SAMMY IN SIXTH WATER
It was the late eighties. The decade’s earlier floods had subsided but even then, Utahns were still running away from water rather than praying for it. BuRec was diverting a lot of Spring run-off into the Great Basin via the Diamond Fork System of the Central Utah Project. New creeks had formed and they needed a good kayaking in these perilous times. That’s what my friend David thought anyway. He was always witching up new creeks and tricks for us to try. Up over Strawberry to Sixth Water we went with friends Tadd and Nate. The families came along to play in the rushing water below one of the tunnels. We brought Sam, our Golden Retriever. Sam was a water-dog. In these perilous times.
Sixth Water is born as it pours from the tunnel. It flows under a dirt road, and plunges off a 15 foot waterfall a short way downstream. The pool below the falls looked a little shallow that day. “Better put-in below here,” we decided. I don’t know if we forgot that or what, ‘cause just a few minutes later, we put the boats in the creek above the falls.
Me: “Didn’t we say we were gonna start below the falls?”
Tadd: “That’s what I thought.”
We said those kinds of things a lot when David got ideas like this. Once, at a little waterfall on Blacksmith’s Fork, he declared that we could not leave until we had gone over the falls in pairs and in every which way. Friend Jeff Stokes broke his boat in a backward plunge that day but nobody died. And when we paddled over the edge of the Sixth Water falls, none of us died there either.
Blacksmith’s Fork, Utah
Sixth Water just goes straight off the hill after the waterfall. It gets steeper and steeper and the creek gets faster and faster. It’s really rocky, too. Sam, in spite of my family’s repeated calls to come back, ran around the falls to follow us. Sam was not a “yes” dog. Sam was a water-dog. She jumped into the creek below the falls and swam after us.
Now, a rolling boater gathers no stones. But a dog in Sixth Water is pretty much up a creek. Sammy started slamming into nearly every rock in the torrent and whenever I looked back at her, I hit them all, too. There weren’t any eddies. Water raced down both banks. I fell behind my friends trying to stay with Sam. She was getting pretty beat up – pretty weak, struggling for air after every dunking now. She was having a particularly perilous time and if I could save her, I’d have only one chance to do it. I cursed her for being worth saving. I was busy trying to stay out of trouble myself!
I paddled ahead as hard as I could and rammed my kayak onto the rocky bank. I leaped out and bolted back into the rushing maelstrom. It was perilous enough keeping my feet under just me, myself and I. And here came Sam, heavy as a bag of cement. I crouched toward her like a linebacker. She looked pleadingly happy to see me but I just shook my head. This could never work. I was sure we’d both go down.
Impact! And changing scenery: Dog and water, dog and trees, dog and sky. Stretching backward, shifting feet, fighting collapse. A little control now, a little more stable. Just enough for … balance. I remember that.
I don’t remember carrying Sammy through the water to the bank. She was coughing and I inclined her head down among the rocks and grasses. She worked on clearing out the water while I looked her over. Her paws were all bloodied. Some of the pads were torn almost clean off. Her bleeding claws were ground beyond the quick and blood oozed from another wound or two on her legs. Sam was slammed, pure and simple. She was a sad and water-logged dog. She’d have been better off with a bullet to a leg to keep her from jumping into the creek in the first place.
The road we’d driven in on was just above me, up a steep slope. I heaved Sam onto my shoulders and climbed up to it. This was good. Sam and I were safe but what about my friends? And they, I was sure, “What about Johns?” Pretty soon they came running up toward me. And just like that, all drama and suspense were over – everything would be OK at Sixth Water that day.
Me: “How was the run?”
Them: “Good. Tired of beating on rocks. Yours?”
Me: “Good. Dog got in and followed. Had to get her out.”
They ran up the road to get the families and the cars. We made quick work loading a beat-up, wet dog, and all our stuff. Then we headed for home.
Stay Sammy! Stay! Good dog!
p.s. You know what? Sammy didn’t stay, damn her! She jumped in again on Cottonwood Creek, below Joe’s Valley one day. Why did she think nearly drowning was fun? Gonna have to write that one up, too.