[VIDEO] California Salmon Raft Flip, April 29

Posted May 9, 2022 by Jack Armstrong: grandson of founder George Armstrong
Story by Hayden Hennike, AO River Guide

Personal in-the-raft account of the Cascade flip

My name is Hayden Hennike. I’m a fourth year guide at All-Outdoors and one of several second generation guides in the company (my parents Craig and Sue began guiding for AO 30 years ago).

I had the opportunity to float the California Salmon River in a training boat, along with four other AO guides. Although there was no dearth of general boating knowledge among the four of us, we all had little to no experience with this particular Class V run and were aiming to become better acquainted with this remote stretch of whitewater.

After successfully navigating the first few rapids without issue, we had arrived at our first Class V rapid, the Cascade. We all pulled over to scout the rapid from the left shore. Scouting a rapid generally entails both apprehension and fascination as we study the water, determine the best line, and consider the possible outcomes. Cascade looked simple enough; it called for a slow entry from the left, followed by a well-timed push to the right side of the river. Making the move too late would allow the current to force the boat against the left wall, flipping it. Making the move too early would cause the nose of the boat to catch on the “mank,” or shallow rocks, on the right, which could lead to any number of unfavorable consequences.

As we returned to our boat, we felt confident about our plan, especially after watching each and every raft in front of us running Cascade successfully, making the move at the right moment and managing to avoid carnage. When our turn came, we peeled out of the eddy on the left side of the river and drifted slowly into the rapid. With our stern practically touching the left shore and a strong right angle, we were in the right position and awaiting the command to paddle. When Brian, in the back, yelled “Forward,” we knew this was the must-make move, and we dug in our paddles.

Just as it seemed that we had moved a safe distance away from the flippy left wall, our nose caught a shallow rock on the right. The raft spun aggressively, so we were now facing upstream. In the same instant, the current pushed us against the wall and I saw Wyatt’s red drysuit above me as the boat began to climb up the wall. I tried to keep my seat as we became increasingly vertical, but then the boat began to flip over. I attempted to kick myself out before it went totally upside down, but acted too late. Now under the upside down raft and in need of air, I let myself surface in between the thwarts, where there was an air bubble – something that is always present under a flipped raft. I stayed there momentarily before pushing myself under and out from beneath the raft. (When Your Raft Flips – What to Do & Not Do)

When I surfaced and looked downstream, I saw the rest of the rafts in our pod conducting their rescue effort. Guides on these boats were yelling out their count of the swimmers, confirming that we were all safe, and picking us up. A nearby crew peeled out of an eddy and helped me into their raft. (Read our tips on what to do If You Fall Out Of The Raft.) With the collective help of the other rafts, we had our boat flipped back over in no time and felt ready for the next rapid the Cal Salmon had around the corner.


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