The Arkansas River was running high and fast, filled with melted snow from the Rockies. We chose a small rafting company in the town of Cotapaxi to take us down a ten mile stretch of river filled with fast moving class three rapids. The first half of the run was a blast. A couple from Texas occupied the front of the raft, Sandy and I were in the stern and our guide, Dave, manned the oars at the center. Dave competently steered us through a series of rapids that had us bouncing through some rapids with six foot waves. The spray from the 45 degree water was refreshing in the heat of the canyon.
Approaching a large rapids which flowed through a narrow chute, adorned with large gray boulders on each side, Dave informed us that there are four ways to successfully navigate through the rocks and waves. He opted to run down the right side, through a narrow gap which lay between a large boulder and a six to eight foot standing wave, further out in the river. Entering the torrent, our guide misjudged the water and the raft ended up hitting the right side of the wave. Quicker than you can think, the left side of the boat rolled up vertical, then turned upside down. I was on the left side and was pitched into the water, landing about 15 feet from the raft.
As I was trying to claw my way back to the surface, a scene of drama was unfolding back on the boat. When the raft flipped, Sandy had her right foot wedged in the raft and was hung up under the boat. As soon as the guide went in, he managed to grab the raft and flip it over again - and Sandy went with it. Then, the boat hit another wave and was flipped over once more. As the raft went upside down the second time, Sandy’s leg was ripped free, but her ankle was severely injured and she surfaced under the overturned raft.
While all this was going on, we were being swept downstream at about 10 mph. I was bouncing off submerged rocks as I swam back to the side of the raft. Hanging onto the rope along the side, I started pulling myself around the raft, desperately searching for the other rafters. While I was moving around the side towards the center of the river, Sandy was inching her way out from under the raft and I never saw her. Thinking she might have been swept downstream, Dave and I started swimming the raft towards the bank. After kicking away from a large pile of logs and sticks along the bank, we finally reached some calmer water and I managed to haul the raft into the shore. It wasn’t until I felt the bottom under my feet that I was relieved to see Sandy emerge around the downstream side of the raft. She was hyperventilating, banged, bruised and could put no weight on her right ankle, but she was alive.
All the rafters were accounted for except for the lady in the front. Dave ran downstream looking for her, while I went upstream. Our guide found her a couple of hundred yards down the river. As we were climbing onto the road, a Bighorn Sheep ewe jumped up right at our feet and ran off - what next?