8.30.2010

I spectated the gore race this past weekend. I had a good run, with surprisingly good lines. One guy didn't, and had to be evacuated from the canyon. Here's the story from my perspective:

I was spectating the race from river right at Gore rapid. A shredder that was in the race dumped at Gore rapid. One of the paddlers ("Paddler") was rescued on river right by a rope. The other swimmer ("Swimmer") continued downstream, and I could see that he swam through Scissors. A rope or two were tossed his way, and the last I saw him he was near a guy in a green boat ("Savior") above Pyrite. Another spectator had mentioned that safety had been set all through Pyrite, so aside from thinking that it wouldn't be a very fun swim, I didn't think much of it. 5 or 10 minutes later our group (Myself, Ian, and Pete) hopped in our boats and eddy-hopped through Scissors and Pyrite. In the eddy below Pyrite, we heard some whistle blasts and headed downstream.

Maybe 50 yards past the Pyrite pool, we saw Savior trying to pull Swimmer onto shore. We jumped out of our boats. Swimmer had his head and shoulders out of the water, but Savior couldn't get him completely onto shore by himself. We weren't sure if Swimmer had a head or neck injury, but we knew we had to get him out of the water, since he was wearing only a short sleeved polypro and swim trunks. We tried to stabilize his head and neck, and we pulled him out of the water.

Savior said that Swimmer came all the way through Pyrite, and was conscious when he was in the pool, but beat up. He grabbed Savior's boat, but then let go and semi-lost consciousness. No other boaters or shore safety was in the area. Savior managed to get Swimmer to shore, though I'm not sure how.

Swimmer was breathing, and semi-coherant. We flagged down a raft that was on its way through, and a few more kayakers. Someone managed to flag down one of the BNSF trucks that was up on the tracks, and told them to get the EMTs from Gore rapid. Meanwhile, Swimmer knew where he was, who he was, and who the president was, but it was taking all he had to answer our questions. I had an emergency blanket in my 1st aid kit; we got that around him, and eventually got his vest and wet polypro off, and replaced them with dry clothes from one of the rafts. Swimmer reported no head injury and no distracting injuries.

Maybe another 10 minutes later, the shore safety members from Gore arrived. We filled them in on what was going on. They took over, went through a series of questions, and confirmed that there wasn't a head/spine injury, which was good, since nobody could track down a backboard.

More people arrived; we probably had 30 or so at this point. Another raft guide (Guide) confirmed no c-spine injuries, and marshaled everyone together to build a litter out of oars, paddles, and cam straps. We got Swimmer onto the litter, and then slowly passed the litter up the scree slope, with a rope attached at the top. When the litter had passed each person, they reset at the top of the line to pass Swimmer up.

Swimmer was loaded into the backseat of one of the BNSF trucks, and driven into Kremmling. After speaking with someone who rode along, it sounds like he was still somewhat out of it for most of the ride, but came around when they got near the ambulance enough to argue against getting in the ambulance. That decision was left to the medics, and it sounds like they took him in to check him out.

My thoughts:

1. I didn't use the pseudonym "savior" for nothing. He saved a life on Saturday.

2. It was a mistake not to have safety set at the pool below Pyrite. I think it's commonly accepted that if you swim at Gore, it's very possible to get washed all the way down into Pyrite and, if you do swim that far, you're going to be pretty beaten up by the time you make it to that pool. Also, as for the fixed safety, someone near the bottom of that rapid should know that they're the last line of defense, to avoid the mentality that there's always someone further downstream to help on race day.

3. I think everyone who arrived on-scene did a commendable job. Things that needed to get done -- get Swimmer out of the water, assess his condition, get him warmed up, and get him out of the canyon -- were accomplished quickly and efficiently, without anyone getting in the way, causing additional problems, or freezing up.

4. Swimmer was not dressed adequately for the run. While a polypro and shorts is nice for the long paddle in to Gore, and while it's tempting to dress lightly on a hot day, everyone should be dressed for a swim. While you would still be plenty beat up after taking the same swim in a drysuit, taking hypothermia out of the equation leaves you with quite a bit more energy.

5. Wilderness EMT training is invaluable. While the first 4 of us on scene knew enough to get Swimmer out of the water, get him warm, and keep him conscious, none of us knew enough to clear him for a c-spine injury.

6. If not for the railroad access, this would have been a much different rescue. Instead of building the litter, we would have had to build a fire, get Swimmer warmed up, and probably get him some food and water. A space blanket and the means to start a fire in wet conditions should be in everyone's first aid kit.

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