The past few weeks have just flown by, filled with new friends and never ending projects. As Jennifer and I were working around the house one afternoon, we saw a float plane land in the little lake. This is a normal event over in the big lake during the summer because there are a handful of property owners that are pilots and do fly in on weekends and holidays. Jen and I are the only ones that live full-time in the little lake, so we were curious to see who was landing back here. There is a cabin on the same side as ours that we have always considered to be abandoned. When we saw 3 people over there, we were excited to meet them. Jen went over to introduce herself and invite them over for dinner. Funny how small of a world it is when we find out the couple lives off Barton Springs right by Zilker park in Austin. The 78704 was now on the lake with us. We had an amazing diner and great conversation. As the night went on, as all typical Austinites do, one of them (Danny), picks up the guitar and starts to play. We sing tunes long into the night. All amazing people! The sweetest old lady called Nina, was the the owner of the cabin and they haven’t been out to the property in 4 years since her husband passed. The couple was her daughter and son-in-law. They were here on the anniversary of his passing for a celebration of life and to spread his ashes in the lake. I decided to take Danny out fishing the next morning and catch some fish. It was a good time.
Our friend, Robbie, came out with his son and grandkids. This was nice to host, and awesome to have people actually stay the night in the guest cabin. The boys played in the lake all day and we hung up a rope swing so they could fly out into the water. That night we played games and watched movies.
Also on the lake were some of our new friends from Fairbanks. They had a guest in town that was purchasing their property. Funny thing is the guy buying the place is from Kerrville, Texas, right up the road from Austin. All the locals joke that Texas is taking over the lake. I have to remind them that I’m from Louisiana not Texas…lol. They invited us over for a weenie dog roast and good company. The weather was beautiful and all was great. Little did we know things would all turn awry the following day.
Jen has written about the Tsirku River in past blogs, but I wanted to give my own take. This river is not scary to me. It can be intimidating. I know it’s very unforgiving and I do respect it. I’m always in awe of how much it constantly is changing. It’s like a living being and it’s ready to lash out at you if you let your guard down. Running the river has become very exciting to me. I actually get nervous sometimes, especially when I’m hauling big loads of lumber or have lots of weight on board. You have to learn how to read the rapids and currents to know exactly where to go. You can never get comfortable with one area of the river because it will undoubtedly change the minute you do. You must always walk over to the bank and scan the river to find your best route. Not only scanning for safe passage across, but also putting together in your mind what you’re going to do when trouble does arise. Jumping in the boat without a game plan or route is dangerous and foolish. The most important thing to remember when running the river is don’t panic if something happens (because eventually it will). And, always wear a life vest.
A few days ago, as Jen and I came into the river, we knew right away it was flowing like crazy. A good indication that is was going to be nuts was the 1-foot rise on the lake at our dock . The Tsirku River is fed by the Tsirku Glacier. As the temperature rises, the more it melts, and the more water flows down stream. Also feeding the Tsirku River is Chilkat Lake. As the snow and glaciers melt around us in the mountains, they all empty into the Chilkat then exit out through Clear Creek into the river . This creates a massive intersection of water where Clear Creek empties out in to the Tsirku. As we cleared the river, and made it to the other side, we tied up the boat and relaxed for a minute. As I typically do, I made Jenifer walk over to the rivers edge with me and check out the current status. I always do this while Jen is busy unloading the boat and loading the truck, but I always make her stop to join me. Regardless if I’m the one always driving the boat, I feel that it’s equally important that she learns as much about this river as she can. Every trip to the river is a learning opportunity.
As we stood at the river’s edge checking out the new paths the river has carved out, we spotted our friends from Fairbanks coming out of Clear Creek. We knew that they were bringing the fellow that was buying the property back in so he could head back to Texas. As we watched them navigate the river, I notice that they were coming in pretty hot and close to a sweeper log that was lodged in the river’s bank. A “sweeper” is a large fallen tree that is in the water horizontal to the current. They usually catch lots of debris floating down the river and there is alot of water pressure from the current flowing against it. They call them sweepers because the pressure is so intense that the river could sweep you right against it and then sweep you under. When I realized they were getting close, I looked at Jen and said “It looks like they’re going to go right into that log”. Right as I said that, the current swept them into the log. One second they were all 3 in the boat and then….gone!
It happened so fast. It was like this giant beast swallowed them and the entire boat in a split second. As fast as the river swallowed them up, it spit them right out. The 3 of them popped up on the other side of the log and all were swiftly being swept downstream. The boat was nowhere to be seen. As I saw the Texas guy holding on to his suitcase that was keeping him afloat, all Jen and could do was watch the fear on their faces as they flew by us in the water. Jen and I kicked into gear. I yelled to them not to panic and assured them that the current would push them into the shallow water in a second, and that we were coming for them. As we jumped into the boat, we saw exactly that unfold. The 2 guys made it to the shallow and were able to crawl across a couple of other shallow passes and make it to the high ground. The lady was trapped on a shallow bar further down the river and wasn’t moving from that spot. We didn’t know what her condition was, but she was sitting up with her back against the current.
As Jen and I took off down river in the boat, I’m trying to think how this rescue is going to go. She’s in such a shallow spot in the middle of the river that we might get stuck trying to get her on board. There wasn’t alot of time to think about it, we just had to react. As we got into our boat, the man’s wife yelled out, “Please save her. I can’t lose her. I can’t do without her.” I motored down to where she was and whipped the boat around into the current and told Jen to take the wheel. We were idling enough that the river was not pushing us downstream, almost like running in place on a treadmill. As Jen took the wheel, I pulled out a large rope and tied a loop around one end thinking if it’s too shallow, at least I can lasso her and pull her to the boat. As I took the wheel and edged our way over to her, the current pulled us dangerously close to her. At this point, I knew the rope idea was not going to work because the current was going to push us right on top of her and run her over. I was going to have to use brute force and let the motor do its thing. I gunned it and whipped the tail end around so that she could grab hold of one of the pontoons I have welded on the back of the boat. This would not be a good idea if the motor had a prop because of the risk of hitting her with it, but no one has props out here due to all the rocks and shallow water. As she latched onto the pontoon I grabbed her by the belt and pulled her in. I gunned the engine and we were out and headed to safe ground.
After all three were united and thoughts collected, we found the boat overturned, slightly sticking out of the water, a little ways down stream from the sweeper log. We were able to pull it out of the river with 2 trucks. The motor was pretty much ruined, and all that was in the boat was gone, but more importantly, no one was hurt! This was a very intense experience and makes me respect the river even more. Jen and I don’t feel like some kind of heroes, we just thank God that we were on that river bank at that exact time to be able to help.