By Tony Crawford
With the holidays coming up I thought I'd write down a little story for all of you to tell as you sit around roasting chestnuts, drinking hot butter rums...
A good friend and I were discussing the work of writing this trip report when he suddenly provided the impetus I needed. He said, "A story is worth a thousand words". With that in mind dear reader, I submit my humble efforts.
Charles "Emergency Room" Taylor, Joel "Swim 'til you puke" Hass, his evil twin Sam "Voice of Reason" and Tony "How come nobody boats with me a second time" Crawford all did a run last spring I felt the need to warn you about, as we are already planning a second attempt. Our efforts were directed at the Deschutes, or at least the last 15 miles before lake Billy Chinook. It only runs in the early spring and late fall due to irrigation needs of nearby Bend Oregon.
So you wanna hear a story? Well here it goes.
Well, almost. Some quick background. Disaster prevention groups have created the term "Error Chain". Basically when major disasters happen typically no single event causes the disaster, it is a series of small, seemingly inconsequential events often ignored by those in charge for precisely those reasons. Each event, though harmless in itself, when summed up creates a deadly situation. The only way a disaster is avoided is by "breaking" the chain. For some odd reason people don't do this. We keep pushing on. Take for example, when a plane crashes. It may be chalked up to "Pilot Error", but typically the crash is proceeded by a chain of contributory events. Maybe the crew was fatigued after a back to back flight, the flight was delayed for a mechanical reason, the plane is behind schedule, or the air temperature was high and aggravating everyone. Everyone just "wants to get home" so the Pilot pushes on, and plane crashes because the Pilot doesn't respond fast enough to a tire failure. Bottom line - The difference between living and dying is often a series of simple decisions in which salvation often comes in recognizing you've made several bad decisions in a row and STOPPING rather than continuing on and trying to "make up".
Bad Decision #1 That fateful morning we paddle the River House/Lava Canyon section of the Deschutes. Cold, wet, and hungry we head back to the Hass Boy's Homestead to mooch a free meal. As Tony peels duct tape off Chuck's paddle to "patch" his drytop we discuss a second run for the day. Joel mentions he "morning swims" and is opting for something class IIIish. We decide on the Deschutes above Billy Chinook.
Bad Decision #2 Crap. So this section is about 15 miles and keep in mind it is early spring in the desert, (dark early, cold!). Soggy Sneakers says something along the lines, "Don't run this until you are comfortable boat scouting continuous Class IV water. Also DO NOT run Big Falls, it's instant death". So we get lost on our way to the put in, and end up on the river around 2 p.m.. As we get into our boats Tony can be heard proclaiming, "This is how disasters start out. Don't forget the beer!".
Bad Decision #3 As always we leave our spare break down paddle in the car.
Bad Decision #4 We paddle along for a bit, until we see a horizon line with mist coming up. There is some discussion over what this might be. The roaring is getting audible. Everyone, (except Tony), pulls out about a 1/4 mile away. In his infinite wisdom Tony is wants to "check out" this anomaly and is convinced, if need be, he can take out closer. The bushes are coming right down to the water, (that's why you can't scout it). As Chuck approaches (on foot) what turns out to be Big Falls, (remember that comment about instant death?), he sees Tony holding onto some bushes at the top of what turns out to be a waterfall. Perilously perched about five feet from the horizon line Tony quickly realizes his strength is fading, and that waterfall, at least from the top, looks pretty darn big. He pops his skirt, bolts for the shore and jumps out as the stern of his boat is hanging over the fish ladder lip. Clawing his way through the aforementioned thick brush he manages to lose only his pride and a paddle.
Bad Decision #5 Sam separates the two piece break down he uses. Now Tony and Sam each have a single blade. We press on.
Bad Decision #6 We find Tony's paddle just as the water is getting big. About this time Joel gets his paddle stuck under a rock. The rest of set up a belay, and attempt to lower Joel to his paddle. Joel manages to gently grab the paddle each time he floats by but it refuses to free up. Running low on patience and warmth he grabs hold of his paddle as if it were a purple headed monster. The force is too much and it snaps in two. At least now we only have one guy in a C-1. We press on.
Bad Decision #7 (I know you're getting tired of these headers!) The water is getting to be IV+. We have swimmers every 1/2 mile or so. None of us are that good and really we're all in over our heads. Be that as it may we press on. Then out of nowhere is a nice big eddy, and a trail that heads up to a road. The question of hiking out is posed. Tony says, "This is bad, we're in canyon, steep cliffs, getting dark, very cold, new river, very tough let's hike out". And Sam in his finest moment says something that makes me proud to this very day, "Hmmm.... if we hike out now it is guaranteed to be a fiasco. If we press on there is a chance we'll make it". Read that sentence again if you missed it the first time. Who can argue with logic like that? The crew is estatic, we jump back in our boats. I love these guys.
And then things start to go bad... We round the next corner into an ambush of constant IV+ water. There are boats vertical, upside down, backwards. We're getting pushed all over the place. Next thing we know Sam's boat is floating, with no sight of Sam anywhere. Tony is pushing Sam's boat into an eddy. There are whistles going off everywhere. Tony manages to secure Sam's boat. The center pillar is missing. The boat is banged up pretty bad. Sam is nowhere to be seen. Chuck, Joel and Tony are blowing whistles and there is no response. By the way it's dark. We tell Joel his brother is probably dead. In the midst of our moment of silence Sam's whistle bleats out like some proverbial lamb. We are quickly reunited for a round of Past Blue Ribbon Tall Boys. What a great day to be alive.
But it's not over... We're hiking out, no discussion this time or medley brains to get in the way. It's really dark now. No flashlight, map or even sign of a house. Once again, we left those items safely stowed at home. We stumble up this canyon up onto the mesa. We're out of beer now so there's some panic amongst the troops. We strike out in a semi random direction. After about an hour hike we come to a lone house. Everyone is shivering uncontrollably. Tony is standing there in his wet poly's. Everyone's gear not immediately touching there body is frozen, (really!). Some highly unstable, borderline psychotic woman answers the door to find four delirious boaters who appear to actually rival her mental state. I think we all considered heading back into the night. Struck dumb with fright, delirious with exhaustion and borderline hypothermic we wander into her dented den of doom. A quick call to Mama Hass with directions provided by the raving lunatic ensures our rapid rescue. My therapist, (actually a local bartender), has suggested I don't discuss the painful minutes we spent waiting. Rescued from the jaws of death we proceeded home to beverages, hot tubs, and probably the best night of sleep I've ever had.
And so the moral of the story is... Probably the only thing that saved us from being on the news, in a morgue, or under a log was breaking the error chain. When we hiked in the next morning it turns out we had unknowingly pulled out at the last point. Everything after that was sheer canyon wall. So, always carry the right stuff, always do the right things. But remember, no matter how well or poorly prepared you are don't be afraid to throw it the towel while you still can.
-Tony,   December 1st, 2000.