Tenth Annual Six Mile Creek Whitewater and Bluegrass Festival
The tenth annual Six Mile Festival started off with an intense whitewater rescue in the first canyon of Six Mile Creek located near Hope.
There are three canyons along Six Mile Creek that are very popular with whitewater enthusiasts. This particular creek boasts class III (mildly rough, should have slight rafting experience)-V rapids (extremely rough, expert rafting experience advised).
The first canyon is where the festival holds the whitewater races that are the main event. This part of the creek runs through a narrow canyon with class IV rapids. The water is very cold as this creek is glacially fed) with rocks and canyon walls jutting out of and into the creek. It can be very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing or have a whitewater guide.
Kayakers and pack rafters participating in the event had just done a practice run of the canyon when inexperienced 64-year old Daniel Hartung from Indian, AK decided to try rafting the rapids in his lake kayak. Hartung decided on his own to kayak Six Mile, despite warnings from several individuals before trying his luck on the creek.
Hartung also went before some of the safety meetings or any precautions were set in place. He wasn’t wearing the proper gear, yet he donned a bicycle helmet, chest waders, and a life vest. None of these items are suitable equipment for rafting on the turbulent waters of Six Mile Creek.
As Hartung passed under a footbridge that spans across the creek, his kayak flipped, dumping him into the chilly water. When spectators realized that there was a kayaker in trouble, they began shouting warnings out from along the cliffs and shores where they were gathered for the races. Downstream he went over a whitewater rapids drop called The Waterfalls. At this point he became lodged under a log and caught in the torrential current.
The first one to reach Hartung was a man named Obidiah Jenkins, who was celebrating his 33rd birthday. Jenkins tossed a throw rope to Hartung, who caught and held on to it with his hands. Jenkins tried to shout directions to the man in the water fighting with all his might to hang on and stay strong, but the noise from the water rushing past Hartung made it nearly impossible to hear anything.
Hartung spent about 4-5 minutes in the water in a standing position holding onto the safety rope that became his lifeline. During this time, he had a pocket of air in front of him, which helped him breathe. The last 45 seconds Hartung spent doubled over under the water during which he quit breathing. More people had shown up on the craggy shore behind Jenkins, knowing time was running out. Jenkins then passed the rope off to the person standing behind him. At this time, Jenkins raced over the large rugged boulders to a spot on the bank right above the place where Hartung was.
Jenkins then leaped out into the raging currents, and the water swiftly carried him toward the trapped, submerged man. Jenkins reached out and grabbed a hold of Hartung with the only chance he would get.
The crowd erupted with cheers and cries of relief as they realized that disaster had been narrowly averted. Thanks to the efforts of a very courageous man, with the help of a few other brave souls and the abilities of these rescuers to think quickly and calmly.
Jenkins floated with Hartung to a calm eddy where the other kayakers were pulling out their crafts just minutes before. Race participants and spectators helped to pull Hartung from the water, at which point CPR was administered in hopes of resuscitating the man. After his vitals came back, they loaded him onto a deflated raft and carried him up to the Seward Highway to wait for the ambulance. Hartung was supposedly up and walking around a bit before the ambulance had even arrived.
Later that night at the music festival, creator and head of staff of Six Mile Fest Timothy Johnson spoke about safety measures during the races.
“We have briefings and safety meetings before anyone gets in the water,” Johnson said. “Once the main meeting happens, there is safety everywhere. Kayaks, pack rafts, each with throw bags and people with throw bags (bags designed to let the rope inside come out easily and quickly) on the shore. The rafts and kayaks pull out into the biggest calm eddies that are along the race course as well as throw baggers on the shore. This practice usually prevents events like today’s from happening. The guy didn’t attend any of the briefings and went before the safety meeting.”
Despite the downpour of rain, festival goers didn’t let it dampen their spirit as they were sloshing and stomping in the mud and puddles, letting the music wash over them. Despite some last minute cancellations, the night’s musical line up didn’t miss a beat and kept people cheering and dancing well into the night.
The first on stage was Quinn Hagberg who warmed up the crowd with his fantastic set, followed by the beautiful melodies of Dante Manolo. Then a random, musically gifted couple from the crowd took the stage. The Shootdangs did a superbly bang-up job as the AK Fire Circus performed an amazingly brilliant show in front of the stage. The final act was the very talented Days n Daze who came to perform at Six Mile Fest all the way from Houston, Texas.
“Despite the circumstances, it was awesome,” Johnson said. “Someone was resurrected, that was great. A couple of the bands canceled, but people were there to play any way. That was superb. The rain was pouring but people danced despite it, overall it was amazing and I couldn’t imagine the tenth annual being anymore memorable.”
This year’s festival was filled with a harrowing, near death escape, soulful and boot stomping bluegrass echoing throughout the surrounding valley, good friends and company whether you knew each other prior to the festival or not. It was definitely a festival many will remember for a very long time.