This post is the account of an event that happened on the Green River Narrows in North Carolina.
Chief is a not a very difficult rapid, but the line is narrow, and the consequences can be really bad. The Picture of Chief with no water on American Whitewater really shows a lot about this rapid.
The first part is the boater’s account, followed by video. Permission has been granted to share this video and story.
attached is a video and a trip report of my pin at chief
when we put on the gague was 6″. we weren’t sure if the water was shutting off altogether or if it was switching to a partial release. we noticed from the water line on the rocks that the water level was dropping and began to think we were going to run out of water. at that point we were already committed to the run and had planned on taking as mush time as necessary to be safe because of the cold. i was having a good time and had planned to be conserative and walk zwicks but planned to run cheif (because i hate the portage) (wrong reason i know). the only hazard to cheif that i knew about at the time was the cave on the left (i now know about the the pin potential on the right).
another group caught up with us in the eddy above cheif and reported that their gague reading was 4″ ; i am not sure why it just didn’t occur to me to walk cheif at this point and i know most people are probably feeling pretty critical of me but it didn’t….
i checked in with my group about running cheif and did what i would normally do with water in the rapid.
two people from the group behind us watched their run from river right while the others began walking along with a member from our group.
by the time i entered cheif people were already positioned on the river left rock with a good vantage point and had seen the results of the two runs prior to mine which were good.
although i couldn’t see for myself both report hitting the same rock i hit and stern squirtting out of the rapid with some left hand angle. when i came to the 2nd drop i was hugging the right rock, i hit the fu rock at the bottom, joltted forward, immediately felt the water pouring over my back and head. i was submerged for no more than 4 seconds and during that short time period i was just a witness and didn’t really have time to engeineer a plan of escape. the force of the water did all the work of pulling me out of my boat and spitting me out of the rapid. my left leg was stuck in the cockpit and basically resisted against the cockpit the entire time i was being forced out by the water. it hurt like hell and i was pretty sure it had snapped my femur into two from the pressure. somehow i popped out with both handpaddles on and tried my best to swim to shore in the river left eddy right below cheif. a rope was thrown but i was in too much pain and too shook up to grab it so i hugged onto some rocks and waited to be pulled out of the water. our group consisted of an rn (with a waterproof phone & with a headlamp:)) and a paramedic so they were able to quiclky assess that a brake or fracture wasn’t likely but that there was a possibility of a torn ligament or tendon. this was around 3:20 so we had about 2.5 hours of daylight to hike out. the paramedic hiked out with me while others in the group finshed the run in order to meet us at the end.
after some x-rays and an evaluation it was determined that i had a severe contusion from a crush injury and thankfully no broken bones, fractures or torn anything.
my boat never resurfaced and to the best of my knowledge is still pinned in cheif. if you see a white jefe chico intact or pieces please call 706.202.1918 and use your best judgement for running cheif at this level.
The following paragraphs are from other paddlers present that day.
So we decided to go Paddling on Saturday Jan 8 ,it was very cold and flurring,I was not keen on the idea but ,went anyway.I was not paddling my best. When we got down to Zwicks ,I had already planned on walking it and Chiefs, she was not sure what she was going to do.I went ahead and got out on river left and started making my way up the rock and was going to stop and watch whoever was running chiefs at the time.Another boater ran it and I noticed he was a little far right too close to the rock ,and he stalled and went through, I look up and she is making her way through the entrance of Chiefs,I sit there and watch her and I knew she was too far right, and I knew this was not going to be good,right then she goes over and her boat comes to a complete stop and water starts going over her ,and I start yelling running over to the edge. She came out 5 seconds later. She was alive ,but had a hurt leg.
I met five friends in the parking lot for the Green Narrows on Saturday, January 8, 2011. It was a cold winter day. Fish Top was deserted. The temperature was about 30 degrees. We met at 1 PM to capture the warmest part of the day. Everyone was in dry suits with multiple layers underneath.
In what later turned out to be a twist of irony, the shuttle talk centered around people’s experience running the Green at 60%. The general consensus in the car was that a 60% level really sucks, especially in the summer months when it equates to about 1” on the gauge. I had never experienced a 60% level, and did not have any desire based on the stories I was hearing. The good news that day was that the Duke Energy Lake Information Line was reporting 100% levels around the clock all weekend (despite reporting complete shutdown the day before).
Notwithstanding the reported 100% level, the shoals at the put in seemed a bit bonier than usual. Downstream, the gauge confirmed our suspicions. The river was running at only 4”. Upon reading the gauge, the group decided that the river must be running at 60%, not 100%. Due to the gauge location, we were nevertheless committed to continuing downstream. Besides, everyone agreed that 4 inches is “really not that bad” and “is not as bad as 1”.
All of the rapids were boney and more technical than usual. There were a lot of exposed pinch spots that are usually underwater. Even though there was concern about adequate water, everyone in our group (but one) ran the main line at Boof or Consequences (there is still a log in the sneak). It was clean, but the pinch spots on the left and right of the run out were a little sketchy. If you are not in the middle of the run out, it looks like an auto-pin.
Farther downstream, I was the first person in my group to run Reverse Seven Foot and Zwicks. When I saw how dewatered the entrance to Zwicks was, I decided mid-boof that I was going to walk Chiefs. I peeled into the eddy on river left below the Zwicks boof (the boof is at least 2’ taller at that level!) and started up the bedrock. When I got to the top of the bedrock, I saw another group of boaters downstream filming and watching a boater hand paddling through Chiefs. They were on the river left side, in the Eddy just above pencil sharpener. One of the people in the hand paddler’s group met me on the portage trail and said “glad someone else is walking this today.”
When the hand paddler went over the main tongue at Chiefs, the boat penciled in and subbed out directly into a hidden sieve between the giant boulder on center/right and the small table top rock in the center of the landing below. The boat completely disappeared underwater and remained underwater. The boater was trapped! The hand paddler smartly swam out of the boat, under the table top alligator rock and into the downstream current avoiding becoming (potentially fatally) entrapped in the kayak. Someone from the hand paddler’s party pushed the paddler out of the main current that flashes into Pencil Sharpener and got the paddler into the fast moving toilet boil eddy on the river left just below the Chiefs drop. The hand paddler got hold of the jumble of football shaped rocks lining the eddy pool, but the swift toilet bowl current was trying to rip the boater back into the main current and downstream into Pencil Sharpener and Gorilla. The boater was having trouble clinging to the rocks.
I pulled out my throw rope and tossed the line. The line landed on the boater’s shoulders and sat there. The boater was exhausted from clinging onto the rocks and appeared to be in emotional shock. The boater screamed “Help Me!” In the meantime, one of the boater’s group approached from downstream on the river left rocks and grabbed the boater’s arms and pulled the boater ashore. The boater appeared to be beaten up and shook up, but okay. The boat was still nowhere to be seen.
Our group visited with the hand paddler’s group about a rescue plan. The group informed us that the river level had been 6” when they passed the gauge less than a half-hour before us. Both groups concluded that the dam had been shut down completely and that the river was dropping to 0% fast.
The hand paddler’s group decided to wait for the level to drop so they could extract the kayak from the Chief’s sieve. The group was then going to hike out on the trail with their kayaks. With the level dropping, the group decided that our party should head on downstream while there was still enough water. We offered to provide whatever additional support we could once we reached our cars.
Apparently, Duke Energy never shut down the power station completely. Instead, the flow was reduced from 100% to 60% and has remained at 60% so that the boat remains trapped in the Chief’s sieve.
I am so glad this day did not end tragically. Be careful out there at low flows. If you run Chiefs, the line appears to be far left of the main tongue (not the usual line hugging the center/right boulder). Or better yet, run the portage trail and live to boat another day.