Adventures of Mac Lightfoot: How to Lose a Drybag

Mac was coming down from a monster adrenaline rush that he gained while maneuvering within, and ultimately lining the boat over, the Class IV waterfall. He and Eagle Eye, along with companions in two other rafts, had spent the better part of the afternoon rowing the upper stretch of river in an attempt to get below the falls on day one. Downstream of the falls, chances at salmon and rainbow trout would begin in earnest. Already on the first day, the group had managed to land a lake trout, and countless grayling and Dollies. The main attraction was king salmon and rainbow trout, however, and both lay in wait below the falls.

Later during the float, Mac would come tight, albeit briefly, to what appeared to be a 3-foot rainbow, a fish that acted more like a pike than a trout. Casting a mouse pattern into the massive, downed cottonwood tree just off the main channel in a quiet slough, Mac enticed the quasi-water wolf to attack the mouse, though each time the fish fell short of completely engulfing it. Since Mac could easily see the trout in the crystal-clear water, each pursuit and near toilet-flush increased the angler's adrenaline flow. Finally, on the fourth cast, the bruiser destroyed the deer-hair concoction only to feel the hook and leap five feet clear of the water. Needless to say, the leader snapped and the sound of the fish slamming back to the water caused Eagle Eye to spin and say “WHAT was that?” That adrenaline compared to the initial jolt Mac felt when navigating said rapid.

By the time Mac and Eagle put the ropes back on the raft and pulled out of whirlpool hole, Mac's arms were beginning to tire. He spun the boat around to row forwards for a moment and could hear the young men in the group yelling, but was unable to understand them over the splash of the falls. They gestured toward the pair and jumped up and down.

Eagle and Mac both turned to see the second boat in the party face down at the base of the falls. No one was in sight. At that moment, Mac realized there was a lot more adrenaline in the tank.

He and Eagle paddled furiously for shore and ran the ¼-mile up the hill and back down to the third boat. Sweating profusely in the 80-degree sun, they were forced to keep bug suits zipped tight to avoid being bitten by swarms of mosquitoes, Mac wore thin gloves and was being bitten by at least a half dozen at a time on each hand through the gloves. They navigated the tricky top chute, jumped out of the boat, stripping the lines and pushing it off as quickly as they could. As the boat moved over the falls, Mac ran down to the whirlpool to find Mr. Expert shaken and stirred. Contusions and cuts were the worst of it, if you don't count the blow to his psyche.

Mac's advice at the start of the rapid was for the other two oarsmen to stay put while he and Eagle took the first boat down. The pair would then come back up and discuss the experience and then it would be their individual decision whether or not to take their boat down, with another person to help line the boat and to push off if they got stuck. The other option was that he and Eagle would do it for them. One additional thing was made clear; all the gear would be portaged over the ¼-mile stretch, which included about a 100-foot high hill, from the start to the end of the rapid. It would make it much easier to navigate the tricky upper stretch with an empty boat.

Mr. Expert, knowing all about such matters, ignored the instructions and attempted to navigate the rapid. And of course, he would do it alone and with all of his gear in the boat. The tricky upper section of the rapid was a chute between two truck-sized boulders that was not wide enough to navigate with the oars extended. Mr. Expert pulled the oars out of the locks before the chute, floated through and then could not get them back in the locks. Panic set in and instead of jumping out of the boat sometime in the 50 yards before the falls, he decided to go down with the ship. Thankfully, nothing worse happened to him and all his gear was retrieved, which of course was not in dry bags, so everything—including his tent, sleeping bag and clothes—was soaking wet.

It was now 11 pm and the group had been on the river for 12 hours. As Mac portaged his gear the adrenaline finally wore off and he began to get ornery. Here they were deep in the bush with members of the group acting with little forethought as to what would happen in the case of a serious injury. As the scowl deepened, he tossed one of three dry bags containing the totality of his worldly goods for the next 10 days down the slope to the raft resting in the water. And in nearly comic fashion, the bag rolled, bounded, then bounced onto the starboard pontoon and tumbled into the river. The airtight, forest green, 115-liter Seal Line dry bag happily floated away at about four miles per hour.

After the initial shock wore off, Mac began bellowing to Eagle that one of his bags was in the water and this initiated another 10 minutes of total panic as both men ran to grab the last of their gear. Mac jumped on the sticks and began paddling downriver as fast as he could go. Thirty minutes into the power-row, he was losing steam and beginning to wonder which bag he'd lost. Did it house the tent, or was it food? Maybe the sat phone rental was now on the fast track for the big river. At half-past midnight, Mac was completely spent.

At that moment, the happy green dry bag appeared in the distance, bobbing along without a care in the world. Eagle grabbed the oars for the final sprint to the bag. Mac's relief was palpable, and both men felt like they'd ridden the adrenaline roller coaster for far too long.

The sun shone on Mr. Expert for the rest of the trip; everything dried quickly, he caught many nice fish and when the group approached the next Class III rapid, he listened intently and followed instructions to the letter. To Mac's relief, no more dry bags mutinied.