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March 6, 2021

Today I went paddling with the kayaking MeetUp group to Cutler Reservoir. It was mostly a good trip, but we had a scary situation that could have ended in tragedy.

We all met at the Cutler boat ramp at 10 am. I was a little worried about it getting cold, however, when I left home it was 51 degrees. But as I headed north it got colder. As I entered Cache Valley, the temperature was down to 33 degrees and snow was covering much of the ground. When I arrived at the boat ramp there was no wind, so it felt pretty good.

Cutler Reservoir is northwest of Logan and is part of the Bear River drainage. The reservoir is mostly in the valley, but traveling west from the boat ramp the water narrows down as it passes through a two mile narrow canyon to Cutler Dam. Our plan was to paddle through the canyon to the dam, eat lunch and then paddle back. It takes 7 miles of paddling to make the round trip.

We had 12 boats in our group and we left the boat ramp at around 10 am. There was some ice along the edges of the water, with a few icebergs floating in the middle. However, there was no wind so the water was calm and flat. The canyon narrowed down and soon we were within the high canyon walls. It was a beautiful sight with the snow covered mountains reflected in the calm water.

Icebergs

We saw a small herd of deer and a lot of geese on the water and shoreline. The railroad tracks were somehow attached to the walls of the canyon and a freight train came through while we were paddling near the train trestle. 

After about 2.5 miles into the canyon the wind started blowing up the canyon so it made paddling to the dam a little difficult. We all made it to the dam and floated over to the canyon walls. The shore line was just sheer canyon walls, so there was nowhere to stop and get out of the kayak. So we just floated near shore and held onto the rocks, to keep from being blown away, while we ate lunch.

While we were eating lunch the wind increased and as we left the dam the wind blew us back towards the boat ramp. It was blowing hard enough that I didn’t have to paddle, even though technically, we were going upstream. 

The wind was strong and with the narrow canyon, waves in the reservoir were very strange as then bounced off the canyon walls. It was a little difficult to control the kayak. 

The next part of our adventure I didn’t take any pictures for obvious reasons. The group was spread out up the canyon, and we were about a mile down the canyon from the dam. I had just went around a small island and since it was still blowing hard I took a look behind me. I was in the middle of our group of boats, with 5 boat behind me. 

As I turned around I saw two boaters trying to grab Thomas’s kayak as it was being blown across the canyon. He had big inflated kayak that the wind was able to blow around. Earlier I thought, if any of us are going to have troubles in the wind it was Thomas. And even worst was he was not wearing a life jacket. Thomas was a young kid, maybe 18 years old, and was on the trip with his mother.

I was about 200 yards downwind from them, so I started paddling back to see if I could help. It was pretty tough going as the wind was still blowing hard. When I got close I yelled to see if they had Thomas, but no, they yelled back that he was somewhere in the water. I kept paddling upwind. I could see stuff in the water, and I was real worried that I would be looking for his body floating in the water. The water temperature was around 35 degrees and you can not last long in water that cold.

Fortunately for Thomas, Grant was the last one coming back from the dam. I saw Grant paddling for the shoreline, but I wasn’t sure he had Thomas. I kept paddling upwind and we both got to the rocks along the shore about the same time. Grant was dragging Thomas alongside his kayak and we got him out of the water. He was soaking wet, but still conscious. Both Grant and I got wet from the knees down as we had to get into the water to keep the boats from blowing away. Again Thomas was fortunate as Grant was very experienced and prepared. We had Thomas strip out of his wet clothes and Grant had a dry shirt, pants and hat for him to wear. I gave him my extra jacket, gloves and towel. Thomas was still very cold and shivering, but getting in dry clothes and a wind jacket kept him from losing more body heat.

While we were getting Thomas dressed, the other kayakers finally made it to us pulling Thomas’s kayak. This was good as there was no other way to get him back to the cars and warm him up. Once we had his kayak back, Grant and I loaded him in his boat. Next, we lined up all three kayaks side-by-side, with Thomas in the middle, so we could stabilize the kayak and keep him from being blown over again. We pushed into the canyon and the wind just blew us down the reservoir for the next mile. We only had to paddle to keep our raft of boats pointed the right direction.

Meanwhile, Paula, Thomas’ mother, was panicking and had made it to shore on the opposite side of the canyon. She was fine, but was very shaken up. Several other boaters made it over to her to help, but she would not leave the shoreline. She called 911 and arranged for Search and Rescue to come save her. We were already going down the canyon so we couldn’t help her. I was worried that she was in trouble as she wasn’t with the other kayakers when they caught up to us. But they let us know she was okay, but was waiting to be rescued.

As Grant and I were being blown down the canyon with Thomas, we kept him talking to keep his spirits up. He was shivering quite hard, but I told him that was good as it would warm him up. He did pretty good, but the wind was still blowing and that kept him cold. He was unable to paddle so we kept him between us as we floated. As we exited the narrow part of the canyon the wind slowed and it wasn’t enough to keep us moving. I stayed next to Thomas as Grant and Matt tied ropes to Thomas’ kayak and pulled us back towards the boat ramp. About a mile from the ramp, the S&R boat passed up going back up the canyon to get Paula and her boat.

As we got close to the ramp we could see the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. We went to shore near the road just before the ramp. I had to break my way through the ice to get Thomas’s kayak to the shore line. The sheriff deputies were there and pulled Thomas out and put him in the ambulance. The sun had come out so Thomas had warmed up quite a bit. 

The rest of us paddled to the boat ramp and got the kayaks out. About that time the S&R boat arrived back with Paula. Thomas was warming up in the ambulance and the rest of us were putting up our boats. It felt good that everyone got back safe. Thomas was just fine after warming up and I helped he and his mom load up their kayaks.

After I loaded up, I changed into some dry shoes and drove home. My butt and legs were wet, but once in the car the heater warmed me up and dried my clothes. I left the dock around 2 pm and made it home by 4 pm.

It was a fun trip with a little excitement that fortunately didn’t turn tragic.

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