published Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Kayakers survive night in North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness

Friends of missing kayakers left notes on a windshield in the North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness parking lot where the men were expected to exit the water.
Friends of missing kayakers left notes on a windshield in the North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness parking lot where the men were expected to exit the water.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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  • Kayakers returned safely from Pocket Wilderness
    A 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.

  • photo
    Emergency and rescue workers gather at the command post near Mowbry Mountain Monday. The workers are searching for three kayakers reported missing since Sunday. Recent heavy rains have swollen creeks and rivers.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

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."

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javagirl said...

So glad these guys are back safely with their families. Thank you to all who were out there looking for them. I believe the families truly needed your support. So many of us were praying for their safe return. Kudos to the kayakers for knowing what to do under such conditions and doing it!!

November 29, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
manlyman said...

"Kudos to the kayakers for knowing what to do under such conditions and doing it!!" Are you kidding me? If these guys knew what they were doing, they never would have gone out on the water under those conditions!

November 29, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
royw64 said...

Prayers Were Answered (Lorie.)

November 29, 2011 at 12:55 p.m.
McRand said...

You're right about that manlyman. Glad they made it out okay, but if you're going out on the water, a good plan would take having looked at current weather patterns first. Slow moving storms dump lots of water which in turn raise water levels and increases flow speed, becoming more treacherous to navigation. I'll bet they've learned a lesson on this venture, and to their credit, they at least had enough sense not to try to get back in the dark, and stayed together until light.

But the trip came at more of a cost than a cold night in the dark and wet causing worry amongst loved ones.

Look again at the rescue org list:

"Those 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."

Glad I don't have to pay that bill,.... or do I?

November 29, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.
kat said...

First of all, I have called and emailed this reporter and hopefully she responds. None of the people who signed the note and looked for them the night before called police. Why wouldn't I report it? Well, in my 14 years of paddling that river, this has happened many times. It just never gets reported, and they always come out fine. I wish I could have reached the relatives of the other paddlers to tell them this, but I didn't get the chance until they had already called. The good news is, we have an awesome rescue squad that respected and worked well with the skilled kayakers in the community. Maybe in the future a collaborative effort can be utilized for rescues that require access into areas like North Chick Gorge.

November 29, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
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