It was a
beautiful, sunny day, with temperatures around 70°F, 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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
was 32 years old.
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.
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.
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