Saturday, May 27, 2006


It started off as another beautiful day on the Top Yough. It had rained some the night before bringing the level up to runnable so we decided to skip the Saturday Upper Yough release and head there instead (as did many other people). There was considerable crowd in the parking lots and also at Swallow Falls. Between the boaters and tourists there was quite the audience. The four of us (me, Mark, Doug and Justin) ran Swallow and continued on to get in front of the crowd. We were having a great run. We bombed through the beginning and we got some nice pictures of all of us at Suck Hole (see below). I once again attempted the Room move but still no success (at least this time I didn't flip in the process!). Mark and Doug both completed it nicely though.

We were nearing the end of the whitewater section of the run. One of the last rapids has some fun little eddy catching moves that we've been practicing on each run. Mark went first and the rest of us followed. We had a good time eddy hopping our way down. Doug was last and when I got to the bottom I turned around to watch him. He had caught the last eddy and was working on peeling back out into the main flow. This took a moment though probably not more than a few seconds. Mark had been right there just before. I turned back around and he was gone and Justin suddenly started calling to me and signaling that something wasn't right. This seemed bizarre as there was nothing more than some class II water below us as far as I remembered.

I looked down stream and saw Mark. My view was partially blocked by rocks but I could see him. He appeared to be sitting upright though I couldn't see his boat. At first glance it seemed like he'd broached or pinned somehow but it didn't appear that he was in any immediate danger. Nonetheless I quickly started paddling towards him and then immediately realized something was very wrong. He was bending over and seemed to be in a great deal of pain. As I came around the rocks I saw that he wasn't actually in his boat. The boat was laying upside down on the rock (with his paddle laying beside it) and he was sitting on top of it (or maybe next to it I can't remember now). I paddled up to the rock and Justin was right next to me. He held my boat in place while I climbed out onto the rock beside Mark. He was sitting there holding his arm and I immediately knew he had dislocated it. I started asking him what happened and if he was alright otherwise but it quickly became clear that he was not.

I pulled my boat up onto the rock so that Justin could get out too and continued trying to help Mark. It became clear that he had been knocked unconscious and that he was extremely disoriented. The rock we were on had water going over it and he was leaning over into it. I tried to get him to sit up so that he wasn't laying in the water but it was hard as I had to avoid pulling on his shoulder so I held on to the other side and his pfd. I finally got him sitting upright but he couldn't stay up on his own. I kept trying to talk to him but he was initially extremely unresponsive. He didn't seem to understand what was going on. I would ask him questions and he'd mutter a quick response but didn't have the energy to put together complete sentences. His eyes weren't focusing on me and it seemed that he could loose consciousness any moment.

Justin had gotten out of his boat and climbed over to us. "Keep talking to him" he said. "Get him to talk to you, we have to keep him awake". But it was hard to keep him conscious. We asked if he remembered what had happened. He said he did. But we couldn't get him to talk to us and he kept closing his eyes. "Open your eyes Mark, please open your eyes". I was getting scarred. All I could think of was "please don't let him go to sleep". We had no idea if or what degree of head injury he might have. There was a small amount of blood near his mouth but otherwise there seemed to be no direct evidence of trauma to his face.

Justin wanted to check and see if he had a concussion. "We need to check his pupils and see if they're dilated" he said. "Open your eyes Mark, we need to look at them". But we couldn't get him to keep them open long enough. So Justin told him he was going to open them for him and we gently lifted his eyelids. His pupils looked normal so that was a good sign. Next we needed get him out of the water. He was going into shock and we needed to stabilize him and keep him from going hypothermic. He was slowly becoming a bit more responsive and was starting to resist us a little. He said he was okay so I told him he had get up. He could not of course. With Doug's help pulling him up by his pfd and Justin and I holding his legs (careful not to jostle his arm too much) we lifted him up onto a dry rock. I sat behind him supporting his head and back and continued talking to him trying to keep him conscious.

He kept saying he was okay and that he just needed to rest. "You can't go to sleep" we kept telling him and continued talking to him and making him respond at least a little. We started debating what to do. The takeout was only a little over a mile away and we knew there was a trail along the river as well. We were thinking we might need to send someone to get help as Mark wasn't improving enough to get up on his own. Justin had noticed the other group coming around the bend above us and said they would be there shortly. By the time they made their way down Mark was actually fully regaining consciousness and becoming more coherent. Eventually he was able to sit up some and then stand on his own and lean up against another rock. It was a wonderful relief to see him up and talking. He was even able to recall what had happened:

In the eddy hopping rapid everyone seemed to be having so much fun that I decided to show everyone a little slot in the next rapid down stream. It was a crappy little slot that from up stream looks a little too sketchy to try because the rocks on boh sides are obviously undercut but we had run it before and it was ok though a bit crappy. As I went through the water pushed me onto the right side undercut rock so I pushed off of the rock with my paddle which wasn't a big deal till the paddle got caught somehow and in an instant was pulled high behind me (because I was going down through the drop in the slot). I didn't let go fast enough and it quickly pulled my shoulder out.

In the next moment I found myself upside down on the back deck of the boat bouncing down the river on my face/chest. I slid my left hand up and grabbed my right (dislocated) arm and pulled it down by my side. At some point a rock hit my left front tooth and cause it to cut a good slice into the inside of my lip. Through all this I remembered that I had to relax my shoulder to get it to slide back in. So I spent a moment just focusing on relaxing the muscles in my shoulder till it finally slid back in. After that I started focusing back on my situation and realized that despite my not being able to lean forward to pull my skirt, it had come off, I guess due to my not being locked into my boat with my legs anymore. The next thing I knew I was washed up onto a flat rock that had bout 2 inches of water going over it with my boat next to me. I shoved the boat up furthur and looked up stream and made eye contact with Justin then layed down on the boat and passed out. The next thing I remember is Maggie holding me up and frantically asking if I was ok and what was wrong.

We sat and waited for the other group to arrive and debated what to do. Mark's arm was back in its joint but was quite completely useless. He tucked his hand behind his pfd to keep his arm immobilized as best as he could. He wasn't going to be able to paddle out. We decided that we should all hike out together. The other group arrived and hung out to help. The rocks we were sitting on were away from the shore and the current was too strong for him to wade across and putting him back in a boat didn't seem like a viable idea. So we helped him get back in the water and float a short way down to an eddie and he crawled up on to shore.

We decided that it would be best if Justin towed Mark's boat back to the takeout so that he wouldn't have to carry it. We put his skirt on it and tied off the tunnel with some string. I thought about asking Doug to do the same with my boat, that way he wouldn't' have to hike and I wouldn't have to carry my boat either. But this wasn't a good idea as I was worried that if Mark were to black out again it would be better to have two of us there. Once Justin had the boat all set up to be towed we left him to paddle down with the others. They had plenty of people to help him out. Many thanks to Mark C. and his group for the help!!

Mark wanted us to just paddle down and meet him at the bottom but there was no way we were going to leave him to trudge through the woods alone! So the three of us bushwhacked through some rhodo till we reached the trial (it was quite close to the river). Doug and I tethered our boats so that we could drag them and we made our way down. The trail had some logs across it that we had to drag our boats over but overall it wasn't a bad walk. Mark had gotten enough rest that the exhaustion had passed and he was doing well. When we reached the outflow of the Deep Creek Power plant he had to wade across the channel. Since they weren't releasing it was only about knee deep so it wasn't a big deal. Doug and I were able to get back into our boats and float along as the trail at this point followed the edge of the river closely so we could continue to keep an eye on Mark but not have to walk anymore. We reached the takeout safely and helped him get out of his gear. Luckily we were able to hold his arm stable enough to take his drytop off without having to cut it off of him!

We were all very happy that Mark did not have any really serious injuries or head trauma. His shoulder will need a couple weeks to heal. This was certainly the scariest situation I've been on on the river and I'm so thankful that everything turned out alright. No more running sketchy slots Mark!!

Mark running Suck Hole

Justin running Suck Hole

Maggie running Suck Hole

Doug running Suck Hole

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