Private Boaters Course

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Private Boaters – Preparing for the Grand Canyon

This past weekend, April 9-10 2016, we held a class for a group preparing to go down the Grand Canyon in about two weeks. They will be launching on a private group permit from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. For some in the group, the information covered in this class was just a refresher, for others, it was all new.

Day 1:

We began in the classroom with whitewater swimming techniques, including the defensive and aggressive swim. We discussed throw bags and how/when to use them. We then went outside and did some dry land throw bag practice. A little less than two hours into the class and since there was a break in the weather, it was time to get our feet wet.

After a quick snack and change into our river gear, we headed to Smelter Rapids on the Animas River to practice everything we had discussed in the classroom and on dry land. We began with swimming, jumping in at Corner Pocket and swimming through Ponderosa and then self-rescuing into the eddy. Some found the barrel roll technique helped them to cross the eddy line.

Once we were all comfortable with swimming, we practiced our throw bagging. Each person took turns swimming and throw bagging. The dry land practiced had paid off, lots of great hits with the bag.

We brought a raft with us to do a little training on how to get back into a boat. Each person would practice climbing back into a right-side-up and up-side-down boat. As easy as it sounds, we all struggled a little bit to get on top of those rafts. It’s definitely harder than it looks. We then got comfortable being underneath and swimming underneath a raft that was upside down.

Climbing on top of upside down raft

Ashleigh successfully climbs on top of the upside down raft!

At this point, most of the people were quite tired and cold from being in the chilly waters in early April on a cloudy and rainy day. So, we headed back to the shop to get dry clothes on and then break for a late lunch.

The afternoon included classroom discussion of topics like the risk matrix, river absolutes, personal protective equipment, first aid kits, and more. Then we got some ropes out and spent the rest of the evening practicing our knots. Again, some of the people in the class already knew most of the knots and more, for others this was all new information. We practiced an adjustable knot called the taut line hitch. It’s useful on the Grand Canyon for tying your boat up at night so you can adjust your boat according to the water level. We then moved on to knots like the bowline, figure eights, clove hitch, munter hitch, double fisherman’s, and the water knot.

Day 2:

We began the day outside with mechanical advantage rope systems. We put a raft up against a huge boulder and setup a river scenario in the backyard. We setup a Z-drag 3:1 system using our rafting wrap kit that includes the basics: a static line, anchors, prussics, pulleys, and carabiners. Some mad scientists began discussing the physics behind the mechanical advantage systems. We took a quick look at how one would go about setting up a 4:1. However, there are other methods before going to a 4:1 that we looked at. Such as, adding a vector pull to the static line that is already under tension from the 3:1. And the good old boatmans trick of helping to free a raft from a pin by bleeding some air from the tubes in order to allow the water to pass around.

We headed back to the river for more practice in the water. We covered topics like wading, live bait (tethered rescuer) and using a rescue PFD. We practiced a foot entrapment rescue using a support line and a snag line. A very simple strainer scenario, practicing getting over a strainer by aggressively swimming at it and barrel rolling over it. Plus topics such as combative swimmers, managing unconscious victims, runaway rafts, and more.

Loving it!

Super excited to be going down the Grand Canyon!

Again, the weather was a bit chilly, especially for most people that only had wetsuits on. And so, we headed back to the shop and took a quick break for lunch. Everyone wanted to get an early start home, so the afternoon was very basic. After the group did some shopping at 4Corners Riversports, with finished up with discussions of rowing techniques, some water reading, and things to think about taking for a Grand Canyon river trip.

What a great group of people heading down the river. They are well on their way to having a successful and memorable trip down the Grand Canyon.

More Gallery Images

Gold King Mine

On August 6th 2015, the Animas River closed due to the EPA triggering the release of acid mine water into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River in Silverton, CO. Many images were taken of a river that should have been clear that time of year and was instead running a mustard yellow color. The river was closed as the plume made its way downstream slowly making its way to the confluence of the San Juan and then finally Lake Powell. Most likely, Lake Powell will act like a pea trap and most of those heavy metals will settle to the bottom.

This was a very emotional and sad week for all of the communities up and down the river. It affected our economy and our way of life. Farmers had to close their head gates and not allow any of the contaminated to enter their irrigation ditches. Fishermen were not only unable to fish, but were scared that most of the fish would not survive the yellow waters. The river was closed to entry and recreation including rafting, kayaking, and tubing.

Confluence of Cement Creek

The confluence of Cement Creek with the Animas River in Silverton, CO. This shot was taken about a week after the EPA accident.

The Animas River is strong and tough. Within days of the initial plume passing, the river was significantly clearer. As the water receeded, it left a bath tub ring of sediment on the rocks. More evidence of sediment settled in some of the eddies. About eight days later, the river was reopened after the water had been tested to show it was within safe levels for human contact. Luckily the fish dodged a short-term bullet and survived the initial impact of the metal-heavy waters. Long-term effects on the fish will be closely monitored and studied by the Department of Wildlife.

Gold King Mine Metals in Eddy

About a week after the accident evidence of metals in the eddy just downstream of the confluence with Cement Creek.

Since then, we have had a couple of small run off events that have raised the river just a little bit. One was a rain event, the other from snow melt when temperatures warmed up towards the end of February. Each time the river would rise, its color would turn a slight hint of mustard yellow, but not nearly as drastic as the initial plume. As the water begins to significantly rise in early May, we should see any remaining sediment quickly wash away.

After the accident, the EPA went to work setting up a water treatment plant above Silverton. This plant will treat all discharge from the Gold King Mine. The EPA will continue to closely monitor the water quality of the Animas. The Animas River took a huge hit from this accident, but hopefully a positive to come out of this situation will be the cleaning up of more of these old mines and closer monitoring of the future water quality.

Gold King Mine Treatment Plant

A view of the water treatment plant being built at the Gold King Mine.

After much deliberation, the Gold King Mine and other mines in the Silverton caldera mining network have been designated an EPA Superfund site. With money coming in to help clean up these mines, we hope the future of the Animas will be an even cleaner one than it was before the accident.

What does all of this mean for rafting on the Animas this summer? Lots of Rafting! Currently the water quality looks good. Let’s get out there on the water and enjoy the beauty of the Animas River. Let’s work to take care of the river and inform future generations of the need to clean up old mines and prevent this from happening on other rivers and to other communities.

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