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April 9, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Skykomish rafter: ‘We just got pummeled by a wave’

missing-rafters-cGOLD BAR — The group of friends had planned a rafting trip on the Skykomish River today because the water was high and no one else was out.

They ended up with an adventure — and media attention — they hadn’t bargained for, according to Sean Horst.

The 10 friends, most experienced river rafters, were in two rafts near Boulder Drop east of Gold Bar, one of the river’s most treacherous spots, when they hit high water, said Horst, 38, of Gold Bar. “We just got pummeled by a wave.”

The two rafts overturned, sending everyone into the water. Someone on shore saw the group in the water and called the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which sent a large group to what was reported as a potential major water rescue.

Fortunately, everyone in the group managed to make it to shore on their own, said Horst.

“It was one of the most humbling swims I’ve had in a long while,” he said.

Horst, like everyone else in the group, works at the Stevens Pass Ski Area. All were prepared for the kind of wild ride this stretch of the Skykomish is known for. They wore helmets, vests and most were in dry suits because the water temperature is at a chilly 50 degrees.

The Skykomish River is one of the most popular in the state for rafters. Because of spring snowmelt, Western Washington rivers are running high this time of year.

After all the rafters were accounted for, they continued on their rafting trip to Big Eddy River Access Park. Horst said they were surprised to see members of the media waiting on the shore. Some in the rafting group snapped photos of the photographers who were recording the return.

“The river was running at a level that we were sure to see some carnage,” said Horst, a member of the Stevens Pass ski patrol. “It was a good time; no one got  hurt.”

Blair Corson, one of the owners of Outdoor Adventure Center in Index, said thrill-seekers come from all over the world to ride the rapids at Boulder Drop, one of only a handful of class 5 rapids on the West Coast.

“A lof of people come out here hoping to flip the raft,” he said. “This is one of the most exhilarating times to go down the river. It’s running at 7,000 cubic-feet per second and it’s thrilling if you have the skill set to navigate it.”

He said that rafts that are navigated through the rapids in the center of the river have a 90 percent chance of flipping over.

“It’s almost guaranteed,” he said.

Corson said his company routinely takes their guides on trips that are likely to end with a dip in the water. They do, however, take the precaution of placing other rafts, boats and kayaks downriver to provide a safety net.

“In about a week, we’ll be out there flipping people. It’s a training situation and we do it on purpose so that our guides will know how to deal with it when it happens,” Corson said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed  to this report.

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