By Pete Giordano, 1993

I started kayaking when I lived in Corvallis. I was lucky to find a good group of adventurous boaters who liked to try different runs throughout Oregon. I had taken my share of swims on a variety of rivers in my first year of boating but had finally worked my way up to boating class 3-4 rivers with confidence. After a good winter rain storm several of us decided to give Thomas Creek a try. The write up in Soggy Sneakers talks about multiple class 2-3 rapids with 3 harder ledge drops. Overall rating is class 3(4). Perfect!

Checking the dam on the lower section showed that the river was brown and fast but at a seemingly good water level for the upper section. Our group of seven drove up the rough road to the put-in and got dressed. Our group included several solid class 4-4+ boaters and the rest solid class 3-4 boaters. One other driver and myself scouted the bottom two ledge drops while running shuttle. While the ledges looked challenging, we were confident that everyone in the group was good enough to run both. After reporting the results of our scout to the rest of the group at the put-in, we all put on and started catching some eddies to warm up.

The first major drop is only 1/2 mile below the put-in. Bobbing in the eddy above the drop and looking over our shoulders we could see two large boulders forced the whole river to the right bank and disappeared around one of the large boulders. No one was particularly excited about being the guinea pig and probing the drop. However, it was a cold day and no one really felt like getting out of their boats and scouting so soon after putting on. Finally, one brave soul stepped up and peeled out of the eddy and disappeared through the slot on river right; disappearing from sight. Of course, not being able to see the results of his run, his benefits as a probe boater were pretty negligible. Despite the lack of any information on whether the drop was runnable or not, everyone proceeded to peel out of the eddy and disappear through the slot like a line of ducks. I was, perhaps, more nervous than the others and decided to go last and also catch a small eddy on the left side just above the drop. From this eddy I still couldn't see past the large boulders or see any of the other boaters below the slot.

I finally decided to peel out and run the drop and hope for the best. As I got to the slot I was surprised to find the slot plunged 4 ft. and slammed into the right wall. Because I stopped in the eddy just above the lip of the drop, I didn't have any momentum and promptly hit the wall and flipped into the large eddy behind one of the boulders. No problem. I'd just roll up and work my way out of the eddy. After 4 roll attempts without being able to get all the way upright, I bailed out and surfaced next to my boat. To my surprise, the eddy was filled with wood! Several large logs and railroad ties were bobbing around in the eddy with me. I realized that I wasn't able to roll because the wood was preventing me from finishing my roll.

The eddy was relatively calm and I was able to drape one arm over my kayak and one arm over a log and float just fine. I could see that the group was all in the pool just downstream of this eddy dealing with something else but they could see I needed some help. As I slowly drifted to the left side of the river, the eddy got more and more turbulent. One of the group threw me a waist throwbag which I grabbed. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to control the rope and backpaddle his kayak enough to pull me away from what I now realized was a large hole on the left side of the recirculating eddy I was in. As I was sucked underwater I lost my grip on the rope. I resurfaced and tried to grab the rope again but couldn't see it in all the turbulence before I was sucked down again. After coming up again I tried to swim away from the hole but the pull was too strong and I got sucked down a third time.

The next time up was just long enough to get a short breath before I was pulled very deep. Suddenly there was no turbulence, no light and everything was very quiet. I was very short of air and wasn't optimistic about reaching the surface before having to breath again. I remember feeling embarrassed because it looked like I was going to die in some stupid, easy rapid on a lousy class 3-4 river. I was so cold and TIRED at this point that I wanted to just give up. I started to take a breath of water because that seemed like less effort than trying to get up to the surface and get air. For some reason I decided that I should at least die trying to get up to the surface. I looked up and started kicking towards the light above me.

The next thing I remember I was being pulled onto a rock next to the hole. I could see that my fingernails were blue and my hands were so cold that I couldn't even more them. The other guys wrapped my hands in some spare fleece someone was carrying and I proceeded to start coughing up water. As I was puking I could see my boat still in the hole, getting a huge ender every now and again along with several large railroad ties with railroad spikes in them. Someone finally corralled my boat and everyone started hauling the boats up the steep bank. We hiked back up the river, ferried across the river above the drop and loaded everyone back into the truck and drove back downstream. I offered to just run shuttle but no one was particularly interested in doing any more boating.

For 5 years I assumed that I had finally grabbed a rope and was pulled out of the hole but just couldn't remember grabbing the rope. To my surprise, while telling this story over a couple of beers several years ago, my friend Tom, who was there, said, "Actually, Pete, you're wrong. You didn't grab a rope. The first 3 times you got sucked into the hole we could just barely see your helmet. The 4th time you just completely disappeared. Thomas grabbed a rope on shore and jumped into the hole to grab you. We pulled him out and he held on to you." Needless to say, I was floored. I'm positive that if Thomas hadn't jumped in after me, I'd be dead.

In hindsight, I didn't come out of this experience with any profound revelations about life or kayaking. I have tried to learn from the mistakes I made. Namely, we should have scouted the drop first. I think most of us would've portaged the drop once we saw all the wood in the pool below. We also should have had a throw rope ready below the drop. If I was able to grab a throw rope from shore before getting so cold and tired I think I would've been able to avoid getting sucked into the hole or get pulled out after getting sucked down only once. I also think that the water level was higher than we thought which contributed to the size of the hole and the amount of wood floating in the river.

Seven years after this incident I'm still enjoying kayaking and running much harder and more dangerous drops than any found on Thomas Creek but this experience still comes to mind every now and again. I still get nervous running rivers with big, sticky holes and much prefer tight, technical, low volume creeks.

-Pete,  Submitted on November 15th, 2000.