By Shanna Gachen
In April, 12 WKC members donned drysuits & wetsuits and participated in a weekend swiftwater rescue course put on by instructor, Casey Garland. The WKC Safety Chair, Mike Grijalva organizes these events once or twice a year - what a valuable course this is. It doesn't matter if you've been paddling for years or months, this is highly recommended.
The course started off with learning some basic knots, types of ropes and webbing and then we put our knots to work, learning how to make anchors, tie a few prusiks and put some systems together to create mechanical advantage on dry land. From there we headed to the Cedar River at Landsburg (aka the slalom gates). This venue is not only beautiful it has a lot to offer for training, class II/II+ whitewater, fast current, slow moving water, big eddies and a great beach to toss some throw ropes from.
Once we got suited up, we tossed a few throw bags on dry land (I'm sure Casey wanted to make sure we weren't going to totally suck and we might let our swimmers go downstream without even getting close to hitting them with the throw bag - ha!) After we were somewhat successful we headed for the water to try the same skill out with real swimmers (us). We also learned to cross swift water as a team, even though the water was moving pretty good and we didn't make it across all the way, we learned the different crossing techniques.
After a bit of swimming while waiting for throw ropes to hit us, we headed upstream to do spme aggressive swimming - the best kind! We learned how to use our body like a boat, aggressively swimming from eddy to eddy and learning how to use the current to whip us into the eddy. Boy is it a lot easier to swim without a kayak and paddle in tow - ha! At one point during our swimming practice it started hailing, lightning and thundering - OH it was exhilarating!
After our swim sesh.. we dried off and were challenged to getting a make believe kayak out of the river with minimal gear. Yep we had to think, but working together as a team we accomplished our mission. That evening some folks ended their day at Mike's telling stories over pizza and enjoying his nice warm sauna - Ahhhhhh!
The next day we met again for a full day of rescue training. We worked more on using mechanical advantage to set up systems for rescue - I'm sure I can lift the couch to the second story now if it would fit through a window.
The best part of the day was to put together a couple tensioned diagonal systems (like a zip line through the rapid) which we all got to slide down a couple times - Woo hoo! Casey also brought along a 20' by approx. 12" diameter sewer type pipe which demo'd as our river log, we played on, under and over that pipe till we mastered different techniques to manage wood in the river. It's all fun when practicing, but this information he passed along to us is invaluable.
We all hope we never have to face some of the situations we set up in class, but at least we have gained a lot of knowledge in case the time comes when we are faced with these difficult situations. And the most important thing is to alwaus continue to practice especially with your boating buddies. Make it a goal to always throw your bag at least once before boating - get the kinks worked out and your rope warmed up - you never know when you might need it!
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