As they crossed, one student slipped but regained her balance. Then Katy fell, taking the first girl down with her. Both were wearing backpacks that weighed at least 40 pounds. The girls tried desperately to stay together while unfastening their packs. Then the current took hold, flipping them facedown into the frigid water.
THE TWO GIRLS LOST THEIR lost their grip on one another. The first was carried into a shallow channel a few hundred feet downstream before being pulled out by the two group members who hadn’t tried to cross. She was badly shaken, but safe. Katy was carried into a deeper channel, out of reach. She disappeared around a bend in the river.
Katy’s group mates found her nearly half a mile downstream, facedown in two feet of water. They were unable to reach her as she bobbed in an eddy on the far side of the river.
Thirty minutes later, the third bunch of students, last out of camp, came upon the incident. Like my group, they had been hiking the north bank of the river and were able to pull Katy’s body onto a gravel bar. They made efforts to revive her.
A mile and a half downstream, we had been waiting at the prearranged meeting point. Members of the third team arrived and with obvious distress reported what had happened. Katy was not hurt, not missing, not in trouble—she was dead.
With deliberate calm that I found both off-putting and powerfully responsible, Liz, the lead instructor, delegated duties. She and I and two others were to return upstream to retrieve Katy and bring her back to camp. Everyone else was to stay put.
“There she is,” I nearly shouted, pointing. (Years later, I still feel shame about the excitement in my voice.) Whatever private hopes any of us might have been harboring that perhaps Katy was still alive were vanquished in a glance. We scrambled down to the river. The expression on her face startled me. Instead of the panic or fear I might have expected, her look resembled one of awe, even ecstasy. We stood over her. Liz suggested we say a prayer, and we joined hands. Words didn’t come, but we stood still in the wilderness, the river loud against our ears.