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.
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.
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.
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.
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.