By Chad Belvill

Oh round about 5 years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) Laura took off to Costa Rica for a 3 week vacation, (without me nonetheless!). When she arrived back home she told me of this great new thing she had discovered.


Now fast forward a couple of years. By this time we where hooked. Unlike most people which get into kayaking as their modicum of Whitewater transportation we were into rafting R2 style. (R2 rafting is when you only have two people in the raft)

We had started out in an old bucket boat, but quickly we learned the efficiency of a self bailer and bought a shiny, nimble new Maravia Spider. We boated a lot, doing runs like the West Fork Hood at 7 feet, The Farmlands at high water (5.5 feet!) and the Wind (med-high to high), so a springtime trip down the North Fork Lewis seemed like a cakewalk. heh.

We arrived at the put in with 2 rafts, 2 kayakers and 1 Inflatable Kayak (IK). Laura had just gotten into kayaking was gonna hard boat it and I was R2ing with our friend Andy.

Pete Giordano and Marc Strabic were in another R2 and David was hardboating (regular kayaking), showing his very inexperienced girlfriend the way in an IK. The river wasn't quite at flood stage, but it was running close to bank full if you know what I mean. Andy and I were out front, quite a ways ahead of everyone else. Now Andy has been rafting hard water for 10 years and I was feeling pretty cocky that day too. We rounded a corner and committed to a set of Class II+ to III- waves. Well once into it we saw a river wide log about 3 1/2 to 4 feet above the water line just downstream, coming up fast.

No problem we thought, we'll just get down in the raft and go right under it. Well as we approached we quickly surmised that in this tiny little raft with 3 thwarts there is no place to hunker down! Ok, so we'll stand up and jump over the log and back into the raft like Lee Majors or the Duke boys!

We jumped, and we never even came close to clearing the log, and we were moving... Andy hit first, then me. In and instant we were dragged under the wood, which swept us both out of the boat, into the drink. Swim number one. I quickly got back in and pulled Andy aboard. We caught a big eddy on river left and waited for everyone else, trying to warn them of impending carnage.

Well Pete and Marc made it through ok in Petes big boat. Laura made it fine too. David and his girl portaged on the right. Andy was hurting from the hit and had a big bruise on his belly. David was feeling a bit over his head, especially with Amy being as inexperienced as she was. They had been under the impression we were doing the (easier) run downstream, so at this point Andy, carrying Laura's kayak, David and Amy decide to hike out to the road. So Laura gets in the raft with me, and the two rafts take off.

This run is mostly Class II-III with two Class IV's thrown in for fun. We reached the first Class IV and Pete and Marc got out to scout. Laura and I just sat in the boat waiting for the word. From the description I had read, this drop had a clean path down the left with a BIG boulder blocking the right side. I'm not sure if we just weren't listening or what, but all hell was about to break loose. Pete and Marc went first, pretty much hugging the left bank if I remember correctly.

Laura and I launched and started punching though a series of big fun waves. Then uh-oh...

Remember the BIG rock I mentioned. Gone. Covered with a foot or two of water, with a big hungry pourover hole in its place! With no chance to move to one side or the other, we just squared up and hoped for the best. Not even close. We dropped in, tried to dig over, stopped, turned sideways and FLLLLLIIIIIIIIP. Had I mentioned that we hadn't flipped our boat yet and we were both severely due for an ass kicking? So into the drink again. Swim number two.

Now I had taken a few swims, but nothing like this. I was getting maytagged around in this hungry beast, with the raft still getting surfed above me. I must have hit the river bottom and then the raft at least 3 or 4 times before getting spit out. I surfaced right above another hole about half the size of the first and flushed right through. I saw an eddy on the left and started heading for that. All of a sudden I hear one of the other guys yelling "wood, wood!!!"

There was a nice big tree right where I wanted to be. Not good. So back out into the main current I went. I was only wearing a paddle jacket with neoprene cuffs, so needless to say I was quickly filling up with water and getting very heavy, very cold, very tired and very much wanting to be on shore. Pete and Marc were in an eddy on the left and I gathered my reserve strength and swam I hard as I could towards them. Marc reached out with his paddle, which I grabbed and he pulled me to shore. I was exhausted as I had just swum (been flushed) about a quater mile in the frigid run-off from Mount Saint Helens. Then it hit me.


Where was Laura? Frantic to find my partner, I scrambled up a 150 foot cliff so I could work my way back upstream. Running and yelling down at every draw, I was scared. Needlessly though, I should know by now that she could take care of herself. It seems that Laura had swum into an eddy before I even got spit out of the hole! Damn girls from Minnesota, that grow up on the water. While I was freaking out, she was swimming downstream from eddy to eddy, walking what she could and swimming the rest. Yeah she's tough, I'm a lucky guy.

Meanwhile Pete and Marc had corralled our boat on the right bank while I was looking for Laura. I finally found her and Pete and Marc ferried back to our side and gave us a ride over to our boat. Paddles. We had both lost our paddles, but the boys had luckily found one. The two spares we had strapped to the back thwart were both bent at a full 90 degrees. To this day I haven't been able to figure out how that happened. Pete lent us one of his spares and away we went. Things went fine from there, we saw a herd of elk and the scenery was outstanding!