Upon Further Review: Ill-Advised Swim Leads to Rescue at Dinosaur National Monument

Sp;it Mountain Campground and the Green River.

The Green River is visible in the background of this photo of the Split Mountain Campground at Dinosaur National Monument. NPS photo.

Summer is here and warmer weather has arrived in most parts of the country. For many park visitors that prompts the desire to go for a swim, and when you get a bunch of guys together on the bank of a river, there's an apparently almost irresistible temptation to prove somebody can swim to the other side.

Taking a dip in a river isn't always a good idea, of course, and a recent "not so excellent adventure" at Dinosaur National Monument led to not one, but two rescue attempts. The first effort nearly ended in disaster.

The misadventure began at 6:30 a.m. on a mid-May morning when two college-age students who were camping with their geology class decided to swim across the Green River at the Split Mountain Boat Ramp. According to information from the park, "river flows were high at the time, running about 7,000 cubic feet per second, and the water temperature was in the mid-fifties." The two swimmers were each clothed in shorts and shoes; neither had a life jacket.

Information on the park website provides a little perspective for that stunt:

It may be really hot out, and those cool rivers may look tempting – but lurking beneath the water’s surface are hidden hazards: dangerously cold temperatures and strong currents can lead to disaster. Diving and swimming in rivers is strongly discouraged, and wearing a life jacket when rafting is mandatory.

Let's see: the reason one would want to wear a life jacket while rafting would be to provide some help in case one should fall out of a raft or find oneself unexpectedly in the water for any other reason. Perhaps that offers a clue for someone who intentionally goes into the water for a swim.

This pair tempted fate on several counts, including the lack of life jackets, but one of the duo wised up, turned back soon after starting out, and made it safely back to shore. His partner was long on determination but short on wisdom and made it across the river. His success proved to be a case of good news and bad news: he found himself stranded on a small sandbar against the rock face of Split Mountain.

Swimmer #2 did make one good decision for the day, and he didn't try to swim back across the river to his starting point. His companions, failing to recognize when it was time to cut their losses, decided to attempt a rescue…and it nearly ended in disaster.

The park's report says the group's plan for a rescue involved tying an individual to a rope so he could swim to the opposite shore. The result: "When he entered the water, the current jerked the rope out of the hands of two of the three people holding it, while the third suffered rope burns to his hands. As the flow caught the “rescuer,” the rope became taut and he was forced to the bottom of the river. Fortunately he was able to employ a knife to cut himself free, and was helped back to shore."

As this near-miss was unfolding, other members of the group finally made a good decision: summon some expert help. They contacted an interpretive ranger, who reported the incident via radio. The park report summarized the rest of the tale:

Ranger Zach Parkes arrived within minutes and assumed incident command. Resource management “weed warrior” Kelly Kager arrived with an inflatable kayak, extra life jacket, and helmet, and after a safety system was set up downstream, she paddled across the river and was able to return the swimmer to the campground via boat. He was evaluated for hypothermia and injuries. All other party members refused medical attention.

The summer is young, and we can only hope similar bad ideas will also have a successful outcome. Anybody want to place odds on that possibility?