A few days ago while perched on my photo rock at Hospital Bar on the South Fork American river, I had an encounter with a paddler stuck in the catcher’s mitt that got me thinking a little about how we react when things go less than ideal on the river.
If you’re not familiar with the south fork, the catcher’s mitt is comprised of an undercut rock and a couple other rocks that are strategically placed to create a less than ideal place to go. Rafts get stuck here frequently and kayakers from time to time as well. It is less than ideal and sometimes results in scrapes and bruises but under normal circumstances I wouldn’t consider it life threatening.
It was close to the end of the day for me when two paddlers came through the rapid and both flipped in the hole. They both rolled up but one of them took a little too long and wound up in the mitt. She was under the undercut with the point of the rock more or less over her spray skirt. Definitely less than an ideal place to be, but her head was above water and she was stable. I climbed down to the water from my perch to lend her a hand. When I got down to her she seemed a little freaked out. (Understandable. I don’t like being stuck when kayaking either.) “What do I do,” she asked me. “Take a deep breath and try to relax. You’re going to be ok,” was my first instruction. I then talked her through how I was going to pull her free and line her up with the exit and send her on her way. That went just fine and I hope she had an enjoyable rest of her day on the river.
Things don’t always go to plan on the river, but most of the time there is a simple remedy. I guess the moral of the story I’m trying to tell here is this, if your head is above water and you’re stable, you’re ok. I know it is hard to remember in that moment but if you can, take a few deep breaths, relax, and evaluate your options. Often times you’ll find your situation is less dire than you may have thought at first and you can avoid making it worse.
Remember, it takes experience to get good at handling things when they go wrong. If they never go wrong you can’t get that experience. Breath, relax, and have fun out there.