A Chilly Water Experience: My Biggest Outdoor Mistake

Growing up in an active outdoor family, moving to Colorado as a teenager and being willing to try new things has put me in many different situations. Sometimes everything goes smooth and other times we make mistakes in the outdoors. We can learn from these mistakes and help others to enjoy the outdoors in a safe way by sharing our stories. We've asked our #STPLive Twitter Chat Community to share their outdoor mistakes, check out their posts here: Mistakes in the Outdoors.

Join the #STPLive Twitter Chat 6pm EDT/3pm PDT Thursday 3/27 when we will talk about mistakes in the outdoors and how to learn from them.

Let's see, I've hiked with too little water, forgotten sunscreen more times that I'd like to mention, taken short cuts that added hours to a hike and chased off packs of raccoons after they've broken into my cooler of food, but here is the story of the absolute stupidest thing I've done in the outdoors.

It was a warm March afternoon. I was living in Breckenridge, CO where the ski season was starting to wrap up. I'd spent months snowboarding nearly every day and this sudden glimpse of spring-like weather felt great.

I was soaking up some sunshine and listening to the sounds of the Blue River raging with spring runoff. Then I got an idea. Wouldn't it be fun to go tubing on the river?


We were up near the town of Blue River above Breckenridge at an elevation over 10,000 feet. In most places the banks of the river were covered by 4 or more feet of snow but I grabbed a small innertube and walked upstream until I found a spot where I could access the river without a ton of snow.

I was wearing shorts and a pair of Teva sandals. My chest was so white it would have blinded any passers by but the sun felt so good after a long winter.

I hopped on the tube and rafted about 200 yards down stream. It was COLD but so much fun. We laughed and laughed then I gave my girlfriend a shot. She thought it was a little crazy but was up for a try. She rafted about the same distance then hopped out. Her teeth we chattering and she looked shocked. Still, we laughed and warmed up in the sun.

After a bit I decided I was going to go for a longer ride. I asked my girlfriend to walk down to a bridge about a quarter mile downstream. I told her I'd tub down to the bridge then we could walk back together. I waited a few minutes while she took my dog down to the bridge then I jumped in.

Hopping on the tub I felt ready for a ride. I rode a little past where I'd gotten out before and suddenly I felt numb. My feet had been dangling in the water and they went totally numb. I felt like I was having trouble breathing. I really began to worry as I passed by a section of the river covered with huge snow drifts on both side.

I was beginning to panic. It felt difficult to move. I knew I was in trouble.

The river made a tight bend and my tube was right up against the bank. I lounged for the side totally forgetting about the tube but just trying to get out of the water. There was a small sunny spot with thorn bushes but luckily no snow.

I crawled up the bank into the sunshine then I curled up in a ball in the sunshine. I was cold. Very cold. I just laid there for what mush have been 10 minutes or longer.

As time went by I felt better. I was warming up. I was breathing easier, able to wiggle my toes and eventually my teeth quit chattering. I slowly worked my way up to my feet and started walking downstream toward the bridge. The Tevas weren't doing me any favors as I had to post hole my way through snow drifts.

As I approached the bridge I saw my girlfriend. She proceeded to yell obscenities at me. Apparently she wasn't amused when she saw the empty tube float by without any sign of me for 10 minutes or longer. She had every right to be upset. I was such as idiot.

We gathered our things and headed home.

I was lucky to be alive. I nearly gave myself hypothermia. It was all in good fun but at the time I didn't realize the risks. In fact, it wasn't until a couple years later that I read a story about some teenagers swimming in a high alpine lake. They dared each other to swim across the lake. As they attempted it, one boy's muscles froze up and sadly he drowned in the lake. The account was similar to the experience I had.

Since then I've swam in alpine likes in the heart of the summer (like on the John Muir Trail) but I know that cold water can be deadly. I was extremely lucky. I'd never put myself in that position again. It was scary, painful and embarrassing. Believe me, that lesson was learned the hard way.

**Oh, and by the way that girlfriend is now my wife... how could she resist.**

Check out the other outdoor mistakes that bloggers are sharing here: Outdoor Mistakes.

#STPLive Twitter Chat

Let's talk about all of our outdoor adventure mistakes 6pm EDT/3pm PDT Thursday March 27th. Just follow Twitter #STPLive to see the conversation.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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