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Sorry, No Bailout for Michael Raster

River ford proves costly for a remote wilderness soloist

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Whoa, hi there. Sorry for the slow post. I’ve been cheek-surfing my swivel chair ever since returning from Mt. Whitney in the High Sierra (“pics at 9”). Total deadline catch-up mania as only a freelance media slave can understand. I just shook the dog off my ankle briefly to follow-up on a recent post (Late September Digestation).

It seems as if Michael Raster, the 43-year-old German soloistwho was overdue from his 40-day thru-hike of the remote Muskwa-Kechika region in the Canadian Rockies…did not make it. Raster began his hike on August 1st. Searchers began looking for him on September 12th. Last week, September 24th, different parties of autumn hunters reported finding a dry bag containing Raster’s wallet, maps and passport along the Gataga River, and his waterlogged backpack on a sandbank along the Kechika River, 56 miles downstream.

A diary in the backpack leads authorities to suspect that Raster died during or after a high-water crossing of the South Gataga (an upstream fork) on August 9th. If so, he’d traveled a third of his planned 250-km distance in a week, and was moving twice the speed his time frame required. He was golden. However, both rivers would have been higher in early August than last week when Raster’s possessions were discovered. His body has not been found, but if alive, Raster has gone more than 50 days without gear or searcher contact.

Since searchers also found a partially destroyed log raft (not a rare sight on northern rivers) they suspect Raster may have used it to try crossing the South Gataga and Gataga near their confluence.

Readers contemplating northern adventures – which often involve such crossings – should know that log rafts are impossible to maneuver in all but very calm water. Trust me, I’ve already lab-hamstered this out, and it is ugggg-leeee. They usually get stuck in the fast main current due to their low float, lumbering weight and high drag. You can’t ferry them cross-current to avoid obstacles, or force them into an eddy for landings. Without real oars, you might as well ride Dr. Strangelove’s bomb. Swimming a bike-pumped inner tube of gear, kickboard fashion, is usually a better option, despite the pack weight and Aquaman pucker factor.

Other primary fording options should always include waiting for lower water, or searching stubbornly for a better place to cross, especially if you’re running ahead of schedule. And then there is turning around and retracing your steps home. Big swift-water swims are riskly, athletic affairs where the action comes fast, strong and final. But most facts of Michael Raster’s mishap are unknown. I’m very sorry he didn’t make it. Raster had a grand plan, and up until August 9th it was lookin’ good.

Hike safe — Steve Howe

P.S. It’s not survival, but I gotta give a twisted nod for attitude to the Seattle armored car robber who gassed the guards down with bear deterrent capsicum spray, grabbed the cash, and escaped by jumping into the Skykomish River with an innertube and floating off – successfully. What’s even more twisted is that I can imagine half my Northwest friends doing this. Must be all those triple-shot latte’s.

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