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Drowning on the Wenatchee

The drowning of a young man on the Wenatchee River on Sunday saddens those of us who recreate on the river. Read the details of the accident in this story published by the Wenatchee World.

All drowning are tragedies, but it's particularly sad when accidents nip those in the prime of life when there’s still so much hope and promise present. Unfortunately the irony here is that often the very strength and bloom of youth makes people cavalier or careless around existing dangers. Likely this factored into why the victim of this accident was not wearing a life jacket.

We frequently see people, particularly young people, floating stretches of the Wenatchee without lifejackets, or drinking while floating, or completely uninformed about hazards (like strainers) awaiting them downstream.

Now that the river has dropped and the weather has warmed, innertube season is upon us. Not only are 'tubes slow and ungainly crafts to navigate compared to kayaks or canoes, the majority of folks piloting them are the immortal under-30 crowd. That's double trouble when it come to safety in an environment where moving water has vast power and can be terribly unforgiving.

We urge innertubers who haven’t spent much time floating rivers to learn what they’re doing by floating the flat section of the Wenatchee at Leavenworth (between the Icicle Road Bridge and Waterfront Park) a few times (see our map). The next step in difficulty would be floating the Lower Wenatchee between the Sleepy Hollow Bridge and Confluence State Park. Many tubers put on the Lower Wenatchee at Cashmere or at Monitor County Park, but both these stretches of river have more strainers and logjams that can ensnare those who tangle with them.

One such hazard this year has been reported by John Marshall and we’ve listed his warning in our Condition Reports area of the home page (left side) under River and Lake Levels (a good place to check for hazards affecting our regional rivers).  Here’s his update:

8/12/2011. Lower Wenatchee. "Strainer danger for paddlers and tubers.  here is a potentially deadly strainer situation below Monitor County Park.  This is in the same area where a woman was drowned several years ago, only it is on river left now instead of river right.  Just to reference the location, after county park the river is smooth for a while, then splits at high water with a minor channel to the left. Taking the right channel the river picks up speed then splits into three strands. The right strand has high standing waves, holes at some levels and some sweepers.  The middle channel also has some waves but if you dump you are in no danger.  The far left channel runs smooth and fast straight into the bank which has a major strainer trap waiting the un-skilled.  My son Theo and I paddled it today, and we really had to stay on our toes not to go into the strainer.  In retrospect we should have taken the center channel. In order of safest routes I would recommend the middle followed by the right side followed by the far left.  The right channel would be hard to do in a standard issue canoe without swamping.  Lots of tubers on the river today, none with life jackets.  Fortunately the main current goes right.
As the river continues to drop,  tubers --some experienced, some not -- will start floating the main whitewater section of the Wenatchee between the Dryden Dam and Cashmere. While this can be done safely by experienced floaters, it is not a safe stretch of water for the average summer recreationalist looking for an adventurous way to cool off.

For example, on the evening of August 16, 2011 as three of us who were kayaking  were coming through Snowblind Rapid about 1.5 miles above Cashmere, we saw a well-equipped whitewater canoe stuck in one of the recirculating holes at the bottom of the rapid. An experienced canoeist, who had passed us earlier had floated down the middle of the rapid and, because the holes are difficult to see until you're right upon them, had dropped into one of the two holes in this rapid that get very retentive at low flows. After rattling around in the hole for 30 seconds, the paddler was able to push off his canoe and floated clear of the recirculating water. The boat itself had been spinning around in the hole for 45 minutes when we came through. We waited 10 minutes thinking the boat might escape the maelstrom holding it, but it became apparent it wasn’t washing out any time soon.

If experienced paddlers with much more capable equipment sometimes find themselves in trouble on this stretch of water, it is NOT an appropriate place for inexperienced tubers.

Read more about safe tubing here.