Help Darren cover costs while heals

Every year we do several Team Creature Craft trips, on many of these trips the emphasis is introducing the general public to our style of boating by putting them in Creature Crafts. The Spring Trip however is a team training and testing trip and not for the general public. On this trip we focus on introducing the team to new equipment and training techniques. This year’s trip started with a motorized rescue training event in Benton City WA. This is where the team was testing new equipment and reinforcing techniques in the Low Head Dam environment. From Benton City we were off to Sunset Falls, a trip we have been planning for the last 8 months. Everything was working out perfectly, our host Scott Highland a drone pilot had prepared a fantastic camping place for us, two professional photographers, almost our whole team and the river was on the rise. We arrived at Scott’s cabin late evening on May 19th.

The next morning Team Creature Craft got together with drone pilots, photographers and videographers and walked down to Sunset Falls for our first official scout. After spending approximately an hour and half individually scouting the Falls we all got together and the overall consensus was that we needed a little more water, (water level was 6,850 cfs) but we were not concerned due to temperatures rising, we all knew the water was coming up. Also a day off was a great opportunity to rest and prepare equipment.

The following morning, May 20th Team Creature Craft again did a group scout and saw that the river had come up to 8,300 cfs, we then began formulating a plan. Sunset Falls is a massive high volume sliding cascade. It falls 104 feet over 275 feet with an average width of 40 feet. In Waterfalls like this typically the most effective safety is water based at the bottom. At Sunset Falls, bottom left there is a giant recycling eddy that a Creature Craft could possibly get caught in, and that could be reached by a rescuer with a throw bag. So our plan which was primarily water based safety included two shore based rescuers harnessed to trees directly above the recycling eddy in case a boat ended up there. Those two rescuers were Patrick Edin and Robert Holmlund from Sweden. The plan was five boats were going to make the first run. Lead boat was Dallas Abadie, second Darren Vancil, third Tony Marini, fourth Alex Reeve and fifth Brandon Steele. We planned for Dallas to run then a 30 second pause and I would run second then an elongated pause to reevaluate at the bottom. Once we made sure everything was good Dallas and I took up our safety positions then Tony, Alex and Brandon would run one at a time at one minute intervals with each taking a different safety position at the end of their run.

Run one day one went extremely well. Hugh adrenaline levels and many big impacts, but no injuries or broken equipment. Once we got back to Scott’s cabin we took a lunch break shared some amazing stories and decompressed. George Nuckols, who had car trouble along the way and was unable to make the first run, was really excited to have his chance to run Sunset Falls, so Tony and I decided to run it again to provide safety for George.

One of our mottos is “We only stay safe as a team”. So if one person wants to make a run and others fill comfortable we step up to help mitigate the danger. The second run went very much the same as the first, lots of adrenaline, big impacts, no injuries, no broken equipment.

The following morning, May 21st we woke up to significantly higher river flows (11,000 cfs). Once again, Team Creature Craft and professional photographers, Brian Munoz and Liza Fiorenza Rogers went down to scout Sunset Falls. It was much bigger, the fish ladder side had opened up and was now runnable, the eddy at the bottom had largely filled in but the nearly river wide hole had become much larger. We had new boats and new people so a complete new scout was in order. Since it is imperative that you document when you run rapids of this magnitude several Team Creature Craft members had been videographers on run one and two now became boaters and boaters became videographers. Bill Geiman one of the drone pilots ran the yellow and black Bacoon. Clay Carroll ran his red and yellow Rescue Auga Mala. Eric Thompson joined me in the yellow and orange Charybdis (as a dual front to back oar rig) Dallas Abadie again ran his green, gray and yellow Auga Mala. Tony Marini made his third run in the red Rescue Bacoon.

The plan again was much the same, primary safety system was boat to boat at the bottom. First boat down, Dallas took up position left center in the run out, second boat down, Tony took up position at bottom left eddy at base of falls. Then one by one the rest fanned out to cover the run out, with me and Eric taking up the rear. Everything went just to plan until me and Eric hit an exceptional violent vertical crease about half way down. I was thrown forward and at the same time my right oar was pulled back, torn from my hand and the handle struck me right behind my right ear just under my helmet and I was instantly knocked unconscious. As you can see in the video I was violently wiped back and then forward and after that it’s a little difficult to say what exactly happened. It is safe to assume that the process of whipping back and forth was repeated several times at the bottom as well. When I came out of the hole at the bottom I remained unconscious for 5-10 seconds and then I slowly regained consciousness. Initially I did not realize I had been knocked unconscious I did know however; I had severe pain in my right groin area. I was almost instantly surrounded by other Creature Crafts. Everyone was very concerned and we were immediately on our way to the take out about three quarters of a mile away.

Our safety plan worked great, while I was badly injured I never swam and I was loaded and ready to go to the hospital about 10 mins after the accident. Looking back the only thing I would do differently would to be to wear a helmet that would completely cover my head and provide face protection. You may have noticed from the hospital video I had a black eye and some facial contusions. For the future when I do this sort of thing again I will be wearing a full face helmet and I will have a modified lap belt system.

The bottom line is when you run class 6 drops like Sunset Falls you place yourself at risk. You can mitigate those risks but you can’t make them go away. For instance there is no way possible you could arrange a safety system to pass let’s say an OSHA safety inspection. That kind of whitewater is inherently unsafe, there is no way you can account for all the contingences when Mother Nature expresses herself like that. We all knew and accepted the risks before we put on the river. I am sure there are people who will question the logic to running something like Sunset Falls. Everyone has their own reasons and I can only speak to what drives me to run Giant Whitewater. For me it is basically two fold, I have spent much of the last 20 years building the Creature Craft to be the safest boat in the world. Much of what I do today is building Rescue Boats that are designed to be used in the most dangerous hydraulics in the world (low head dams, swift water flooding and surf rescue). I need to know that the boats and equipment I put in the hands of our Firefighters and Rescue Personnel will withstand the harshest environments imaginable and the only way to really know is to test them in the most extreme environments. When I sell a boat to a Fire Department or Rescue Team they trust me to provide them with equipment that will keep them safe while they are performing their jobs in some of the most dangerous water situations in the world. They need a boat that is simple to learn, operate and without a double durable enough to insure they can come home every night and I need to know personally that the Creature Crafts, that I build, is that boat.

Reason two, running Giant Whitewater is an incredible feeling, it is impossible to explain and impossible to recreate anywhere else, there is nothing else like it and I am addicted.

So while this injury is a fairly hard set back, I will be unable to put any weight on my legs for approximately 2 months and it will be 6 months before I can work or resume normal activities. A lot of good has and will come out of it. The Creature Craft team was great, they all came together and got me to the hospital before anything worse happened. They then took care of all the logistics of a hugh amount of equipment, a thousand miles from home. I happen to be 100 miles or so from the Northwest largest trauma hospital where one of the world’s best Pelvic Reconstruction Surgeons in the world resides (Dr. Sagi). The Creature Craft safety system absolutely worked; as I was knocked unconscious about half way down the most violent rapid I have ever run and I stayed in my boat. While wearing my lap belt resulted in my injuries the fact that I was sitting in my giant orange boat at the bottom of Sunset Falls made my rescue quite simple. Had I not been wearing that lap belt I would have very likely hit my partner or some other piece of equipment and then been swimming unconscious and injured in that crazy violent water. The odds of anyone surviving in those conditions are very slim. Lastly the outpouring of support from my friends and family and the general public has been overwhelming. It touches my heart that so many people are willing to help me in my time of need. My heart has been truly touched. Thank you all.

In conclusion I have taken the time to briefly explain the process we go thru before running extreme whitewater. To dispel some myths and give people a brief insight as to what we do at Creature Craft.

A little about why I believe the Creature Craft is the safest boat in the world

I had the first working prototype in November 1998; our first production year was 1999. Since that time I have been on a continual quest to perfect the Creature Craft and I am not done yet. In that time I have had the opportunity to run some of the most amazing whitewater in the world and in all that time this is my first trip to the hospital. Now that may not seem a big deal to some of you but perhaps taking a look at the water I have run during that time period might just change your mind. Here is a short list of some of the water I have personally run. Grand Canyon of the Stikine, including Site Zed, Rio Baker in Chili including the portage rapid, Sunset Falls (4 times) Tumwater Canyon (77 times) at flows ranging from 3,600 to 15,500 cfs, Death Rapids (13 times) at flows 4,100 to 19,700, Cross Mountain Gorge about 75 times at flows 1,000 to 19,900, Burnt Range Gorge 10 times at flows 2,500 to 12,300, Gore Canyon about 100 times at flows from 505 to 5,850, Barrel Springs about 100 times at flows 1,200 to 19,700, Wind River at 19.5 feet, Illinois River at 12,000 and 8,000, North Fork Smith 11 times at flows 1,000 to 68,000, Cherry Creek 3,500 including Lumsdon Falls. This is mostly all of my big rivers I can find in my river logs and memory. My point is that after all these big water runs and having only one trip to the hospital certainly adds credibility to my claim that the Creature Craft is the safest boat in the world.

The out pouring of support from the general public has been overwhelming and has reaffirmed my belief in the overall goodness in human beings. Thank you all for taking your time to watch the video and read this. If you wish to contribute please do so in a manner that does not cause hardship to yourself.  

Alternate to using the internet you can deposit directly into my account at any Bank of the West Branch, by mail or in person.

Thank you again
Darren Vancil

Team Creature Craft
Darren Vancil, Kristi Price, Danny Allen, Brandon Steele, George Nuckols, Anthony Marini, Bill Geiman, Clay Carroll, Dallas Abadie, John Mullen, Matt Cronin, Scott Highland, Alex Reeves, Eric Thompson, Jason Kautz, Bri Lyons, Shawn Raquel, Brian Munoz


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Organizer and beneficiary

Darren Vancil 
Grand Junction, CO
Darren Vancil 
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