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First Ascent Kayaker Jesse Coombs Helps Rescue on Washington River
Posted on September 23, 2010


By Jesse Coombs

A few years back, we arrived in Hood River, OR, to promote a show that evening. We knew we had a day off from our First Descent: Hotel Charley, Vol 5 tour before heading to our next show and wanted to get in a couple of runs on the Little White Salmon.

I love the Little White Salmon because it is a great barometer for how I’m boating. When I’m paddling well, I get rewarded with good lines and fun times. When I am not paddling well, the Little White exposes those areas and gives me immediate feedback on what I need to work on.

On Sunday, we put in for our first run at about 1 p.m. we knew that a big Hood River crew was on the river, and we were hoping to see them at some point. We paddled through the river with comfortable confidence through Gettin’ Busy, Boulder Sluice, Island, Sacriledge, Double Drop, S-Turn, Bowey Hotel, Wishbone and the always considerable Stovepipe. We know the lines well and moved through these drops relatively quickly.

After Stovepipe came the centerpiece of the Little White Salmon, Spirit Falls—a 30-foot waterfall. When we got to Spirit I could see something was wrong with the group ahead of us, so I got out of my boat rather than running the falls immediately.

I walked over to the group ahead and asked what was happening. They said that several people ran Spirit and a guy named Jarred Jackman was trapped behind the falls and curtain on the left. They had lowered a break-down paddle to Jarred while the others set safety below the pool at Chaos, a terminal hole right after Spirit Falls. Stuck behind the falls, Jarred had attempted to paddle past the boil between the falls and the left curtain but was unable to make this very tough move and swam in the attempt.

Jarred was still behind the falls, and I was getting concerned for him. Apparently he’d been back there for over 30 minutes, and that is no fun for anyone. With this in mind, I started thinking about trying to get behind the falls to help him.

This was not something for me to take lightly as Spirit Falls and Chaos have done a lot of damage to a lot of very good paddlers including broken paddles, noses and backs, and a near-drowning in Chaos where a pro paddler had to be resuscitated. Serious stuff!

I looked at the line and decided that if I ran a pencil angle on the left, I would be pushed behind the curtain with Jarred. I checked the entrance and got in my boat.

I ran the line I wanted, turning my boat inward at the last possible second as I penciled on the left. I went deep, angling underwater towards the back of the curtain where Jarred was. As expected, my boat—Jackson’s Super Hero—surfaced immediately and right at the curtain where I wanted.

When I reached Jarred we had a conversation to figure out a plan:

Jesse: “Hey, how are you?”

Jarred: “Good, considering where I am. I almost made it out but this paddle isn’t helping much.”

Jesse: “Do you like Werners (paddles)? We can switch.”

Jarred: “Hell yeah, I’ll trade if you’re good with that.”

Jesse: “OK, I think this thing exits on the left through that veil. You have two options: You can either paddle through that veil with me behind you, or I can clip onto your boat and we can paddle out tandem-style.

Jarred: “I like the first option, paddling through the veil.”

Jesse: “OK, I’ll be right behind you. If anything goes wrong, we’ll come back in here and regroup. Remember to keep your edge up and maybe even paddle off the wall if you need to, that veil is going to beat down on you. Oh, by the way, I’m Jesse.”

Jarred: “Yeah, I know who you are.”

Jarred later described thinking to himself, “Damn, I already battled with that veil once, and it made me swim. So now I am going to paddle through it with a pro backing me up. I better get through this thing without swimming or having major issues. It would be nice to come through upright and smiling!”

Jesse: “All right, let’s hit it.”

Jarred got in his boat and started paddling into the veil where I told him it would release. I also told him it would push him against the wall, and that was okay, and he should brace against it. I debated following him closely, but decided to hang back a minute. That way, if he came back behind the falls, I would still be there.  And if he made his way past the veil, there were lots of people there to help him. I waited for a minute, didn’t see Jarred, and paddled through the waterfall veil.

I found out when I paddled into the pool below that Jarred had successfully paddled out from under the waterfall but had swam into Chaos. This was not an issue as his team had set great safety and had him on shore quickly.

One of my favorite things in kayaking and in life is helping others, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to successfully help Jarred out of a concerning and dangerous situation.

Author: - Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

  1. David Coulson

    I thought the Little Whites Salmon was in Washington across the Columbia River from Hood River.

  2. Don

    Think you’re right David. Didn’t this happen two or three years ago too? To the same person with the same outcome and people helping? Poor Jared. I didn’t think there was a premier in the hood this year either.

  3. First Ascent Brand Team

    David and Don, thanks for your comments and flagging the inaccuracies. You’re right, the Little White Salmon is on the WA side. We also got clarification that this incident happened a few years ago. For both errors we have made edits to the copy to avoid any future misunderstandings.

    Paolo at Eddie Bauer First Ascent

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