Signs warn of Kinni's long, remote ride
Around midnight on this past July 4th weekend Rob Chambers woke to a faint calling. It was very warm and his cabin windows were open. A barely perceptible voice repeated, "We need help."
Chambers got out of bed, listened and realized the call came from far below his town of Clifton home -- down where the Kinnickinnic River flows.
He turned on all his lights, including a floodlight, hoping to signal those needing rescue.
He put on long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, hiking boots and a headlamp, then made sure his backpack was stocked. Chambers, a diabetic, needs to check himself with a blood-sugar meter.
He went the quickest, most direct way -- straight down the canyon, through thick, tangly underbrush.
It's a steep descent, maybe a quarter-mile to the river; easy to stumble and fall in the dark if you don't use a light or know the terrain.
Chambers reached a limestone ledge jutting over the river in 15 minutes, shouting, "Where are you?"
Out of the pitch-black came voices. Three silhouettes sloshed through water and weedy patches toward Chambers, who had his head lamp and a flashlight shining.
The college-age women, one from UW-River Falls, were bikini-clad and barefooted. One woman had a flip-flop on one foot.
They had lost one of their watercraft. A deflated swimming-pool tube and an air mattress remained.
Chambers said the woman weren't panicked but relieved someone discovered them.
They were tired, scratched on the legs but didn't need first aid. They had no idea where they were or how far they had to go. They had brought nothing else with them.
The three had started their seven-mile journey down the Kinni from the lower dam in River Falls at 4 p.m. Like others who ride the river, the aim is to reach the County Road F bridge where there's a parking lot and public access.
In eight hours the women had only gotten two-thirds of the way before Chambers rescued them. They had a small car parked at the County Road F bridge.
Scaling the rugged hillside, Chambers led the women back to his place. There, he gave them water and towels.
"They were very grateful and a little embarrassed," said Chambers, a log home builder who has lived on river canyon for 11 years.
By calling 911 to reach the Pierce County Sheriff's Department dispatcher, Chambers learned that a roommate of the women had already reported their absence.
After saying they'd been found, Chambers heard the dispatcher say to someone nearby, "'Oh, good...You can cancel that helicopter.'"
But it wasn't that simple. Chambers drove one of the women to get her car. At the County Road F bridge parking lot, they found the car blocked by a sheriff's deputy squad.
The deputy had disappeared upstream to search for the missing women. Another deputy was in his car in the lot, waiting, but couldn't contact his partner because there's no radio (or cell phone) communication within the canyon's walls.
The deputy blew his air horn to get the other's attention, but it wasn't until a half hour later that the deputy returned from his futile search upstream.
Chambers said this is the fourth time in the last two years he's been involved in one way or another with rescues along the Kinnickinnic.
A couple of times, he said, that took the form of having loud helicopters hovering over his cabin at night with blinding searchlights illuminating his windows.
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