How I almost died in the Boundary Waters – A cautionary tale!
Boundary Waters, Minnesota, USA
I almost died Tuesday. We all could have – my sister, two friends, and myself – but I had the near death experience for sure! It involved two canoes, four cocky girls, the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, and rapids that are more similar to a dam…loaded with rocks! End result: Rapids – 4, Humans – 0!
It was the last mile of our four day canoe trip. Up to this point everything had gone pretty much near perfect; the weather treated us well, the campsites were more than we had expected, the scenery was magical, campfires roared every night, and there was plenty of wine for nightly relaxation. Even the portages we had to deal with were fun and easy. However, it was the last portage that made us decide that we should take on the rapids-of-doom. We still say, out loud, at random times, “we are so dumb!”
The portage itself was a death trap! It was 1,000 feet of roots, holes, steep hills with a drop to death, and about a foot wide. It really did not seem the lesser-of-two-evils at the time…but hindsight is 20/20, right?!
At this point folks have asked, “why the heck did you do it!?” My sister explained it best, “if we had not done that little mini rapid that we did yesterday, there is no way we would have considered this today!” Essentially, we thought we were professional rapids riders at this point! I was laughing as I wrote that last sentence. Still laughing!
We are so dumb!
So now we are ready to take on the rapids. My sister and Terrie go first. They make it past the largest drop and skirt around the unseeable rock of near-death. However, they get hung up on a rock that forces them to get out of their canoe and walk about ten feet to their left so they can realign for the next intense part of the rapids. They decided to wait there for my canoe to go down.
Now it was our turn.
We took the plunge, and low-and-behold, we hit the hidden rock of near-death! It forced us to flip to our right. Unfortunately, there is a giant house sized bolder that is sitting right there on my right. So when we flipped I was immediately pinned against the bolder by my canoe. It just so happens that my canoe had wedged itself against a rock…leaving me completely immobile on my side with water rushing all around me. If is wasn’t for my life jacket, my chest would have been crushed by the force of the canoe and the rock pushing against me; a few more inches down and I would have been completely submerged underwater. I was 100% unable to move! I tried, but this was a situation I had no control over.
Now, since my canoe was flipped to the right and my sister was on my left, she had no idea what was going on. All she knew was that I hit my head (which I didn’t, but it was close) and was knocked out while drowning. So with all her might (she weighs 120 lbs. soaking wet) she is fighting against the current to get to me. She says she kept slipping while trying to get to me because the current and rocks were showing no mercy while at the same time thinking she was watching me die. I can only imagine her panic.
Fortunately, my canoe buddy, and savior, Nicole was unscathed by the tipping of the canoe and realized she had to push the canoe back up from whence we came. So with all her might she pushed the canoe up and was able to dislodge me just enough for me to get some grip and free myself. I got up, looked around, and saw the expression of relief on my sister’s face that was intense. Now if I had gotten hurt at this moment I was not aware of it. Well, except for a small gash on my elbow that was bleeding, but it wasn’t that bad by my standards.
After I assured everyone that I was ok we all began to giggle. I was pumped and having a blast at this point. I even yelled, ‘this is still better than that damn portage path of death!”. I don’t think the reality of it all had really sunk in for me yet.
We now realized we had to continue down this miscalculated rapids, because going back was not an option. So, Nicole and I decided to load up and head down the rest of the mini waterfall, first this time.
The second we started forward we realized the trouble we were in. We had not even gone ten feet and the rocks and current flipped us again. This time my canoe buddy hurt her leg while the canoe turned sideways and pinned her up against a rock and I was rushed down the rapids. This time I am completely at the mercy of the rapids. For about twenty feet I was whipped down the rapids and its drops, hitting every rock on the way while being pulled under water. My life jacket was trying to come up over my head while I was underwater fighting to keep it on. I wasn’t panicking, because at this point all I thought was that as long as I didn’t hit my head and get knocked out I would be ok.
Once I was able to get footing and stand up I turned to immediately go help Nicole because I was convinced she was in trouble. As a jumped and turned to run up the current I realized my friend was already safe and on a large rock…but she looked hurt. She assured me it wasn’t bad and that it was her leg that was a bit sore. Thank goodness!
Now I was on the rock and yelled to my sister and Terrie to not come down on the canoe and to just send it down alone. They did not hear me.
Soon Sandy and Terrie were coming down the rapids in their canoe with complete terror painted all over their faces…they were afraid they were going to run into us. All of a sudden they hit a rock and the canoe flipped them over and out of their canoe. They did not get hurt, thank goodness, however, both of our canoes where now lodged between rocks… and filled with water.
Fortunately, at this point, we are now past the high velocity rapids and able to navigate by foot our canoes and selves to safety. But first we need get the water out of our canoes.
I go to try and lift one end of the canoe so at least some of the water could come out, but I realized that I did not have all of my strength. I was really weak, actually. Come to find out, a few days later, that I had seriously twisted my leg, displaced my hip, messed up my thigh muscle (I still can’t cross that leg), bruised my tailbone, gained a bruise the size of my hand on my waist and butt, bruises all over my body, and chipped the bone in my elbow. My leg and hip damage caused my sciatic nerve to be pinched when I rotate a certain way. Let’s just say I had no appetite for two days because of the lower back pain. No worries, the chiropractor fixed my right up.
We were finally able to get the canoes emptied and out of the rapids to where we had our gear and food at. We portaged them before we went down the rapids. This was when we learned about the horrible conditions of the portage; thus encouraging us to go down the rapids. We are so dumb!
Needless to say, we had a blast in the Boundary Waters, but the last mile was probably the most memorable. We are so fortunate that we all made it out alive and in one piece…for the most part. We have already made plans for next years adventure up there. This time we are going to do a whole week! I can not wait!!
I suppose I can share this story as a cautionary tale for those who are thinking about going down rapids in the boundary waters. My advice is DO NOT DO IT!
We are so dumb!