Sometimes snorkeling is about admiring and celebrating the life that lives in our streams. Sometimes it’s about appreciating the structure and geology of the stream and how water can wear away stone and sometimes it’s about adventure and adrenaline. Tonight was supposed to be about life, about getting into a river to see what wintertime nocturnal inhabitants might be out. It turned into something much more knee weakening.
The river was loud and I could hear it as soon as I opened my car door. The noise grew as I walked closer until the river drowned out any other sound. It was up a little, maybe six inches higher than the last time I was here, but the water was clear. The river isn’t large, and there are plenty of opportunities for self rescue, but still being in a river alone at night in the cold is a little sketchy. I laid my head lamp on top of my gear bag, pulled on my wetsuit hood and mask, turned on my underwater light, waded out into the current and laid down.
The river was definitely flowing harder today than most trips here, and I had a hard time holding in a pool that normally doesn’t take more effort than dropping my toes to the bottom. I acclimated to the current, slowly worked upstream, and searched for life as I went. I expected to see some kind of fish here, but wound up admiring the rock structure of the river. Scoured bedrock formed large parts of the bottom and the slick rock made it hard to hold against the current. Boulders sat on top of the water worn bedrock. Piles of gravel accumulated in the lee of the boulders and sand gathered in the eddies. The water glowed from my light. I felt like I was caving, exploring all the nooks and crannies between smoothed bedrock and angulated granite boulders. I tried to keep 2 points in contact with the bottom at all times to keep from getting swept downstream but my feet peeled off the slick bedrock and I started to spin in the pool. My legs got sucked into a chute and I couldn’t get out so I flowed through over a short drop into the next pool. I swam into the lee behind a large rock and picked my head out of the water. In the few spins and flow through the chute I became disoriented and had no idea where I was. I didn’t know where my gear bag was on the shore, and I couldn’t see the small light I left on with the bag so could find it in the dark. Soon I found a familiar log strung between boulders and from there it was easy to find my light and bag. Once I reached my gear and was able to replace my wet cold gear with dry fleece, I realized that my knees were weak from the excitement of unintentionally swimming a short rapid at night. I hoped to see fish tonight, but instead I saw and experienced the physical side of the river, and felt the adrenaline it produced.