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7 Teacups Mishap

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Evan Christensen, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    I have been wanting to post my experience in Seven Teacups (7TC). Not only is this a great story, but I hope to learn more from the community and possibly help others learn from my mistakes. I thought I was going to drown in the middle of a waterfall. I made several errors of which you read, one of them being underestimating the force of swift water.

    [​IMG]

    Last Summer, my family headed to California for a short vacation. I was excited to add a trip through 7TC since we would be in the general area. I researched the cfs flow in the Kern river to try and get an estimate of the conditions in 7TC. The flow in the Kern river was about 2400 cfs the day before the trip and one trip report talked about "low" flows being around 300-400 cfs. I figured that I was not measuring the right area/segment because the difference seemed too large. It turned out that the Kern was in fact raging and 7TC was in extreme condition. I took my then 12 yo son, Jack, with me on this adventure. We went into this adventure well equipped with the appropriate gear. I have been canyoneering for about 15 years and back in my 20's was a pretty strong rock climber. 7TC was however our first class C canyon. Crossing the Kern to get to the top of 7TC was intimidating but we made it. We bushwhacked up to the top of 7TC and suited up.

    The first rappel is off an arch where you rig a retrievable anchor. The space under the arch was completely covered with water, plus about 4 more inches up. We rappelled down a couple of drops into the 3rd teacup. The drop into the 3rd teacup usually looks like a waterslide, but that day it was just a waterfall. While standing on a ledge in the corner of the 3rd teacup we were intimidated by how much water was pouring over. The anchor to next rap we could see on the other side of the teacup. The challenge was to swim in between the waterfall and the next pour-off. This next pour-off was a through a narrow constriction and I underestimated the force of the current. Oh yeah, I made the mistake of tying an overhand-on-a-bight into the end of the rope and clipping that onto my harness before I made the swim across so I could set up the next rappel. As I swam towards the anchor, I was filled with terror as the current swept me over the edge! I was stopped at the end of the rope about 30% of the way down the waterfall where the water flow begins to widen- see photo.

    This image was taken 3 days later by another group. Photo from ropewiki thanks to Danielson. http://ropewiki.com/Conditions:Seven_Teacups-20190729213215
    [​IMG]

    For the next minute I was drowning. I fought to push my head out of the flow of water, I could only get gasps of air. I prayed that I wouldn't die leaving Jack trapped in the middle of this horrific situation. I remember thinking that he would likely be forced to spend the night there by himself, with his dad, dead on the end of the rope. From where Jack stood he couldn't see me. My backpack (another mistake having it on) had been ripped off one shoulder and managed to pin my arm behind my back. The force of the water was immense. I was able to unclip the waist belt of the pack, sending the pack down the waterfall and freeing my arm. I was able to get my knees up against the wall and keep my head out of the water. I had a small pocketknife clipped on my harness and knew that was the only way I was getting out of this situation. My fear in cutting the rope was that it would leave us stranded in the middle of 7TC and I didn't know if I would be able to get back up to where Jack was. I waited to cut the rope for now.

    I struggled for the next 15 minutes fighting for my life to keep my head out of the water attempting to make progress upward. I did make it to an improved stance where I was out of the waterfall from my waist up. At that time I saw Jack appear on an elevated area in the teacup. He had swam over to where he could see what was going on with me. He told me later that he thought that I was dead. We were able to communicate with difficulty and I told him that I had to cut the rope. I told him to return to the corner where he came from, the safer corner, and wait. I watched him push off towards the other corner when the current swept him right past me over the waterfall. I turned and watched him swim to the edge where he was able to climb out of the water (where the men are in the photo). Once I knew Jack was safe I cut the rope. We rested for 10 minutes in that spot overcoming the intense exhaustion.

    Jack spotted my backpack circulating in a lower teacup. Then we watched it drop into the next teacup and drift to a quiet edge. We worked our way down and recovered the backpack. I did have an InReach Mini, phone, and other things that I was glad to get back. I did lose my camera which probably sits at the bottom of the teacup. Jack and I were able to hike around back to the top and get the rope. We made our way back across the mighty Kern and back to the Johnsondale bridge where my wife and daughter had been waiting for us for the past hour. I wept as I hugged my wife thinking about the foolish decisions that nearly cost me my life and threatened Jacks'.

    I couldn't sleep for 3 days following this incident. I sleep fine now but still think about how close I came to not being able to make it out of 7TC. Here are a few lessons I learned:
    1) Respect the forces of water
    2) Every person carries at least one knife
    3) Don't swim with a backpack on in dangerous currents or around waterfalls
    4) Don't tie yourself into a rope when there are potential consequences
    5) Better to have another experienced adult or two with you in difficult canyons (Jack is quite experienced for a 13 yo kid, I have dragged him around with me for years doing challenging canyons)
    6) Being physically strong and in good shape may mean the difference of survival when poor decisions are made

    I will do this canyon another day when the conditions are better. Please share any comments, advice or experience. Thank you for reading and thanks for sharing your stories, experiences and skills with the community.
    Evan
  2. xenonrocket

    xenonrocket

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    That's terrifying. Thank you for the report.

    Every year people without class C experience have issues in teacups. In an effort to reduce those issues-looking back, what would it have taken for you to realize that the descending the canyon that day was a bad idea? What information would you have needed and what channel to communicate that would've been most effective?
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  3. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    I got much of my information from ropewiki. Perhaps in ropewiki have an easier way to access the cfs of the Kern and correlate that with conditions in 7TC. I found it difficult to locate and translate that information.
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  4. Sonny Lawrence

    Sonny Lawrence

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    Wow, Evan. What a story! You learned a lot. In the past ropewiki had a functional system for accessing waterflow data relevant to a particular canyon. The author died crossing a river with a rope tied to himself. Bad karma. Generally, the teacups should not be done by the average canyoneer when the water flow at Riverside Park, Kernville is over 900 cfs. That information is easy to find on the internet via Google. Would you be willing to add your experience to the canyon accident database? www.canyonaccidnet.org. Thanks
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  5. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Terrifying. Thanks for sharing and glad it had a happy ending.
  6. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Glad you made it out safely, water is not something you want to underestimate it doesn't take a whole lot to become dangerous once its funneled into a small area. I think what most people around here don't realize is that the techniques required for class C canyoneering are different from those learned in southern utah. When the flow is low the differences aren't as pronounced, but once the flow is strong enough to start pushing you around everything starts to change.
  7. Austin Farnworth

    Austin Farnworth

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    What date did your incident happen? High-flows lasted a long time this year in the Sierra, I've done the 7 teacups twice, but skipped them this year on our jump canyon trip. It must have been ripping to carry you over that waterfall!
  8. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    We were there July 25th.
  9. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Evan, more thanks for sharing the experience. An incredible story and turn of events. Very glad for your family that it had a happy ending.

    For whatever bad decisions and criticism you may think you deserve, you certainly solved the problems as they were rapidly coming at you. Good fortune, not giving up, mental and physical resilience are certainly to your credit.

    If I may throw a little salt...

    I think your 6 learned lessons sums it up rather succinctly. I would add one more:
    7. This assumption should have been validated - an extremely costly and risky supposition to make. Arguably the most critical go/no-go pre-trip gauge indicator.
    /end of salt tossing.

    Again, thanks for sharing it for everyone's benefit! It's the kind of story that makes you a little sick to your stomach when you read it, which is good - I guess, because those are the ones you remember.

    Most of us (that like to add water to our adventures) have had similar experiences. Yes, the stuff that keeps you up at night...even years later. "DOH, how could I have been so reckless!!!" My worst was 23 years ago with a 10 year old son in a whitewater strainer. In the midst of the struggle for survival, even when you've given your very best and are willing to fight to the end, there is a fleeting moment when the thought strikes you "this may not totally be up to me".
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020 at 10:33 AM
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  10. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    Thanks for your remarks. Nailed it with #7.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Thanks for the concise and clear writeup Evan. 7TC is kinda famous for people being humbled. Very glad you were not humbled to death.

    (Captain Obvious reaches into his bag of salt crystals...)

    Class C canyoning is quite different than our regular canyoneering, as I am sure is now clear. Almost like it is a different sport. As canyoneering is a different sport than rock climbing. Perhaps when taking up a new sport, one should start out accompanying people who know what they are doing, rather than with a child.

    Football season? How about this stretch of an analogy: "I've played baseball and was pretty good. How different could football be?"

    Tom
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  12. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Ask Patrick Mahomes?

    (That was a heckuva comeback.)

    Ok, Deon Sanders and Bo Jackson....
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  13. willie92708

    willie92708

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    First: WOW! Thanks Evan for sharing this extremely scary and harrowing story, and so thankful for you and family that it worked out OK! Lessons learned here need to be broadcast far and wide.

    Second: Reading your "I made the mistake of tying an overhand-on-a-bight into the end of the rope and clipping that onto my harness before I made the swim across so I could set up the next rappel." and having been on a swift water trip where that mistake was done, sent shivers down my spine. I hate rules, but "NEVER tie in directly to a rope in swift water" is a rule with absolute power. It's worth repeating and over and over!

    Third: adding to what Kuenn and Ratagonia said: With sports where errors can easily mean life and death, it's best to get professional training (or at least training from an expert in the sport) before setting off on any crazy adventure. Evan, you stated you rock climb and you most likely did not start leading trad routes after a quick visit to REI to buy some trad gear and then head to Red Rocks, NV for Frogland (700 foot tall 5.8), now did you? The same it true for anything with swift water. It takes time, experience, and training before "safely" (at least relatively) venturing out into swift water. Personally, I had a decade of "mellow" swift water training doing caves back East (TAG in USA) and yet that barely got me through my first class C canyon in SoCal, and that was but a tiny fraction of the flow in Seven Teacups. I realized I needed proper instruction, and I signed up for a weekend (3 day) long swift water class that summer. I spent time that spring with other expert canyoneers learning what I could. Unfortunately fate would have it that the swift water class was delayed a month because the Kern river was flowing too high to run the class, I went on a swift water canyon trip with other experts before the class to learn, and that fatal mistake was made, tying directly into the rope. Thus learning the THE HARD WAY!

    Forth: about Beta (and to help answer XenonRocket question): It seems many new users to RopeWiki miss the whole condition report data base which in under the "Conditions:" date hyperlink in the banner box:
    7TC banner.PNG

    which is "13 Oct 2019" (in this case). And Evan, if you had clicked on the hyperlink, you would see that no one had put in a trip report last year until after your trip. That should be a warning, that the experts (they typically post most all the reports) had not been because the conditions were too high and or too dangerous to run. Also you would see that we use the water depth at the natural bridge as a flow gauge. If there is a gap, it "easy" class C, no gap "sporty", above the bridge bottom "high to extreme". You mention 4 inches buried, and that's EXTREME flow! Since you did not have good beta going into your trip, and not having been there before to gauge the water flow by visual reference, you would have had check the natural bridge, but make sure you could escape back up if the water was too high above the bridge. Anyway, I'm going to mention to the RopeWiki guru's that we may need a way to make it more clear how to get to the recent conditions. Certainly for Seven Teacups we can add a direct link in the intro.

    And thanks again Evan for sharing! We all learn from this.

    Willie
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020 at 10:59 AM
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  14. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Michael Jordan.
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Captain Obvious forgot to state the general principle, Noel deNevers Complexity Rule:

    "All systems appear simple that you know very little about."

    T
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  16. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Thanks Willie, now you've got me scared again!!

    Even McBride's at high flow?:woot:
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  17. willie92708

    willie92708

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    OMG!!! That McBride's rescue was EPIC! I listened to war stories for years from TAG cavers.

    Seriously though, in caves even 1 CFS can be too much flow to handle in a small crawl way, such as at the top of the Vortex in Thunder Maker. And the very low flow of 3 CFS in Lost Creek Siphon (Montana) seemed unbelievably powerful compared to my TAG and Indiana experiences: https://legacy.cs.indiana.edu/~willie/lostcreek.html So when I started doing class C canyons, 5 to 10 CFS was a total different beast! And Seven Teacups can easily surpass 10 CFS. And it just goes up from there!

    I have a TON of respect for boaters that run the Kern River at 8000 CFS. I've stood next to the river at that flow and just cannot imagine what all can happen. It's mind numbing to even think about.

    Willie
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