Monday, July 30, 2007

Missing Paddlers

Last week was really strange... we had two weird situations that we have never experienced before... and on two separate occasions. Here's what happened on the South Fork American river trip last week...

We had just checked-in a bunch of people that morning for a Chili Bar run. There were multiple reservations... party of 6, party of 12, party of 8, etc etc... lots of paperwork to collect. Anyway, the head guide collects release forms and has the guests sign in on the California State Parks forms. We ask the guests to board the bus or wait near the bus. As soon as everyone is checked-in, we take off for the Chili Bar put-in. If everyone is on time, we're usually out of there around 9:20am.

When we got to the put-in and boarded the rafts, the guides noticed that 3 people were missing. They were on a reservation for 3 people for a 2-day Combo rafting trip. They were missing and presumed to have been left behind at Camp Lotus. Guides checked the manifest and it showed they signed in and were checked-in. Where did the paddlers go? Apparently, they did not wait near the bus or anywhere near where the rest of the 70+ people were. They missed the white water trip.

Luckily, the guides got word to Camp Lotus to have the guest stay put, and the crew would pick them up when they stopped mid-point at Lotus for lunch. The wayward guests were picked up around noon and finished the day on the Gorge run. All's well that ends well.

Then two days later, another Full River run. The day was really hot... around 102 degrees. The guests who demanded a full river were definitely not in shape to do 21 miles. By the time they got to Camp Lotus for the lunch break, this group was exhausted. As they got back on the rafts after lunch, one person was missing. Panic set-in, as the guides could not find this person anywhere in the campground. The guides ran up to the store, the bathrooms and every other place in the area. Suddenly, one of the guides yelled over, "I found him!" The guest was curled up in his own car, sound asleep. At least they found the person before someone called the sheriff's department to start dragging the river for the guy's body.

The guides wrote a very terse commentary regarding these two incidents. Comments ranged from, "... guests don't listen to us... guests keep wandering off without telling anyone... guests gave me a heart attack when we couldn't find them..." and on and on.

What we suggest to anyone traveling in a group: have a buddy. Someone who will take care of your "personal space." In other words, if you have to go to the bathroom, your buddy will make sure that you are not left behind. If you have to go to your car or the camp store, tell you buddy so that they make sure that the bus doesn't leave you behind. If you are going to the photography shop to look at your photos at night, tell a guide or your buddy so that when dinner is served they save you a plate until you get back. In other words, please communicate with our staff and your buddy.

When a client is missing, our first inclination is to look at that beautiful river next to the campground. We have to assume that you may be in the water, if we can't find you anywhere else. The sickening feeling that a missing person may be in trouble in the water is the most overwhelmingly awful feeling. Your brain starts racing and your stomach starts churning. All you want is to find that person.

After finding the person safe in his car, the head guide breathed a sigh of relief. But, man, you should have read the dissertation that he wrote on the trip manifest! Not the normal "...smooth trip..." that we usually get back at the office.

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