your friend are alright. I'm no expert and have limited rafting experience my self but my impression is that alot of people don't wear drysuits. Now that may be an incorrect statement for the water that you were on. What class was it? I would think that would be the deciding factor in the suits. It will be interesting what the other more experienced members will have to say.

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    Member Ridgerat's Avatar
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    Thank God you guys are ok! Its amazing how fast a joy ride can turn terrifying and life threatening! Sounds like you guys did a very good job keeping your cool and focus to get to safety!

    I'm not an expert either...but would recommend sticking to mellower floats and gradually increase your exposure to bigger water as you feel more comfortable.

    I would also recommend spending some time in the boat with someone who has experience and good technique rowing. Rowing a boat IS very simple, but you will learn some valuable lessons much quicker and safer this way than on your own.

    One more thing comes to mind, there are some important things to learn about what NOT to do if you find yourself in the water. I'm not a trainer so i wont give you misleading information, but after a couple flaots down 6-Mile with NOVA I feel a little more educated and comfortable with self rescue. They give a pretty good informative speech prior to their float on the "do's and the dont's" while in the water. There are porbably some good videos available too, which I would like to get my hands on too!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Glad you guys are okay. Stories like this and the other one on the Kenai River float remind me how easy it is for things to go wrong on a river, whether you know what you're doing or not. Some things you might find helpful in the future:

    1. Experience is not always the best teacher. You can have years of experience, but be doing it wrong the whole time. Spend some time with other rafters who know their stuff; you'd be surprised what you pick up from them.

    2. Never get complacent. Nice, sunny days and flat water can lull you into a false sense of security that will bite you if you run into a challenging stretch of whitewater. The river doesn't care if you live or die.

    3. Buy the video "Let's Get Wet" and watch it several times. It contains a wealth of knowledge on how to respond to river emergencies.

    4. Ensure you have your safety gear and know how to use it. Rescue bags, flip lines, and PFDs do you no good unless you know how to use them.

    The symptoms you experienced in your capsizing are very serious. If you had been farther from shore, there is a chance we would be reading about you in the paper by now. The fact that you survived is a tribute to God's providence, and your mental toughness in not giving up. Never forget the lessons you learned on this trip, and you'll be more cautious in the future.

    Thanks for posting! I hope we hear more from you!

    -Mike
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    Member Heg's Avatar
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    Default

    Welcome to the forum Curtis.

    Swimming in glacier water sucks! It sucks the right life out of you. Glad you guys were strong enough to make it to shore. What is a “fun” swimming experience in the Lower 48 can be deadly in Alaska. The Nenana is a roadside Alaskan classic with numerous put-ins and take-outs that cater to a lot of ability levels. Although I would not call myself an expert (I am relatively young in rafting years), I have had a couple near flips in the Canyon; these close-call experiences have helped me become a safer boater, and I am sure you too will be a better rafter after your experience.

    People may disagree with me, but I think wearing a drysuit depends on your ability, group ability, familiarity with the water, acceptance of risk, flow, class of river, etc.

    Way to go on getting the cooler back. Did you drink your bootie beer?

  7. #7
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    First time I floated the Nenana, hardly anyone wore a drysuit, even in the canyon section. Fotrunately for a lot of people that has changed in recent years. It's not normally dangerous water except for the cold. Glad you guys got out of it before being in it too long. Still, I doubt I would have worn a drysuit in that section.

    But what this reminded me of is something I was told many years ago; Man made structures in rivers are almost always the most dangerous things in the water. Way too many flat or vertical faces to flip boats on.

  8. #8

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    Does your buddy work for Anchorage BMW?
    I've been talking to him about a car and he mentioned that he was in a flipped raft situation on the Nenana recently. Glad you guys made it out.
    Take care, abel6wt

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    Quote Originally Posted by abel6wt View Post
    Does your buddy work for Anchorage BMW?
    I've been talking to him about a car and he mentioned that he was in a flipped raft situation on the Nenana recently. Glad you guys made it out.
    Take care, abel6wt
    Yes he does! That is a really weird coincidence, yes that is who I was with, Reuben. This just happened on Thursday.

    And honestly I didn't think we needed drysuits either, but this experience goes to show that anything can happen at any given moment on a river, and don't take safety for granted. I have actually rafted with three different Nenana companies, and have learned quite a bit from each rafting guide. They all have their own techniques and wealth of knowledge when it comes to safety.

    Thanks for all of the thoughtful posts guys and the warm welcome!

  10. #10
    Member Vince's Avatar
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    Default

    once again the old adage....


    Alaska is a small town...


    is proved
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

    meet on face book here

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Just a few feet from shore/safety seems common...

    s13Curtis, thanks for sharing this story and the lessons in it.

    I've wondered if I should just get into the water, in some more controlled situation, to reduce some of the surprise of cold water shock and incapacitation.

    Knik Canoers & Kayakers, Anchorage (and other groups no doubt) make a point of getting into the water to practice rescue. They wear dry suits, but I suspect most rafters/boaters in AK do not. Some training, formal or informal, it seems would increase one's chances if it ever happened. And like you pointed out, the time we have to act can be short.

    More:
    http://www.coldwaterbootcamp.com/pages/cfv2.html
    http://www.coldwaterbootcamp.com/pages/1_10_60v2.html

    Thanks again and welcome...back.

  12. #12

    Default Glad you are okay

    with lessons learned. Having been a rafting guide many many years ago, in a galaxy far far away.....oh wait, I digress....
    That was on the New River, and we didn't wear dry suits there....but the water is soooo much different than here in Alaska.
    I have been a sea kayak guide for about 8 years out of Seward, and can say that ALWAYS DRESS FOR THE WATER, not the air temps. With the rivers running so much colder than the ocean here, that can't be stressed enough.
    Statistically, also, it is always that "1%" that gets us (people) into trouble. Especially in Alaska.
    Glad you made it through the ordeal. The mental 'tude can have much to do with making it -v- not as well, as you have learned.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Default Lucky to survived!!

    I am also very glad you guys are ok, I experienced it as well, scary... I pm you the story!!

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