[Article has been updated to more accurately describe the river area where the incident occurred.]
A sunny Sunday floating excursion on the Snoqualmie River almost turned deadly for one local woman. Luckily, Kym Riden only ended up very sore, with cuts and bruises.
She says it was the difference of a minute that could have drastically changed her outcome – and she wanted to share her story so others understand just how unpredictable the river can be.
On July 8th, Kym was with friends floating the river. She is a former lifeguard, a very strong swimmer and had floated the Snoqualmie for the past three years. They were using strong tubes designed specifically for river floating and launched from the Plum #1 access point and exited near Fall City Floating.
Kym said she’s also conscientious – a ‘proactive floater,’ paying close attention to the water ahead and its currents – just as she was on Sunday when she and a friend were taking a bend on the Snoqualmie River about an hour into the float, just up river from a popular rope swing.
That’s when Kym noticed a sideways current ahead and told her friend they needed to paddle away. Just as they started paddling they were swooped into the current and directed toward a downed tree near the river bank. She said there was no indication the current was that strong – no rapids were evident.
It ‘happened so fast’ and boom, just like that they were stuck.
Kym’s tube hit the tree. She fell out as the tube was getting sucked under the tree. It turns out a branch had punctured that strong tube and it became stuck on the downed tree. Kym got out and went to retrieve her tube, saying she didn’t want to just leave it in the river. While on the tree she slipped, fell in and her foot became lodged between submerged branches.
As Kym she began to go under she said her entire focus turned to getting her foot free, saying she knew if she didn’t get her river shoe off or pry her foot out, she was going to drown. She said she wasn’t panicked – that as an active outdoor enthusiast not a lot scares her – but she knew she had to get her foot free for the sake of her two kids.
Had it taken one minute longer, Kym believes she would’ve drowned. Once free, a stranger helped her cross the river to safety. The event shook her so much she didn’t even tell her friends what happened in the river until later that night.
By Monday morning Kym said it felt like a her left side had been run over by a car, noting that while racing motorcross she actually had been run over before and knows what it feels like.
She said the experience on the river was very humbling – something she would never imagine happening to her as a strong swimmer and someone who plans and pays close attention to river conditions while floating.
But it did.
Kym described the river as higher compared to last summer, saying there were areas they could walk across last year that wouldn’t be possible this year.
She also said the area of the river that swooped her up was deceptive, offering no indication that the current was as strong as it was. It was also located around a bend which made it harder to see up ahead.
Like many others who float the Snoqualmie River near Fall City, Kym said she wasn’t wearing a life jacket and in hindsight, now she wishes she had.
Essentially all the things local emergency personnel warn people about when it comes to rivers – cold temperatures, downed trees, submerged trees and rocks, changing currents/flows – combined into a perfect storm for Kym and she hopes others learn from her close call.
She is also very grateful to her good Samaritan Luke, who jumped in and swam to help her after that close call!
Here area some river safety tips from King County:
- Wear a PFD (personal flotation device.)
- Do not use alcohol or drugs when recreating on the river.
- Watch children closely when they are on or near any type of water; stay close enough to reach them immediately.
- Choose safer swimming options with lifeguards present, such as a beach, lake or pool.
When planning a boating or floating trip:
- Always tell someone your route and when and where you expect to put in and take out.
- Have a back-up plan for emergency contact in case your trip is cut short by an unforeseen obstacle or emergency.
- Never float the river alone and, if possible, make sure there is at least one oared craft in your group in case a rescue is needed.
- Bring a dry bag with food, water, and warm clothes.