Adventure on the Columbia River

Crazy story I found in The Dalles Chronicle :
Kayaking pair survive, reach Pacific Ocean Harrowing ‘high seas’ adventure doesn’t stop duo
By ED COXof The Dalles Chronicle

Alex Inclan and Chris Bensch, the kayakers featured on the front page of the Jan. 23 edition of The Chronicle while on their winter float from Idaho to the Pacific, arrived safely in Astoria Sunday night. But not before Bensch survived an adventure. As reported on Jan. 25, the 30-year-old whitewater kayaker capsized and had to swim to shore after losing his boat and gear the previous Monday. Bensch, who contacted The Chronicle by phone from his home in Vancouver, Wash., recalled his ordeal in the 35-degree waters in bone-chilling detail. After portaging around the Bonneville dam, they’d been pushed nine miles in an hour — more than twice as fast as usual — by strong winds and a swifter current. Then, just opposite Dalton Point on the Oregon side, they encountered stormy conditions. What Bensch was later told may have been 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts created 4- to 7-foot swells that prompted the boaters to hug the Washington shore in case they needed to make landfall. But the wind pushed them sooner than expected toward some wooden pilings, and when they attempted to shoot what appeared to be ample gaps between them, those gaps were revealed as broken pilings that had been hidden beneath the waves. By a stroke of luck, Inclan got through with just a bottom-scrape, though he was pushed another mile and had to avoid a second set of pilings before he could land. Bensch’s boat, however was thrown full-force by a wave onto one of the shorter pilings, flipping him out before it disappeared downriver. Pulling himself out of the frigid water onto a piling, Bensch contemplated his situation. He was about an eighth of a mile from shore with no one to help. His wilderness training told him he would have to self-rescue. Picking his way across the ice and moss-covered pilings and swimming the gaps between them, he came to a point where there was nothing to do but swim for it. Finding the breast-stroke too exhausting, he rolled over on his back and frog-kicked as his legs tensed up in the cold. “I had to just keep moving,” he says. I knew if I got to the shore, I’d be fine.“ He did and dragged himself up onto the rocks. It was a couple of minutes before he could stand, he recalls. Then he climbed up a steep dirt slope to the railroad tracks where he found Inclan, who had run back upriver. They swapped clothes, getting a chilled Bensch out of his wet ones; then Inclan called 9-1-1. After, a brief, precautionary visit to the emergency room at Legacy Salmon Creek hospital in Vancouver, Bensch was picked up by his family. But the two experienced kayak instructors, both educated in outdoor recreation leadership and tourism at Mt. Hood Commuity College, were not about to give up. They spent all of Tuesday looking for the boat and gear, finding only a single, prepackaged cookie that had floated out of one of the dry bags. On Wednesday, they visited Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak with tales of their trip and trials. That led to a sponsorship in the form of a new loaner boat for Bensch. Inclan had already been sponsored by Seattle’s Cascade Canoe and Kayak, where he works. Looking to take up where they’d left off, the boaters found conditions at Dalton Point unchanged — and less appealing than ever. It was more of the same downriver at Rooster Rock. So, deciding they weren’t trying to prove anything, they cut some 11 miles off the nearly 505-mile trip, putting in at Lewis & Clark State Park on the Sandy River. No sooner had they re-entered the Columbia than they found Bensch’s original boat, now riddled with holes and bent in half, but with almost all the gear intact he’d spent two years gathering. A friend came to get that equipment, and from there it was much smoother paddling to the Pacific.