Bull Sluice on the Chattooga

My brother-in-law Bill and I swam in the pool below Bull Sluice last Friday. I’ve wanted to swim (voluntarily) in that pool ever since I first saw it.

I swam in the pool involuntarily once after running Bull Sluice in a kayak. I survived the white water but flipped in the strong eddy in the pool on river right. (I was so relieved to have run the drop without hitting Decapitation Rock that I relaxed too soon.) The eddy pushed me against the rocks on the shoreline and I missed one attempt to roll and decided to get out. It was autumn and I got COLD fast!

Photo by J. D. Anthony

P.S. There have been at least two dozen documented deaths in Bull Sluice. The first time I kayaked Section 3 of the Chattooga River I walked around Bull Sluice. I was having a very bad day (two significant injuries, several swims, and no confidence) and it was obvious that I wasn’t ready for a Class 4-5 rapid.

Three Views of the Tetons

Here are three photos of the Tetons (between Jackson, WY, and Yellowstone National Park).

Ann took the photo on the left from the Snake River overlook.

I took the photo in the middle as we were hiking around Jenny Lake.

Ann took the photo on the right as we were leaving the Gros Vendre campground.

(Click on the thumbnails to see photo.)

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Slough Creek Whitewater

The Lamar Valley around Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park (map) is widely known for its beauty and wildlife. As seen from the gravel road leading to the campground, Slough Creek wanders through grassy meadows, slow and deep. It is trout heaven.

Twenty years ago Barry Rhodes and I spent several wonderful days trout fishing on lower Slough Creek. I remember getting a citation from a park ranger for violating the campground rules — I left a water bottle on top of our rental car all night (it is grizzly country).

Ann and I secured a campsite on Monday, June 20, and talked to the campground host about hiking trails. I mentioned that we had just looked at the amazing whitewater on the Lamar River (about a mile west of the Slough Creek road); we saw unrunable rapids for more than half a mile. The water was high because Yellowstone had abundant snowfall this winter and warm weather was melting the snow at high altitudes, loading the streams with cold, silty water. The campground host said that Slough Creek had whitewater also — up the fisherman’s trail from the campground.

We started hiking. It was easy walking on almost level ground. Slough Creek was wide, up to 30 yards across in many places — smooth, cold, and deep. After about 45 minutes of walking, we saw that we were approaching  an incline, and we heard the sweet music of whitewater in the distance. As we rounded a bend, we could see the rise in the stream bed and rapids (click on the first photo below).

As the trail progressed upstream, the hike got steeper. And as the terrain got steeper, the rapids got louder and more spectacular. Each of the photos below is in sequence as we climbed the increasingly steep trail. For photo 7 I jumped out onto a huge boulder in the middle of the stream to get the a shot of the rapids upstream.

The sound and energy of the snowmelt rushing down the side of this beautiful mountain was wonderful to behold. The power of the rushing water was invigorating (often called the negative ion effect) and made the hike even more enjoyable.

The trout in the slow water in the meadows below are beneficiaries of the turbulence from these rapids. Trout live in clean, cold water with  lots of dissolved oxygen, and these rapids both cool the water and oxygenate the water. Speaking as a kayaker, I saw continuous Class 4 and 5 rapids for almost a mile.

As we approached the top of the ridge, we lost the fisherman’s trail in a huge boulder garden. Thousands of boulders covered the landscape from streamside on our left to the top of the mountain on our right. We tried to cross the boulder garden near the stream and encountered huge boulders  requiring dangerous moves, so we backed off. We went about 300 yards up the slope, hoping the move above and around the boulder garden, but again encountered dangerous situations suited only for rock climbers. We went back down to streamside to review our options.

I was able to get a good view of the big rapids at the top of the ridge. When I tried to get a photo, I discovered that the batteries in the digital camera had expired. Then we found an elk skull with a huge antlers stuck in the driftwood at the high water level. I learned a hard lesson by getting caught without spare batteries because I would have liked to brought back photos of the elk antlers and the big rapids.

I highly recommend this hike if you enjoy beautiful scenery and rushing whitewater. You can see the trail and topography by clicking on the map image below. The leftmost red flag near the Campground marks where we began the hike. The next red flag along the Pack Trail is end of the whitewater. The third red flag is where we turned back due to rugged terrain. There’s another trail on the map just south of the campground that goes to upper Slough Creek (but you don’t get to see the whitewater below). We’ll explore upper Slough Creek next time.

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Alison Wright’s Brush with Death

Here are some excerpts from a story in Outside Magazine that describes incredible courage and tenacity. Allison Wright is amazing.

In January 2000, while I was traveling through Laos on a Southeast Asia photo assignment, the bus I was riding in was sheared in half by a logging truck. My seat was at the point of impact. The force of the crash instantly broke my back, pelvis, coccyx, and ribs; my left arm plunged through a window, shredding it to the bone; my spleen was sliced in half; my diaphragm and lungs were punctured; my heart, stomach, and intestines tore loose and lodged in—yes, it’s possible—my shoulder. I would have bled to death if it hadn’t been for passersby, including a British aid worker, Alan, who drove me seven hours, bouncing and jarring over potholed roads, to a hospital in Thailand.

AS A DOCUMENTARY photographer and adventure traveler for more than 20 years, I had often been forced to test my limits. Years ago, I covered a brutal revolution in Nepal, when the army opened fire on demonstrators. Dozens of people were shot and killed, and tear gas was flying. I threw my shirt over my face and raced into the crowd. "If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room," I used to laugh to my friends. Now I had to live up to my words. There was no harsher edge than lying eviscerated on the roadside in Laos.

At Aek Udon Hospital, in Udon Thani, Thailand, I underwent numerous surgeries to repair my heart, lungs, and internal organs. My surgeon, Dr. Bunsom Santithamanoth, resutured my arm with more than 100 stitches, trying his best to clean out the innumerable shards of glass and bits of debris that the Laotian kid had left in.

Finally, I was medevacked to Kaiser, and my chart was translated from Thai.

"You realize you should be dead," my doctor there told me.

"Yeah, I’ve heard."

"No, I’m serious," he scolded. "You have to be aware of the extent of your injuries—the sutures inside, the scars outside, the broken bones to heal."

The day I scrubbed the blood off my camera bag was the first time I really cried. It had been three months since the accident, and life seemed intolerable. Insomnia was killing me. When I did sleep, I was tortured by violent dreams filled with lacerated bodies, screeching metal, and, for some reason, drownings. Finally, I decided that though my body might not be functioning, I could at least clear my fogged mind. I ceremoniously flushed my painkillers down the toilet.

Over the next few weeks, I bought every book I could find on alternative healing and studied medical texts in between. I found supportive doctors and incorporated acupuncture, meditation, homeopathic medicine, hypnosis, yoga, Pilates, and massage into my rehabilitation. I tried magnets for my back pain, and even cupping, an ancient Chinese practice used to stimulate blood circulation.

In the past, I’d thrived on jogging, kayaking, hiking, skiing, scuba diving, and yoga. Now, lifting a two-pound weight was a challenge. But I refused to give up. When one doctor told me I’d never have abdominal muscles again, due to all the surgeries, I started doing as many sit-ups as I could. Over the next year, I worked up to more than 1,000 per day.

In the fall of 2001, I managed to jog three miles on the beach in San Francisco. I was so happy, I hugged a startled Vietnamese fisherman.

THERE IS NO END to getting your life back—eventually, you have to come down the mountain. A few months after my climb, I realized that the physical healing had demanded so much energy, the emotional repair work had taken a backseat. My sleep was still plagued by nightmares. I often dreamed that I was with friends in Laos, and they all got on the bus. At the last minute I would become too paralyzed with fear to board, and I’d be left behind.

Exactly three years after the crash, on January 2, 2003, I was back in Thailand on a magazine assignment and got the chance to rewrite the past. I traveled north to the hospital in Udon Thani where I’d spent three weeks and waited patiently in the hallway. At first, Dr. Santithamanoth walked right past me. I stood to get his attention. When I told him who I was, his face lit up.

Link: Alison Wright’s Brush with Death.

Big Scare on Pine Log Mountain

Some surprises are not pleasant. On Sunday, March 28, 1999, Ann and I decided to drive to the Pine Log Wildlife Management for a mountain bike ride. In the springtime we often ride a rough, 8-mile logging road loop that winds through some interesting environments and includes two lung-busting climbs.

In the first two miles we passed several turkey hunters in camouflage in four-wheel drive vehicles. Soon we were riding beside Stamp Creek, a beautiful and pure stream that is clean and cold enough to support trout. Suddenly the beauty ended — we came upon dozens of acres of bare hillside where a forest had been only a few months ago. I hate to see trees reduced to logs and I pity the creatures that had been living in that forest.

On the first steep hill we met two people on horseback. The woman was impressed that we were riding up the hill and complimented us by saying … "she had never seen a fat mountain biker." The second steep climb is too steep to ride due to substantial outcroppings of rock, which prevent passage by almost any type of vehicle. We pushed our bikes up the hill and started the mostly downhill ride back to our vehicle. This section of the logging road is very rough, with many gullies and rocks. I was going slow due to some trouble with my clip-in pedals — Ann was about a quarter of a mile ahead of me.

I topped a small hill and saw a frightening sight. About 200 yards ahead, Ann and her bike were down and she was not moving. As I rode up she showed no signs of life. After I jumped off my bike and got close to her, I could hear some muffled breathing. I was afraid to move her due to possible spinal damage so I said her name over and over. No response.

I was really having a hard time believing this was happening. We were 3 miles from the nearest road and accessible only to rugged 4-wheel drive vehicles. I was fighting panic and shock.

As I tried to compose myself and get my adrenaline under control, I kept pondering what to do if she didn’t wake up: Do I leave her lying here alone in the dirt on an isolated logging road and go for help? Or, do I wait with her and hope someone comes by?

After about 5 minutes, I saw her hand twitch. I held her hand and felt some movement. I started tapping her on the cheek and saying her name. Very slowly she regained consciousness. When she was finally able to talk I could see that she was badly disoriented. She didn’t know where we were or what had happened. She was very surprised to wake up in a place not knowing how she got there. I started asking questions to assess how much she remembered. I mentioned the horses and the conversation with the riders. Ann thought it was in a dream. After about ten minutes I helped her get to her feet. Ann had landed head first on some hardpan with several large rocks embedded. Her right shoulder was badly hurt. A large knot was bulging above her right temple, just below the deep dent in her helmet. She started showing some symptoms of shock.

Ann’s shoulder wouldn’t permit her to ride her bike. The rear tire on her bike was flat and the rim dented. We decided that I would bike out, get the vehicle, and come back for her. She started walking out, pushing her bike — she didn’t want to ditch her bike. I left her behind, trying to hurry … carefully. I got to my minivan after about 20 minutes and loaded my bike. I drove as close to Pine Log Mountain as I could and started running back to meet Ann. We connected after about 30 minutes and walked to the minivan. She wasn’t able to pull the door shut when she got in the minivan.

At home, we iced the shoulder but the pain continued to escalate. We went to a small walk-in medical facility; as soon as they found out she had been unconscious, they insisted we go to a hospital. At the emergency room at Wellstar Kennestone, Ann was x-rayed and cat-scanned; we waited hours for the results. The good news: no brain damage. The bad news: a broken collarbone.

The accident happened at about 2:00 pm. We left the emergency room at 11:15 pm. A BAD day! Ann has no recollection of the accident and what caused it.

In my mind I keep reliving those awful few minutes when Ann was unconscious — ten minutes that I’ll never forget and Ann can’t remember.