It’s been 7 months since my rafting accident in Patagonia, Argentina. I’m finally regaining my strength and have overcome several of my injuries. A few of you have heard the story but I wanted to finally share what really happened that fateful day.
Whitewater rafting had always been a fear of mine. But I always try to face my fears head-on (pun intended). It had been raining in El Chalten a few days prior and the river looked swollen and angry. Guides rated the rapids at a level 3 or 4.
Before getting into our raft, I asked one of our guides which was the safest seat for someone like me, a 5’2” girl to sit. The guide looked me up and down, laughed out loud and said, “Don’t worry. Doesn’t matter where you sit, you’re going to fall in.”
Fine. I made the decision to prepare myself to fall in. Not because I wanted to but I wanted to mentally prepare myself to have the courage to stay calm.
We received safety training and got into the raft. There were two rafts: our raft, most of the men sat on the left side while the women sat on the right, unintentionally, but we realized this post-accident. I decided to sit at the front of the raft to get the best view. I was feeling confident and excited for the ride.
We paddled and went through a couple small rapids. Then we parked on the shore to get one more safety lesson before attempting a difficult rapid and moving down the rest of the river. We jumped back into our raft and within a few seconds, our raft capsized. We all fell in.
I remember opening my eyes and seeing darkness all around me. I quickly swam to the surface and took a deep breath of air. I distinctly remember saying this either out loud or in my head “Sh*t. This is the worst thing that could’ve happened.” I looked around and saw the raft upside down a few metres away. I quickly swam towards it to hold on to its rope that wrapped around its circumference. I saw other people from my raft holding onto the rope. I don’t remember their faces just their bobbing bright orange helmets. I suddenly saw the guide jump on top of the raft yelling, “Let go of the rope”. I was in a state of shock so his words made no impression on me. I didn’t move and I didn’t even realize he was yelling at us. I then noticed he was trying to flip the raft. That made sense. Flip the raft then we can get back in. Then I heard him say again, “Let go of the rope.” I muttered, “f*ck”. I knew what we had to do.
I then yelled out to my fellow rafters, “guys he wants us to let go of the rope.” He was in charge. We had no choice but to trust him. But I knew as soon as I let go of that rope I would be launched down that river like a boomerang. I braced myself, took a deep breath and let go.
As soon as I let go, I felt the force of the water. It was powerful and unforgiving. It pushed me down the river. I felt like a ragdoll being tossed around. I remember the safety instruction of pointing your feet downstream and staying flat on your back. I did that not before being pulled into a rapid. It sucked me down. I opened my eyes and saw rocks around me. That’s when I think I bashed my knee and shoulder. I managed to break free and come back to the surface where I gasped for air. I stayed on my back and floated down that river. Waves kept crashing over my face and chest. It felt like I was drowning. I tried to gasp for air every chance I could get before another wave of water would cover me.
I was tired. Running out of energy. I remember telling myself I cannot do this anymore. I HAVE to get out. I made a conscious decision to do everything I could to get the hell out of that water. I looked to my left and saw a rock jutting out from the water. I swam using all my strength to this rock and held on to it. I pulled myself up and stood on that rock.
Catching my breath I looked down and saw my hands covered in blood. One of my friends from the raft, a New Yorker named Jason, emerged from the waters. I don’t know how he got out. He took one look at me and point blank said, “Your face is bleeding.” It didn’t register. We then spotted Karen, a middle-aged therapist from New Jersey still holding onto her paddle and shaking her head in disbelief. I was comforted to see other people.
Our guide with his raft appeared from nowhere and yelled at us to get in. Jason sat at the front, the guide at the back. Karen and I clutched each other’s hands and cheered the men on. It took guts to shake off that experience and start paddling again. I was thankful for their bravery. The other raft which did not tip over was on a rescue mission. They were scooping up the tossed out rafters.
We came to shore where the other raft was waiting. I looked up and everyone in the other raft was staring at us. Me in particular. Their eyes were as big as saucers and everyone was quiet. I knew at that point my face looked really bad. I got out of the raft and they put me in the other one where they cleaned up the wound and wrapped gauze all over my head. The sight of my blood terrified one of the passengers and put her back into a state of panic. We headed back out onto the river. Our trip was not over.
I overheard our tour guide ask the raft guide how much longer in Spanish and he responded, “We’re only halfway there.” I was injured and still bleeding, the other girl was now in a full-blown panic attack. We couldn’t go any longer. I turned around and in a stern voice said, “I don’t care what you have to do, we are getting off this boat right now.” The guide said, “There’s no way to get out except through the river.” That was not good enough for me. I was tired and so over this experience. I said, “I don’t care what you have to do, we are getting off right now.” A few hundred meters later they let a few of us off the raft.
The river was in a valley so to get out we had to climb the side of the mountain. I didn’t care at that point. We could’ve scaled that mountain for hours. I was relieved I was on dry, stable ground and that’s all that mattered. I was taken to the local hospital to get stitched up. When I came back to Canada a few days later, I learned about the full extent of my injuries. I’ve been seeing a series of specialists for the past 7 months to help me rehabilitate. I’m grateful that’s all that happened to me. It could’ve been much worse.
So that’s my crazy adventure in Argentina. Definitely a birthday I will never forget! If you’re wondering if I would ever go white water rafting, again. Maybe. But in my bathtub.