The last week as been a hectic one I have to say. I set off from Montana in hopes of catching high water on the west coast for the third annual Northwest Huck Fest. Upon arriving in Hood River we found exactly what we were looking for: lots of water!
The Huck Fest is notoriously a trip to Oregon every spring to find some amazing waterfalls to run, and this year our goals were no different. It had been a few months since I had been in my boat but we still started things off with a bang running Outlet Falls. Everything went great and three of us ran the falls one after the other all without mishap and good lines.
We then went to scout Rattlesnake creek which has a couple of very large waterfalls which have never been run before because of the large amount of water it takes to bring them in. I got in at the top of upper Rattlesnake feeling good about the flow but for some reason it just didn't feel right to run it. I always trust to my gut instinct and knew that if at that point I ran the waterfall it would be going against everything I believed in so I called it off.
Todd Wells and I headed to over for a high water Money Drop descent, again with great success. Fearing the strength of the impact at the bottom of the falls, I let rip the biggest intentional boof of my life and had a surprisingly soft landing.
We continued on in search of waterfalls but the water had dropped significantly over the last few days and we were having trouble finding good enough flows for the drops we wanted to run. While scouting Butte Creek Falls (which turned out to be too low) we decided to stop by and take a look at Abiqua Falls, a large 95 foot tall waterfall. I never thought on our way there that I would have an interest in running it but after seeing it with my own eyes my thoughts changed entirely.
We showed back up the next day and after setting safety and taking all the necessary precautions I decided to run the waterfall knowing that there was less than ideal flow in the river. Coming off the lip everything was going great until about half way down my bow started to lift slightly. I threw myself out over my boat in hopes of getting it back down then at the last second I couldnt resist the urge to try and stomp the bow back down to vertical taking a big gamble of not being tucked at the bottom. Because of the less than ideal aeration and my boat not quite completely vertical my boat transitioned hard at the bottom and i immediately felt my back go. I rolled up fearing the worst and immediately started wiggling my toes to make sure they still worked. I knew something was wrong
One of my buddies, Capo, who is a EMT was in his boat at the bottom and immediately stabilized me on shore. After accessing my spine we figured it was probably a fractured vertebrate and upon arriving at the hospital we were told it was far worse than we had previously thought.
My L1 had a chance fracture almost all the way through it, if it had gone any further I wouldn't be walking. I went into a five hour surgery the next morning to have some some shiny new hard wear screwed into my spine to stabilize my compromised vertebrate.
The lessons I learned from this incident will undoubtedly change my paddling style and decision making about running high waterfalls. Being kayakers we have an amazing opportunity to look at lots of hard drops, rapids, and waterfalls, each with their own complications and technicalities. We all have our own style and a fairly good grasp of our abilities. I believe I could have run Abiqua Falls 100 times with out incident but because of the low volume and aeration the stakes were high, too high... I have learned that it is more important than anything to weigh the consequences of the drops and rapids we paddle and to always keep those in mind. In hindsight I dont regret running Abiqua Falls but I do regret running without the proper amount of water in river. If I was patient and waited for high water, even if it took another year, the results of my descent would have been very different. Pick and choose the drops and rapids you run wisely and always know that the key to a long healthy paddling career is good decision making. There will always be more rapids, drops, and waterfalls down the road to run if good decisions are made. I feel like I have been able to do this for my entire career up until a week ago, and it only took one wrong decision which could have cost me the rest of my paddling career. At it is this injury will set me back a few months, maybe more, but luckily I will be back on the water soon hopefully stronger and wiser for it. There is so much fun to be had in paddling with out risking serious injury or worse. So, I hope everyone has a wonderful paddling season, be safe, and have fun!