Monday, June 4, 2012

Adrenaline, a Fatality, and a Mud Hole

     You hope to never see it, nor want to be a part of it, whether it be a complete stranger or a close friend.  A gold miner drowned (less than 15 minutes after we floated by him and waved to him) on Willow Creek this past Saturday.


      What may seem a simple, obvious no-no to most folks turned out to be an over-looked fatal mistake for Josh Pool of Wasilla, Alaska, an experienced commercial diver.  As we floated by in our kayaks, we noticed they had a floating cataraft with a dredge out in the most turbulent part of the rapid on Willow Creek (a rapid called Five Fingers).  Unfortunately, Josh was apparently wearing a 50 lb. weight belt to hold him under water while looking for gold.  He was wearing a black drysuit (hard to see underwater) and no life jacket, so once he slipped and fell into the river, there was no option of keeping his head above the water.  James Castro, Scott Smeltz, and I teamed up with the Alaska State Troopers and rescue team to find Josh around the area where his friend watched him fall into the river... we found nothing and had to give up after 2 hours of careful searching.

Here I am a little bit nervous, making sure I hit the "line" at Triple Drop rapid, Upper Willow Creek, Alaska

      It was a sad moment, and his friend was obviously really upset.  This river (and rapid) is a fairly easy intermediate kayaking run, and is usually plenty safe to swim (in the event of a capsize)... IF you are wearing the proper safety gear (life jacket, helmet, and drysuit).  In Josh's case, the 50 lb. weight belt was a very bad decision in turbulent whitewater.  I hope that gold dredge miners will hear about this case across the state, and wear the proper safety equipment on the river.  It was unfortunate that Josh had to learn the lesson the hard way, and once again, the river proves that its power is not to be experienced without prior safety precautions.
     On a lighter note, Paul Schauer, Matt Peters, and I got to do an incredible kayaking run (leading up to this tragic event) on Upper Willow Creek, the best class V-V+ whitewater run Alaska has to offer.  I'll have some pictures up soon!

     After the search and rescue mission for Josh ended Saturday evening, I managed to get the Toyota motorhome stuck in a mud hole pretty bad while trying to find a camping spot in Hatchers Pass.

         Scott and I used the come-along winch to pull the RV free of the mud, a few inches at a time.  Scott proceeded to bury his Dodge Caravan in the same hole, and once again, the come-along winch saved the day.   What a weekend, adrenaline on Upper Willow Creek, an unfortunate fatality on the Guard-Rail section of Willow Creek, and a bi-epic in a mud hole!