Kayakers returned safely from Pocket WildernessA search was launched Sunday after three kayakers failed to return from the North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness near Mowbray Mountain. The kayakers were caught by rapidly rising waters and spent the night on the shore, then safely returned Monday afternoon.
After spending about 12 hours in the pouring rain -- including a cold, wet night -- all Cody Stokes thought about was getting warm.
Stokes, 22, and his two kayaking buddies, David Levitt, 35, and Jason McCroskey, 24, spent Sunday night in the North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness after the waters on Cain Creek swelled in the heavy rains and became too dangerous to navigate. It also was getting dark, making it impossible to finish their run.
"The rapids become unrecognizable, so we had start scouting out stuff we normally run," Stokes said Monday afternoon after walking out of the woods. "Then the dark set in. So we just slept and got cold."
After Stokes was reunited with his family, he looked forward to getting back to his truck. All he wanted was to climb inside and turn the heat on. A note posted on one of the kayakers' windshields read: "Looking for you," signed Kat, AG and Stefani.
Frightened family members called local authorities, leading to a search that attracted members of the Mowbray Volunteer Fire Department, Soddy-Daisy Fire Department, Walden's Ridge Emergency Services, Sale Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Sequoyah Volunteer Fire Department, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue, Hamilton County STARS, Hamilton County Emergency Services and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
"We usually don't use get those kind of calls. They were very experienced. What happened was they just ran out of light," said Amy Maxwell, public information officer for Hamilton County Emergency Services.
Luckily, the three kayakers did what they were supposed to do, she said.
"The most important thing to do is to stay put and seek shelter," Maxwell said. "A lot of people don't realize this. They panic and they try to find their way out."
Despite their gear designed to keep them relatively dry while churning through whitewater, the three kayakers became drenched in Sunday's neverending rain.
"We took everything off ... and then put them back on. We played everything smart," McCroskey said.
After running out of water, they drank creek water and relied on power bars they packed for nourishment. In the morning, once there was light, they put back in and paddled down to their intended take-out point. It wasn't until they made their way back to their vehicles that they realized help had been called.
"When we got to the takeout down here, we saw kayakers," McCroskey said. "We asked, 'Did they call search and rescue?' 'Yeah they did.'
"If no one else was here, we would still make it here," he said. "It's nice that everyone came out but we would've [made] had it."
In a released statement, Levitt said there was no cell phone signal to contact family members.
"I really appreciate all the fire/rescue personnel who came out here in the terrible weather to look for us," he said. "I feel really bad about that as well."
Stokes said he felt guilty about what he put his family through.
"I felt bad I made my mom worry," Stokes said. "I saw my dad cry. I've never seen him cry."