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Dedicated to the memory of
Lauren Orton

Wind River, Washington
April 27, 2003

http://www.LaurenOrton.com


It was a beautiful, sunny day, with temperatures around 70F, the first wonderful day of the spring.  The previous day it had rained, and we were all excited at our good fortunes.  We traveled with our guide service, All-Star Rafting, to the put-in at Stabler, Washington, where we were instructed on how to put on our life jackets and helmets and general rafting safety.   Our guide checked our gear for tightness and fit, and went over his commands, and what to do if we found ourselves overboard. 

We talked amongst ourselves while our guides busied themselves with securing the gear to the boat.  Sandra, Dawn, Matt, and I introduced ourselves to Lauren, who was the only other customer of the group.  The four of us piled into one raft, and Lauren hopped in with the three other experienced rafters, including the owner of the company.  Lauren was a little nervous, as this was her first rafting trip, but she was excited to go, as were we. 

We put in around 10:00AM and were thrust immediately into Class III rapids.   Our boats stuck close together, watching out for each other as we loosened up on the "easy" first mile.  We all hit the holes just right as we pounded through nine Class IV and V rapids before lunch.  The river was fast and exciting and the water level was just right!

We stopped for lunch on the beach just before the High Bridge, and feasted on the sandwiches and fruit that the guides had prepared for us.  Re-energized, we hit the water, eager for the rest of the trip.   Our guide told us the story of the High Bridge, looming high over the river, as we approached the rapid.  He yelled commands at us as we quickly steered the boat to hit the hole just right.  As we maneuvered through the rapid, we saw that the other raft had capsized, and the two men were upright in the river, grabbing gear and righting the raft, while the two women were swept downstream.  We saw one swimming for shore on the right, and upon reaching it, running down the shoreline.

Raft capsizings and swims down the rapids are commonplace on Class IV and V whitewater, and we were versed in how to handle these situations, so nobody was overly concerned at first.  Our guide's first responsibility was to us, as he yelled to get our attention and to steer our raft as we approached the six-foot drop at the bottom of the High Bridge Rapid.  I noticed a life jacket floating near the shore, but suddenly we were thrust into the rapid.  We hit it perfectly, and came out into a calm area at the end.  We paddled hard for the eddy on the right as we looked for the other rafters.  As we neared shore, I pointed out a paddle jacket and helmet floating downstream.  Our guide jumped out of the raft and ran upstream to the others, instructing us to wait there.  There was no sign of Lauren...

We saw the four guides hurriedly setting up a rope line in the bottom drop, and frantically trying to hold on as the raging water tried to tear the line from their hands.  For nearly 20 minutes, we watched the scene, not really understanding what was going on.  The owner made his way down to us to fill us in on what was going on.  He was straight-up about it and involved us in the search.  Matt and I went downstream to look for Lauren in case she had drifted downstream unnoticed.  Sandra and Dawn watched in horror.  

After nearly 45 minutes, the guides came back downshore and told us what had happened and outlined some options on how we might proceed.  The canyon is a hundred feet deep, with steep, treacherous walls in this area, and there is no cell phone reception.   The four of us were convinced that Lauren must be downstream, clutching onto a rock, and we wanted to go downstream and look.  We decided that we would go downstream to Shepherds Falls, where there was realistic access to an emergency phone, and look for Lauren along the way.  We paddled downstream, but after another half-hour, and no sign, it began to dawn on us.

We never saw Lauren again.  We were all mesmerized, unsure of how to deal with the situation. We just wanted to go home.  However, we had three more Class V rapids to go through before we got there.  Our guides recognized their responsibility to us and did everything they could to keep our minds on the river so we would make it through okay.  They set up a line at the bottom of the first drop on Fish Ladder Falls, and gave us the option to walk around it, but we just wanted to go the quickest way down, so we ran it without incident.  We were all agonizing over the accident, but our guides kept us focused and tried to do what they could to get us (and themselves) through the rest of the eternal last three miles.  

Our hearts go out to the family of Lauren Orton, who we only knew briefly, but who we will live in our hearts forever.  There is also a special place in our heart for the guides of All-Star Rafting, who were devastated by the accident, but held it together for our sake, and helped us to make it through.  We will be forever bonded from this tragic event, and we want Dave and everyone at All-Star to know how much we appreciate their efforts.  We understand that they did everything they could for Lauren, and that we all are helpless at the hands of nature.

Lauren Orton was 32 years old. 

White Water Rafting, like all sports, is a dangerous activity.  You can prepare, wear proper equipment, achieve proper training, perform proper techniques, and accidents can still happen.  One happened to my father, who was killed on Mt. Hood at the age of 21, and another has happened today. 

Class V whitewater is serious business.  Nine years earlier, Dave Edspeth drowned after capsizing on the rapid called Initiation on this same river.  No matter how confident you are in your abilities, no matter how many times you have successfully rafted a river or climbed a mountain, never slack on your safety.  All it takes is once.  Make sure you listen to your guides while they instruct you on safety techniques.  Make sure your gear fits properly and is tested and Class V approved.  Make sure you aren't in over your head.  Most of all, do exactly as your guide tells you.  They are telling you for a reason.  That reason could mean your life. 

....................

We'll never forget you, Lauren.  We hope you are in a happy place now, and that your family is well taken care of.  Your spirit will guide us forever...

....................

Visit Lauren's memorial site at
 http://www.LaurenOrton.com.

....................


News reports and clippings from the tragedy


April 28, 2003

April 29, 2003

April 30, 2003

May 1, 2003

June 11, 2003

June 13, 2003


 

 

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