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Old 06-01-2006   #1
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 5
Account of Accident on Vallecito Creek

My husband who was with Adam wrote this account of what happened Saturday on the river. He wanted to get this out so that people would know what happened and hopefully it might help somehow. This has been a really hard period of time for us and our hearts go out to Adam's family. I really want to thank everyone in Durango who helped we are extremely thankful for your efforts. We really believe that if there was any hope of changing the outcome of the situation the search and rescue team in Durango would have been able to do it. Thanks also to Kyle, Evan and Pete for looking after Pete until I could get there and paddling the lower part of the river just to make sure there were no stones unturned your presence really helped.

Adam was one of the most caring people I have ever met in my life.

Here is Pete's account of what happened:

The following is what I remember about the day leading up to Adam’s death. This has not yet been reviewed for accuracy by the third member of our party.

After a good nights sleep at my friend Andrew’s house in Durango, Adam got up in the morning and made up some eggs for breakfast. We packed up and made it to the Vallecito campground just before 11:00. Our third boater was waiting for us and said that a group of 4 had already headed up the trail. His girlfriend wasn’t feeling good and decided not to go, but we felt good about the group of 3 and started carrying our boats up the trail. Our friend set a nice slow pace on the walk up since he had just arrived from <3,000 ft. Adam had hiked the trail before and we discussed how beautiful the place was while trying to ignore our sore shoulders from carrying our boats 4 miles the day before. When we reached the put-in the group of 4 was still hanging out and we all introduced our-selves. We discussed how many times each of us had been down the run and that it was Adam’s first time. After briefly discussing the run they started gearing up and we agreed to give them a few minutes to ease congestion once in the canyon. We watched their lines through the first two drops before entering the gorge and then started gearing up ourselves. We put in and all had good lies through the first two drops and joined in the last eddy before entrance falls. Our friend decided to go first and we briefly went over the line again. “You want to throw your boof stroke as late as possible and land right on the right wall” was said several times. Adam and I watched him enter and I told Adam that’s where you want to be and to remember the late boof stroke. I’m not sure what the last words we exchanged in that eddy were, but it would be the last time I spoke with Adam.

I watched Adam go over the falls and he appeared to be in the correct place. I gave him 30 seconds or so, enough time to clear the hole, and peeled out to run down. When I came over the lip I immediately saw Adam swimming and his boat in the base of the falls on the left. I landed where I wanted to be, but was flipped up against the right wall and rolled up just clear of the falls. The base of the falls has a very aerated hydraulic that feeds into a cave on the left and up against the left wall. I got near Adam on the left wall where I believe he grabbed my boat and I unsuccessfully attempted to paddle out of the boil. We were both pulled back into the cave and very near the base of the falls. I know I flipped over at least once and was able to roll up and struggled to stay out of the base of the falls. I’m not sure if I told Adam I couldn’t get out of there with him on my boat or he let go when I flipped, but I was able to roll up and fight my way back out to river right where our other friend was standing with a throw rope. He said my rope isn’t long enough so I quickly threw off the gloves I was wearing and grabbed his rope and paddled back in, thinking if I could stay on the river right I’d be able to paddle out once he got the rope. I threw the rope toward Adam and tried to stay toward the river right side of the falls. I felt a strong pull on the rope and quickly turned around to paddle out of the boil. I was just being pulled back so I tried to hold the rope in my mouth while paddling as best I could. In the aerated water I was having difficulty just staying upright and was still being pulled back into the falls. I don’t recall if I flipped again, but somehow lost the rope and fought my way back out to the river right. I quickly exited my boat in a small eddy on the right and grabbed for my rope. Our other friend yelled “where is he” and I looked up only to see his boat still in the falls/cave. Adam was nowhere to be seen. I’m guessing at this point Adam was swimming for nearly 2 minutes. He was out of sight for what seemed to be hours, but was probably 10-15 sec. He then surfaced about 10ft. past the boil line of the falls and less than 10ft. from the entrance to the next drop “Trash Can”. I don’t understand how he flushed so deep and so far out from the falls, it seemed impossible to me. I made an unsuccessful throw of my rope as he flushed into “Trash Can”. From where he surfaced, even if we had immediately gotten him a rope I don’t think it was possible to get him out before entering “Trash Can”. Our other friend immediately got into his boat and followed him down river. Adam passed through the first part of “Trash Can” cleanly, and appeared to be swimming with his head up. I saw him enter the second part of the drop just right of the large rock with his head up and still moving, in the exact line where you run the drop. Our friend followed him within 20-30 seconds and I got back in my boat and followed in the next 30 seconds. When I got through “Trash Can” I saw our other friend already out of his boat about 10 feet up the bank looking downstream. I yelled “where is he” and he signaled that he didn’t see him. From that vantage point you can see 100 ft. plus downriver and I expected to “worst case” be chasing an unconscious body, but we saw nothing. We got back in our boats in a state of panic and paddled downriver as quickly as possible. Once we reached “Fuzzy Bunny” we quickly portaged river left and discussed if we should attempt to hike out or continue down. With the climb out being extremely long and the possibility of still having a body in the water downstream we chose to paddle out as quickly and safely as possible. We ran out the reminder of the run and I paddled a fast as I could to the campground area. I exited my boat and ran up to the campground host to contact search and rescue. The group of 4 boaters immediately in front of us was quickly located. The first search and rescue personnel arrived within 5 minutes. Teams were formed and entered the canyon on both river right and river left. A helicopter arrived shortly and began searching the canyon top to bottom, flying within feet of the river in places. I was asked to remain in the campground to answer questions at first and attempted to join a few of the later rescue parties to enter the canyon and was held back by the sheriff since at that point was obviously not in correct mental state to be in the canyon.

In the following days search and rescue personnel and other kayakers have continuously searched the canyon. At the time I’m writing this, his body has not been found. This is a very confusing and frustrating situation. Water levels have dropped over 50% and there is still no sign of Adam. Search efforts are still continuing. My wife flew to Durango to help me and assist in the search. She is amazing and the only way I have made it through these last few days without completely loosing it. I love you Kate.

I was pushed to make the decision to leave Vallecito and return to Silverthorne to give Adam’s parents a first hand account of the tragedy. Getting in my truck and seeing his clothes that he had left on the passenger seat and all of his gear was unbelievably horrible. I can’t even describe the feeling of driving away with all your friend’s gear, but not the only thing that counts, your friend.

I’m still in a state of shock over this and it doesn’t yet seem real. Adam was one of my best friends and in the 4-5 years I knew him we shared some amazing times. Some of my best memories were the 40+ South St. Vrain runs we made after work. Running through the narrows at dusk and hiking back up to the car just so psyched to have ended a long day with a great friend on a stellar river where some of the best moments of my life. Adam was one of the few guys that I could take with me anywhere and he’d be right there pushing me along, up for anything. The only time I’ve seen Adam a little timid is climbing, the kid didn’t like heights. Everything he did he gave 100% and loved every minute of it. He had the type of personality that he could strike up a conversation with anyone at anytime and have a new friend within minutes. He’d be there for you at anytime and would be the first one to volunteer to help out with anything you needed. The world was a better place and I am a better person because Adam was here. Adam, you will be greatly missed.

I can’t believe I lost my friend and I can’t believe I had a chance to save him and I failed. Since the accident I’ve thought of hundreds of things I should have tried differently and that may have worked. At that time in those conditions I did what my instincts told me to do and it didn’t work. I lost my friend and that is something that I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. This is the hard reality of kayaking class V that everyone talks about but in the back of my mind I didn’t think it would happen to me or one of my close friends. Kayakers at this level feel like we can handle almost anything and on this day and this time, I couldn’t. This was a terrible tragedy and I hope others can learn something from the events that occurred that day.

Adam, we love you and miss you and know wherever you are you’ve already made it a better place just by being there.

My deepest condolences go out to Adam’s family and friends. I know how I’m feeling and can’t imagine what they are going through. I am deeply sorry for what happened that day. I hope by writing this I may help answer some of the numerous questions everyone must have.

Pete and Kate

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Old 06-01-2006   #2
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 112
Thanks for the account, I know it must have been difficult to write that. I wouldn't spend too much time second-guessing, it sounds like you guys did everything right, and it won't bring your friend back. My condolences to Adam's family and friends.

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Old 06-01-2006   #3
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Laramie, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1992
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 488
Pete, I think what you did for Adam was incredibly heroic. You're in my thoughts and I hope you can find peace with this soon.
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Old 06-01-2006   #4
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Englewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1978
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 882
That spot is not an easy place to try to help someone at all. You acted heroically and took real risks to try to save Adam. A friend could ask for nothing more.
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Old 06-01-2006   #5
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 272
for everyone out there that doesn't know Pete... he's one of the best athletes I have ever met.. hands down.. no sh!t. i know he busted his ass and risked his own life to save Adam. if I ever find myself in a situation like that, there are few people in my world that I would want to help me and Pete is tops on that list.

find peace brother, you're in my heart. -trev
"I would drag my balls across broken glass just to hear her fart into a walkie talkie" -Jay Drury
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Old 06-01-2006   #6
Preacher of the Profit Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 1,062

Heal quick Pete. It's what Adam would have wanted. He was a great guy.
I love to dance, but who needs the music- It throws me off.
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Old 06-01-2006   #7
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Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,727
Many of the hardest runs I've done have been with Peter. I second what Trevor said.

I can't think of anyone I would rather have watching my back than Peter Roth.

And as I Don said, I hope you find peace with this before too long.

No one is second guessing your efforts, except you.

Much love, Dave.
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Old 06-01-2006   #8
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Jackson, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 94
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Peter and Leland, keep your heads up.

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Old 06-02-2006   #9
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Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 557
Pete, I know that you are continuously thinking about things that you could have done differently to save Adam. I'm sure there are plenty of ways it could have been done differently. The fact is, you guys did what your instincts and experience told you to do at that moment. You did what you thought was the best way to save Adam. In a serious situation like this, that is all you can do, and that is what you have to do. You don't have time to sit there and think about the 50 other options. You have to make a decision and make it happen.

I had an experience where we had a group of three and one friend was being recirculated in a cave at the base of a drop. My instincts told me to get out of my boat onto shore and throw him a rope. The problem was, it was california and the river bank was a 50 degree granite slope straight into the river. I immediately slid back in the water and couldn't climb up the bank. by the time I was able to find a footing, he had swam out of the hole and he was luckily alive. It was a scary experience even though he lived, it was probably the closest he has ever been to death. I knew it from the look in his eyes.

I stewed over the situation for months, thinking of what I should have done to save my friend. I finally realized that I did what I thought was the best way to save him. It didn't work and I learned a huge lesson.

So, in this time of pain and sadness, please realize that you did everything you could have done to save him. He would be proud of you as are all of us in the boating community. You guys had a very heroic effort and we all appreciate it for Your's and Adam's sake. You guys are the types of boaters that we need on the river. Those who make a decision and get it done. I try to choose my boating partners by this criteria.

My love goes out to all of you.
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Old 06-02-2006   #10
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 35
Sorry but Thank You

I am a relatively new boater just getting to running class 4 stuff. I am swiftwater trained and an ex-firefighter. I know what it means when your best rescue efforts fail ( I've saved some and lost some too). My heart is with you Pete. Just wanted to thank you for posting your account. It helps me learn and understand what I am getting into as I try to move along in paddling skill w/o killing myself or someone else. I am certain you made every possible effort at the moment to save Adam. I could have done no better and may have gotten myself killed in the process. Newbies like me need to learn as much as we can from people like you. I pray for the steady recovery of your broken heart.


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