Rescuing a Dude

Last night reminded me that common sense is not all that common. I was with six other kayakers on one of our regular Tuesday evening whitewater runs on the Red River near Gresham, Wisconsin. It was around 7 p.m. We had just finished running the most technical feature, Monastery Falls (also known as Novitiate), a narrow granite chute that compresses the river down a 10-foot drop and ends in a large swirling pool at the bottom.

I was bringing up the rear as our group departed the pool at the bottom to continue downriver. Suddenly I heard someone let out a whoop of excitement at the top of the falls. I paddled back upriver a few yards to see if other kayakers might be coming down. Instead of kayakers, I saw a young man (I’ll call him Dude 1) start to descend the falls on an inner tube. Not a real inner tube; it was one of those brightly colored water toys like you get at Fleet Farm.

Dude 1 flipped into the first sticky drop near the top where he promptly got stuck and tossed around like a rag doll for a few seconds before his tube squirted away. Swimming the rest of the way down, he grabbed for the slippery wall on river left to no avail. The rest of the way down, he bounced off the unforgiving rocks in several places. I grimaced because I knew what he was going through. I’ve had several swims down Monastery (one last night, in fact) but always while wearing a helmet, PFD and usually a farmer john wetsuit with padding that protects my knees and shins. This guy wore only a swim suit. No helmet. No PFD.

Plunging into the pool at the bottom, Dude 1 bobbed to the surface and started swimming toward shore as I paddled toward him. He soon tired and started to flounder, calling out to me for help. I maneuvered in front of him and told him to grab the back of my kayak so I could pull him to shore. I asked if there were any others coming down. For whatever reason, he replied breathlessly “Just me.” He told me he lost his glasses (the least of his problems), He also said, “I didn’t think it would be that bad,” which indicated to me he was unfamiliar with what Monastery was like, but even if he did know, he never bothered to get off the river to scout it this time.

I pulled him close to shore where he could stand up in the water. He thanked me just as we turned around to see Dude 2, clutching an air mattress, fall over the last drop and join us in the pool at the bottom. Having made it all the way down with his arms wrapped around his water toy, this dude seemed to fare better than the one I had just dragged to shore,

The two dudes started directing yells to a third dude somewhere at the top of the falls: “Don’t come down here!” Dude 3 evidently heard them or saw the carnage below and elected to walk around the falls to the bottom.

By this time fellow kayaker Mike Brown had paddled back upriver to see what was going on. Dude 1’s inner tube was still trapped in the top sticky hole, tossed over and over by the flow. Seeing that the dudes were shaken but safe, we didn’t want to stick around any longer. Mike said, “Let’s go.” It was better to let the lesson sink in as the threesome figured out how to make it back to wherever they parked their vehicle.

For reference, here’s what running Monastery Falls looked like earlier this year from a kayak at a much lower water level than last night.

And here’s Mike successfully navigating Monastery Falls last night:

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