Man oh man, what an experience this weekend was...
Like I said earlier, last year we did the middle fork of the American river which was rated at a class III-IV with only 1 or 2 actual class IV rapids. (Here's an explaianation of the different classes of whitewater). This time, the Kaweah River was rated at a IV+, in addition, because of heavy snow melt and water runoff, the flow was unusually high on the river meaning the water was faster, colder, and generally meaner. You can see a map of the river and the rapids here.
Now, being that last time we considered that we conquered the American River, we thought that the Kaweah would be only slightly more difficult... which it was... except in one spot.
Now, let me go back and elaborate a little about our rafting trip last year. The Middle fork of the American River is class III-IV. Like I said earlier, there were at most 2 class IV rapids on that whole river, with the most memorable one being Tunnel Chute. Those were fun albeit difficult rapids but there was a big difference in how we approached the different rapids. On Tunnel Chute, we basically all got into the center of the boat and rode it out. It was fun, relatively safe, and made us feel like we "conquered" that skill level. Basically an elevated sense of security and lack of respect for the power of the river and Mother Nature.
Oh how wrong we were...
Cyanotic. The name itself doesn't exactly conjure up images of puppies and butterflies. On that river, Cyanotic was the most difficult and longest rapid of the day and it was a true class VI+. Combined with the heavy flow, it was a disaster waiting to happen. What's even worse is that Cyanotic was up within the first 45 minutes or so of getting in the river.
Now, just as a disclaimer, what you're about to read isn't really due to the fault of our boat, but due to the fault of the boat in front of us. They didn't paddle very aggressively during the whole trip. We were the last boat in our caravan and we constantly caught up to them and bumped them. That's not really a problem on the calmer portions of the river but it's not a good idea to do so when you're in the middle of a rapid. Especially since in these rapids we had to do a LOT of paddling to maneuver ourselves through them safely.
With that said, we did the first few rapids with no major problems (and because we didn't fall out of our boat at all last time we were still thinking this river was going to be cake). Before we entered Cyanotic, we had to back paddle a bit to once again give ourselves some distance from the slow raft in front of us. The guide told us about the dynamics of the rapid and summed it up by saying if there's one rapid you don't want to fall out and swim in today, it's Cyanotic.
Of course, as fate would have it... guess which rapid we fell out on?
We entered Cyanotic paddling aggressively, ready to conquer the river... it was EXTREME ("Harold and Kumar" reference)!! Well, I guess we were being a little too extreme and aggressively and at the entrance of the nearly 1000 foot long rapid (think 3 football fields) the raft in front of us got stuck in a surf. With our momentum coming in we bumped them out and got stuck ourselves. Water started rushing in on side of the raft and the guide yelled out for us to go "over left" (meaning everyone go to the left of the raft to prevent water from rushing in the opposite side of the raft which could cause it to flip).
On the right side was Mike and some guy named Phil (no, not Philthy aka Booty) and before the could come over left the raft got rocked and they got thrown from the boat and dragged out by the current. Within a second of that happening, the guide yelled our for us to go over right but before we could scramble, water rushed in and knocked everyone of out the raft except Steph.
Now this is going to be my personal account because Mike and Phil tell it differently.
Chaos. Choking. Blindness. Sensory overload. I knew I was in the water. I tried to orient myself but wait, the current is pulling me under. I have no air, water just came into my lungs. Fight it try and come up. Gasp, precious oxygen. Oh no I'm under again. Rocks pummel me left and right. My water shoes come off. Gotta try and surface. Rocks everywhere banging my body. More water enters my lungs. Oh my god I could die. Fighting it does nothing. My body is useless against the strenght of the river. Gasp. Gasp. I just need some air. Damn, these rocks are tearing up my body. I'm slammed again and again. Calmer now. Another raft is telling me to swim left. Gotta summon up all my energy and try. My body isn't responding. Come on Ed, swim. Swim hard. A raft is nearby. Paddles come out toward me. Gotta reach them. One more burst. Reach. Reach... Got it. Hands come down and pull me on to the raft. Coughing. So much water. I regain my composure.
Wow. I might've been close to dying.
The violence of the water doing the dance with the rocks is evident on my body. Bruised elbow. Multiple bruises on my knees, shins, feet, and ankles. The right side of my ribs hurt like hell.
I'm out of the river now, looking around. Steph is floating by all alone in the boat. Phil is lying face up on the shore on top of some rocks. Mike is pulling himself out. Our guide made it to another raft. Everyone is safe. Everyone made it.
We make a detour and head back to camp. We lost most of our paddles and must get more to continue on. I also lost my water shoes and needed to get something else to protect my feet.
Landfall. We're back at camp. Do I want to continue? I really think I was close to dying. No, I have to continue on. It's Phil's first time. He's done. He's not getting back into the raft with us. Should I stay? No. I have to go and finish. It won't be that bad. What we just went through was the tougest part of the day. Everything else will be cake. The day is over. We finish up. I feel good. I made it trough and came out in one piece. Sore and tired, but alive and in 1 piece.
It was the closest to dying I think I've ever been. And the only thing I thought about was... it isn't my time.
But. In retrospect, (and I don't know if this is a good thing or not) as bad as the experience of being the the rapids, tossed around like a ragdoll in a washing machine, was it really as bad as I think it was at the time? I mean, at the end of everything, nothing actually happened. Sure I came out bruised and coughing, but nowhere near anywhere close to dying. No, I'm convinced it's not as bad as I thought while I was in the rapids fighting for my life. Mike and Phil disagree with me. But none of use had any physical injury worse than bruising. Phil drank large amounts of river water during his swim and vomited from it.
No. It was a rush. It wasn't near death. I refuse to acknowledge death. Death doesn't exist to me. The rapids were the cloest I've been yet it was nowhere near death. Fuck death. I'm nowhere close to being done with living yet.
But I'm still sore as fuck.
Overall though, it was a great trip, after the experience it was the only thing we talked about for the next 2 days. But it did teach us to respect the river. If falling in didn't happen, we might've tried to take on a class V next year. Now we know, we need not only to experience class III - IV rivers, we need to BE experienced in navigating them. We're going to do Kaweah again. This time, we're not falling on and we're going to ride that bitch Cyanotic out.
Here's the first batch of pics from my digital camera, the film pics from my waterproof disposable will be coming soon!