Swimming in Class IV rapids

As I mentioned the other day, last Saturday Barb and I went white water rafting and I went swimming in Class IV rapids. I thought I might get some video from Riverbooty.com but they only took stills. Here are what I think are the most interesting of them (sequential frames):

Situation good. I am the person in the right front part (closest to the camera) of the raft. Barb is the second person from the front on the left side.

The raft is starting to dig into the water right beside me. Still okay.1708060
Digging in deep and slowing down. My center of gravity is getting close to the edge of the raft but I have my left foot hooked into the bottom of the raft for stability. Still no big worries.

Time to start worrying. The raft is digging in deep and slowing down. My weight is shifting more over the edge.

Most of the right edge of the raft is under water and I’m over the edge. If things don’t get much worse I can pull my self back in with my left foot like we did in training.

Things are much worse. My momentum carried me over the edge as the raft slowed down and now I have the drag of the water on nearly my entire body. There is almost zero hope of getting back in from here. Jodie is starting to reach for my leg. Barb is unaware.

I still have my left foot anchored but the raft is coming back up while I have the weight and drag of the water on top of my entire upper body. I remember trying to pull myself back in with my foot but I didn’t have the strength. Jodie is trying to grab me but this is going to be futile.

The raft is back on top of the water and my left foot has slipped free. Part of my body has come up but there is still far too much drag for me to retain a grip on the raft with just my lower legs. Barb is still unaware.

Game over. Jodie doesn’t even have hold on me. I’m going for a swim.

Contact with the raft is lost and we are separating. Jodie reported that she was “SO SCARED” and screamed “SWIMMER!”. Barb notices.

Let’s play, “Where’s Joe?” If you look at the full resolution picture you can see a hint of yellow from my helmet.

My helmet appears and the separation increases.

There’s Joe!

I’m on top of the water and Jodie still wants to grab me. But it’s not happening.

The raft continues downstream even as the people paddle to stay with me. I’m disoriented and turned the wrong direction to swim toward the raft even if I had the presence of mind to do so.

The paddlers can’t fight the current and I’m not helping.


1708075The current starts turning my head downstream which is wrong. You want your feet downstream so you can use them as shock absorbers against rocks and to push yourself away from hazards. I’m still recovering my senses and not doing anything.

The rotation increases.

The same sequence from a different camera. Click on the pictures for a higher resolution:












The raft pulled off to the side, as did several other rafts, and waited for me to catch up. After turning to face directly upstream I remembered (or did people yell at me? I’m not sure…) to turn with my feet downstream. I probably became separated from the raft by 100 feet or so and didn’t directly encounter the rocks or tree (trees are also known as “strainers” with the swimmer as the “noodle”—very dangerous).

As I approached the collection of rafts the guide in a different raft yelled instructions for me to start swimming. I still had my paddle in one hand and used a side stroke to retain the paddle and get closer to my raft. I wasn’t going to quite intercept it and our guide reached out with his paddle, which I grabbed and was pulled back to the boat. The trainee guide (right rear of the raft with the black hat) pulled me in.

We then completed the journey without events of particular note.

Barb reported that she was very upset and that others in the raft were reassuring and petting her. We decided that Class IV was more than we want to do again. Maybe Class III.

I told our team that for our next morale event I want to do something safer, like play with guns and explosives.


9 thoughts on “Swimming in Class IV rapids

  1. Bouncing out of the boat is always a bit ‘fun’.

    Last year on the Yellowstone, my 7yo daughter was sitting on the bow and fell forward off the boat. We felt her bumping along the bottom and she surfaced a few feet behind the boat. There were a few tears, but she was good this year when we went rafting again.

  2. Came out of a raft in the spring run off of the Lehigh river. We messed up and the raft ran up on a rock, folded in half and dumped three of us out the back.
    I remember the guide saying they rescued rafters with paddles first, paddles second and rafters without paddles last. I ended up with two paddles but it was a bit before a kayak caught up with me.

    I thought it was fun but I was much younger and dumber at than now.

    • It’s a life threatening situation. When I was a freshman in high school the girl’s P.E. instructor and her roommate died while whitewater rafting (or maybe they were in a canoe or kayak, I don’t remember for certain).

      I didn’t feel in any immediate danger but realized it was a very serious situation. I probably floated downstream for 100 yards or so before the raft was able to find a quiet enough spot in the water to hold their position while I caught up with them.

  3. A retired u-tuber w/channel recovers lost articles from river rafting areas. Does this both free diving and with SCUBA. He does this on the East Coast, mostly. Primarily he hunts for Civil War artifacts. His u-tube handle is: “Aquachigger”

    Here’s a short clip:


    On one of his video comments he mentions that one of the areas he does this has an underwater ledge that has trapped several fallen rafters causing them to drown.

  4. Happy day, and congratulations for still being alive!

    Some might say that seeking out a dangerous situation purely for entertainment is a bad idea, and I suppose they’d have a point. I’m torn on that. I think it’s in our make-up to do that once in a while, and if we don’t test our limits then how will know them?

    Then there’s the adrenaline junky, who I’d say has a pathological condition. There must be a way to define a proper balance.

    The common question, “What do you do for excitement?” I think is often silly, because excitement per se is not what I think about when I get up in the morning. Excitement rarely leads to satisfaction, whereas accomplishment and understanding always do.

    “What do you do for peace?” should be a common question. Well, sometimes, overcoming a potentially deadly situation can be very settling.

    • Lyle,
      I think that too many people probably lump most potentially physically hazaerdous activities as adrenaline playgrounds for participants.
      I would say that if the activity requires skills to participate and survive, that label is not accurate.
      I used to roadrace motorcycles, and an adrenaline dump from a close call in a race (a near crash) would slow you down until your body could flush it. Fine control was slightly lacking, and required backing off the pace for a few corners, or a full lap or more.
      The more experience I got with a vehicle hanging at or near the limits of adhesion and control, the less impact a problem would have on my performance, as my body reined in the amounts of adrenaline it dumped when things got squirrelly, to the point that it became simply a reference to make a change in my corner line. I realized that had happened when after a race, spectators would talk about an incident with absolutely huge eyes, and comments would be “I couldn’t believe you didn’t crash when your bike did that!”.

  5. Pingback: Another good classifier | The View From North Central Idaho

  6. Like Windy Wilson, my first thought was “keep the paddle!”.
    2nd thought was “one does not swim class IV, one survives class IV”.

    Glad you made it. I’d miss the fireballs if only via the internet.

    My story: My first whitewater paddle was in a borrowed tandem boat; my partner and I had both paddled for years but always solo. While several of the “experts” capsized and became hypothermic, us newbies merely got pummeled by haystacks and stayed upright. The force of water is amazing. Then it started snowing… Good times!

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