BWCA 2010 - Leadership Challenge #6 (Party in Distress) - UPDATED Boundary Waters Group Forum: Wilderness Challenges
Chat Rooms (0 Chatting)  |  Search  |   Login/Join
* BWCA is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Boundary Waters Quetico Forum
   Group Forum: Wilderness Challenges
      2010 - Leadership Challenge #6 (Party in Distress) - UPDATED     



distinguished member(3141)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/19/2009 11:19AM  
This is #6 of 12 Leadership Challenges I will be posting. The purpose of these is to get feedback on what you would do under these circumstances. I'm not looking for a "Right Answer" I'm looking to see how the many very knowledgeable people here on would react in a time of decision in Canoe Country.

Challenge #6: (“Party in Distress”)

Situation: You are traveling in a party of 4 (Combined crew weight of 800 lbs) in two rental Old Town Penobscot 17 foot Royalex Canoes (max load weight of 1100-1150 Lbs). You are carrying 4 large packs, 4 smaller personal packs and misc. fishing gear with a total gear weight of approximately 350 lbs split evenly between the two canoes.

Additional Situation Information:

This is Day 3 of a planned 8 Day Trip to Quetico Provincial Park.

Your current location: You are currently located on the Northern End of Lake Kawnipi as it merges with the Kahshahpiwi Creek. (See end of RED trip track on the Map)

Items of interest in your gear pack:

You DO NOT have a SAT Phone. (Too many complaints/issues from previous trips) :-)

Two people have GPS

You have a variety of ropes and cord in excess of 300’ (none of which can support over 75lbs) 12 Assorted “Camping” Carabineers.

You have a set of pioneer tools: Small Axe, Shovel and Saw

You have a comprehensive medical kit.

You have the ability to make fire and purify water.

You have two REI TAJ3 tents and a CCS Tarp 15 X 15. (1.1 oz sil of course)

Items of Interest in your possession or personal pack:

Each of you has a personal emergency kit that includes a Signal Whistle.

You have 4 PFDs and 6 Paddles (1 spare per canoe)

All have fishing gear.

You each have 2 spare sets of clothes (not counting what you are wearing), this includes camp shoes.

You each have a light jacket/gloves/hat and rain gear

Items of interest in your food pack.

You have a 6 Day Supply of Food for 4 people remaining.

**Breakfast is normally Pancakes, Powdered Egg Mix and you have some Oatmeal. Tang powdered Mix/Coffee

**Lunches alternate daily from Beef Sticks/Cheese on Pita Bread, to PB & J on Flat Bread. Gatorade

**Dinners: Mostly a mix of Pastas and Rice packs with a variety of dehydrated meats to mix in.

**Staples: Typical mix of Fish Batter, Oil, some Cocoa, condiments/spices.

Additional Information: The current time is 11:45 AM. The Date is September 8, 2010. Sunset is at 7:36 PM, Twilight lasts until 8:07 PM. The Weather has gotten cooler and temps are in the mid 60s in the day and dipping into the low 40’s at night. The forecast for tomorrow is for even cooler temps and rain. Skies are currently partly cloudy clear with slight breeze with gusts 10-15 MPH from the SW.

The Challenge:

As you arrive at the Rapids that flow from Lake Kawnipi into the Kahshahpiwi Creek. You begin to take the portage with plans to have lunch at the end and take some photographs. Then you hear someone scream “HELP ME PLEASE”. You notice on the island and in the middle of this island on a rock slab there is a young boy, who is wet and waving his arms. (His location is indicated by the Red Flag in the photos above)

Through the rumble of the rapids you ask him what happened and he yells back. “WE DUMPED OUR CANOES”

You ask “HOW MANY CANOES?” He responds “TWO”

You then ask “HOW MANY PEOPLE” he responds “SIX”

You ask, “WHERE ARE THEY?” He responds “THEY FLOATED THAT WAY” He is pointing to the bend of Kahshahpiwi Creek that turns north towards the Poet Chain of Lakes.


As the temperature begins to drop, your heart sinks with it, knowing that the worst is yet to come. (And it does)

Video of Rapids

(Special Thanks to Tom Pinkerton – Uncle Moose for the photos and video)

Now What?

No options currently provided in this challenge.

However, at this point you need to determine the initial critical steps that need to be taken immediately.

Known Facts:

You have 1 young boy who is wet and currently trapped on an island with rapids on both sides

You have 5 people missing, status to be determined.



You have decided to split into two groups:

Canoe #1 will attempt to rescue the boy from the island in the middle of two rushing rapid streams.

Canoe #2 will paddle downstream and search for the people and gear.

(I’m just going with the flow here…..pun intended)

The following is what happened as a result of these actions:

Canoe #1 was able to land on the island. The current is very strong and after a very hard paddle upstream you just make it back to shore without getting sucked down the chute of the rapids. You are able to get the boy to shore and get him into some dry clothes.

Canoe #2 continued down stream. You find 2 young Males, age 16 are on the west bank just around the corner before the next rapids. Both are pretty beat up with cuts and bruises. But they are not in need of critical care. You stop long enough to get them into dry clothes and treat some of the worst cuts. In the Rapids you see one very damaged canoe which is pinned and semi-submerged into a deadfall, there is also a body. There is no sign of movement and the head is under water.

You must portage around these Rapids and then continue on downstream, at the next set of rapids. You see a Pack and a one PFD on the rocks. (Note: The 3 safe people to this point and the casualty all had PFD’s on)

You are still missing two, so you portage the 3rd set of Rapids…. and there floating in the water is several pieces of gear (another pack and two paddles) and half a canoe.

The water flow has slowed as you drift into Shelley Lake …..You scan the Lake and see nothing.

Now what?

There will be no additional information, but the difficulties to consider are:

Food, shelter and transportation.... for now a party of at least 7……. 2+ days to an Entry Point

These are young kids. Emotional issues will be there. How effective will 2 physically injured kids be?

What about the two still missing?

What about the one body?

Next Challenge: “The Soloist – Bear Attack”

If you missed Leadership Challenge 1:

Bear Island

If you missed Leadership Challenge 2:

Destroyed Canoe

If you missed Leadership Challenge 3:

Broken Ankle

If you missed Leadership Challenge 4:

The Call

If you missed Leadership Challenge 5:

Group Separation
      Print Top Bottom Previous Next
distinguished member(3470)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/19/2009 02:13PM  
Time to divide the team - two will be tasked with getting to the kid (probably by ferrying the canoe across) and into a sleeping bag with a hot cup of cocoa. Build a fire on the island - this will be our base of operations.

The other two are to head back to the end of the portage and head down stream towards the next rapids - we're not talking class fives here, so you'll probably start finding people in the pool below the initial rapids, along with canoes and gear. If someone is safe - tell them to get out of the water and make their way back towards the island. The good news is that the water temps are probably about as warm as they'll be at any time during the year. The bad news is that the weather is getting cooler - let's hope these knuckleheads knew more about waterproofing their packs than they did about running rapids.

Take the next portage and repeat the process - obviously worrying more about people and less about gear at this point.

There will be some bushwacking and cussing this afternoon.

Leaping ahead, if one their their canoes is pinned in the rapids - we'll have to rig up a McGuiver like removal system to get it out. Or use a 'come-along' like we were doing in my earlier posted picture... they work swell.

12/19/2009 02:37PM  
First order of business is to get the boy checked out; depending on the site it may be possible to land one canoe on the upstream portion of the island and launch again to hit the southern portage; it may be better to cross the southern portage and get to the boy from the western part of the island. Try to keep someone in visual contact with him until he is secured.

Find out as much detail as possible in a few minutes from the boy before splitting up; age/sex/names of missing persons, anybody hurt or sick that he knows of, etc. One person stays with the boy, either on the island or at the next portage making a base camp; setting up food and shelter for anticipated casualties. The other three take one canoe, medical kits, rope, clothing and snack food and start working downstream looking for survivors while noting any gear but not trying to salvage it yet. Persons found alive in the water can be left with the third paddler at one of the next portages while two folks carry on in the canoe. Triage applies here; leave those who are mobile and on land alone, pull swimmers from the water, leave those who are seriously trapped or injured for now.

Shuttle people back to base camp as circumstances allow, but try to keep one canoe looking until all party members can be accounted for or until conditions warrant. Going for low-hanging fruit is OK; pulling a pack out of the water as you pass it is all right as long as it doesn't delay you in the search.
12/19/2009 03:02PM  
Option 1: Yell “Sucks to be you” and continue on with the trip. Keeping an eye out for floating gear that may be of use.

Option 2: Get the canoes to the bottom of the first set of rapids, leave the gear on shore and paddle to the island and retrieve the boy with one canoe, second canoe on stand by a tad down stream if this gets ugly. Get the boy back to shore with the gear. Burden one canoe with more gear and put the boy in the other canoe with less gear. Continue onward down stream. Looking for the others and thier gear.

12/19/2009 04:10PM  
lol, hexnymph.

Would unload gear and send one canoe to get boy by paddling, going over portage to west if necessary to avoid rapids. Can make island basecamp start a fire and get him out of wet clothes. Second canoe can look for others. Agree with triage approach.
distinguished member(5378)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
12/19/2009 04:12PM  
My first instinct is to scout for the others. The boy needs help but we don't know if he needs help the fastest or not and we don't know if the others are in a position to help or have equipment that could be useful.

A good point in this is that other people can get you into situations that you would avoid and therefore don't prepare for.

On the good side, one of our regular tripping partners is a certified white water rafting guide. She'd be a lot of help in this situation.
12/19/2009 07:42PM  
beemer and brossa got it pretty well covered. After thinking about it for awhile, I'm wondering if the scouting crew should bring gear for a possible overnight. May find some victim(s) in serious condition requiring an overnighter a good ways away from the boy and other paddle partner.
Savage Voyageur
distinguished member(14450)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished membermaster membermaster member
12/19/2009 10:29PM  
First help is the young boys needs. Then need to split the party up and go and find the others. Take the first aid kit, food,clothes, tools and any rope. Move into rescue mode.
distinguished member(604)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/20/2009 09:28AM  
Unless the boy is in need of immediate first aid, tell him to sit tight.

Unload the gear by at the rapids by the boy and make a plan;

split up, get them to the shore and move on till all 5 are found,
follow opposite shore lines and try and maintain voice contact, take first aid kits, rope, and maybe some dry clothes (depending on temperature)

DO NOT cross the first rapids without communicating,
then make a new plan
distinguished member(5378)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
12/20/2009 02:22PM  
Responding to the update:

1) No trying to recover the body or gear or canoes that are trapped in the rapids. You do not have the gear to do it and you should not risk life and limb on such recovery actions.

2) The injured kids will do their best which will be useful. Yes, they have emotional issues but including the rescued in the ongoing rescue is a good thing. Given less gear than desired you will be able to portage efficiently on the way out.

3) While you are a bit low on food, you need to make a search for the remaining people. That starts immediately.

4) Once the search is over, you all start moving out as a group although that may depend on how many people you wind up with and their condition.

Someone is going to suggest sending two people out for help. I can see that if someone was hurt more. But losing manpower with so many unknowns ahead worries me. So, I would wait on that.

On food: how's the fishing this time of year? I really don't know.
distinguished member(3470)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/20/2009 05:55PM  
Response to the update -

#1 - The 'kid' rescue team and the banged up survivors to gather the scattered packs - you'll undoubtedly be able to salvage quite a bit of additional food and gear for the base camp.

#2 - Send the recon canoe with whistles to take another pass on the lake seeking survivors and gathering packs and paddles. Since they at least had the sense to wear PFDs, I suspect you'll locate the other two guys - ferry them back to the island base camp. If not they are lost and sunk. Return to base camp.

#3 - I don't know how severe the current is with the trapped canoe - but its anything like the current we dealt with with a pinned aluminum canoe years ago, retrieving the body could be difficult, time consuming and dangerous.

#4. I'm going to pop smoke and send a two man party out to the EP. We now have as many as nine people with gear and two canoes. The safest and fastest way out will be to call in the flyboys.

#5 The remaining seven members will be tasked with carefully retrieving the body. They'll have several days to do so, and this will keep them grimly occupied. I suspect the parachute cordage mentioned earlier will be put to good use.

All members are to watch for MNR planes and be prepared to signal them with a smoky fire and a signal mirror.
distinguished member(607)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/21/2009 08:40AM  
The third canoe and the other 2 people will be found somewhere. The lifejacket on on the rocks (on shore) tells me that someone made it out of the water and took their life jacket off after getting out of the water. I go over the the lifejacket and pack and start yelling or blowing the whistle. If nothing is found we follow the current and try to locate the third canoe and the 2 missing people. After searching for a ways (I am not familiar with this area so I don't know how far downstream I would look before I would turn around a go back to the group, depends on the current I guess), we return to the group.
Basecamp here is critical. Hypothermia will be setting in if it hasn't already for those in the water and wet. With that much manpower and the need to stay warm and dry I would have some people start working on a lean to big enough for everyone to stay under and have a fire in so tomorrow everyone will have a dry warm place to be in case the recovery effort gets some people wet again.
The teenagers will be a lot of help in the recovery effort and exit if they stay together mentally.
After the canoe and body are removed or at least tried to be removed there are 2 options to figure out as a group.
Option 1. the last 2 have not been found so you probably want someone with a canoe to stay with the extra gear and body until help comes back to get you out.
Option 2. If everyone has been accounted for you can all go out together bringing as much stuff out as you can knowing that some stuff will have to be left behind along with the body for someone to come back in and get.
distinguished member (395)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/21/2009 09:06AM  
Question, wouldn't someone need to stay back with the stuff and mainly the body? If it ends up taking 2 days to get out and the authorities to get back to the scene, with bears and wolves around,don't know if the body is going to be there when they get back.
12/23/2009 10:20AM  
Once the survivors have been found and all the gear has been recovered, I would be very reluctant to split the party up. From a morale standpoint, I think it would be worthwhile to keep active and try to get yourselves out rather than having folks stay put and wait for rescue. I also think that putting some distance between the kids and the scene of the accident would be beneficial. Even if you can only get one or two lakes closer to the take-out before having to stop and split up, I think it would be worth the effort.

I'd leave bodies behind. I wouldn't try to recover a body if it meant any risk to a rescuer. If the bodies can be recovered, I'd think that it would be best to weight them down and sink them in deeper water rather than keeping them on land. The position can be marked with a float. However you chose to leave them, it'll be a messy recovery after two or three day's time; scavengers on land vs water, etc.

I might try to rescue a pinned canoe from a rock or other 'simple' obstruction, but I don't think that I'd attempt it from the middle of a gnarled strainer. 300' of 75lb test line makes ~85 feet of 200lb braided rope (round numbers here) with which to make a z-drag; with 3:1 advantage this can get you 600lb of pulling force. With the forces involved in freeing a pinned canoe, I can see a deadfall rolling or shifting and pinning another person. The half canoe recovered from below the rapids could well be pressed into service as a tow-boat to carry a pack or two if properly trimmed. Pack liners can be pressed into service as flotation bags. The half-canoe doesn't have to be dry in order to be useful; packs can be half-immersed if they have intact liners. By abandoning any 'nonessential' gear (define that how you will) and towing other gear, you may be able to get everyone into the two intact canoes without danger of swamping. If not, I think it would still be worth the time and effort to shuttle people a few at a time from portage to portage in order to keep the whole group moving toward the nearest take-out.

If people can stay warm and hydrated, food will be more of a morale issue than a survival issue on your way out. Fishing can keep folks busy and distracted. Keep moving, keep dry, and keep busy on the way out.
distinguished member(3470)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/23/2009 11:48AM  
Brossa - good thoughts - how does the Z drag work?
12/23/2009 10:07PM  
Some images and explanations of the Z drag are here and here and here
distinguished member(3470)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
12/24/2009 07:23AM  
Great stuff - especially the last link. Thanks!
member (9)member
12/30/2009 10:47PM  
First rescue and treat the injured. Search for survivors which I assume would be a short search...they are either above or below water.

A team of two with most experience and minimal gear heads to nearest entry point (assuming weather/wind are good). This will get help to the scene faster vs trying to move the whole group and get everyone out. The ones that stay can search for gear and bodies.
distinguished member(1729)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
01/05/2010 02:35PM  
Wow. This one has a lot of meat...

Let me assess the situation just to get my bearings:
- Our party of 4 is fine.
- We have 1 boy who is sorta fine with our dry clothes on.
- We have 2 teenage boys who are also fine but hae our clothes on. They are on the wrong side of the river.
- We have 1 fatality. I would get the body if it could be reached very easily and safely. If there is any doubt, I would leave the body where it is.
- We are still missing 2 others (age unknown)
- We found 1 PFD wihout a body in it.
- We have located both canoes. But both are not functional.

Here's what I would do starting at the above point in time (I assume it is close to 2pm)
Split up:
- Have 2 guys get the three boys all together and start to set up camp. Once camp is set and the boys are taken care of, go gather andy gear that was found.

- Have the other 2 guys put any found gear in safe locations. These two guys search the area for the other 2 guys. Search until about 5pm. Assume that you find no survivors...

So now it is about 5pm. You have 3 shaken boys, a dead body, 2 missing people and a mismash of gear. Now what...

There is no hurry. It is getting dark and it is pretty cold. Definitely plan on staying put for the night. Relax and think/talk through all the options.

Now, it is the next morning. Now what...

I would leave Curly and Mo with the boys. Leave most of the food and gear wtih them. Have them plan on staying put until help can be sent to get the boys and the body out.

I would send Larry (the expert) and Harry (the rookie) back to Prairie portage. I picked this group to somewhat evenly split the abilities of the groups. Both groups need to sorta know what they are doing.

I would send them with one GPS and enough gear to survive for a few days. But just the bare necessesities.

Once Larry and Harry find someone with a SAT fone, they can call in a real rescue/recovery team to get the boys and the body out. That team can also do a proper search for the other bodies.
      Print Top Bottom Previous Next