Join Date: Jun 2004
Accident Report 5/31/2014: Crystal River, Bogan Canyon
Accident Report 5/31/2014: Crystal River, Bogan Canyon
It was Saturday, Memorial Day weekend in Glenwood Springs when we decided to go kayaking at Bogan Canyon on the Crystal River. The run is a class 4 run that begins downstream of Marble. With rivers running high statewide, Bogan was a run that everybody in our crew agreed upon and felt confident in running. The Crystal flow at Redstone was around 1700 cfs and rising at 5:00 pm when we left the house (the flow ended up reaching 2100 Sat night and peaked at 2300 Sun night). We chose to run the 3 miles from Marble to the Bogan Flats Campground. Our group consisted of four kayakers ranging in skills from class 4 to 5 and each of us had double digit years of experience. We had a shuttle driver that would drop us at the put in. For reference the kayakers will be referred to U, D, J, and R, and our driver L.
We met at the Bogan Flats Campground around 5:30 and dropped our camping gear at the takeout. U and D had run this section of the Crystal several times and lived in the valley for many years. It was the first time for J and R. On our way up to the put-in, we looked at the river as we drove up while scouting from the car. We noted that there was wood/strainers in places along the river and reminded each other of where the safe passage appeared. We drove to the put-in bridge at the airfield bridge just downstream (north) of Marble. As we were getting dressed, we were all smiles and excited about putting on, having fun, and getting to our campground takeout. At 6:30 pm, L took some pictures of us as we put on the river in our creek boats and started floating down.
The first 1.3 miles paddling down was really straight forward and enjoyable. The water was swift and manageable. There was vegetation and wood typical along the banks of the river and only one notable log parallel with the current that we easily navigated around. The assessment through this upper stretch was that the river had class 3 character. We eddied out river left, above the bridge that is on the outskirts of Marble.
We knew that the crux of the run was coming up and peeled out ready to navigate in the class 4 rapids below. We were paddling downstream in order of U, D, J, and R. For the most part U, D, and J were river running downstream; our memory recalls our order got mixed while R caught a couple eddies and was in visual contact. From the bridge, it is about 0.5 miles to the accident site; between there is a 90 degree left turn, straight, 90 degree right, straight 150 yards, a 30 degree right, 25 yards straight, some submerged rocks where wood had been collecting, 25 yards straight, 90 degree left, and the river goes on from there. The spot has a natural tendency to catch wood. This busy stretch was moving fast with mostly wave trains and some crashing waves/holes. During our time there, the wood created a strainer that was Gnarly. It took up 1/2 to 2/3 of the river, center/left side and consisted of multiple trees/logs, some that were 12 inch diameter and 40 feet long. Some of them were pointing upstream above and below the water surface in different directions, littered with smaller branches, and rootballs. After the 30 degree right, the canyon with steep walls veers slightly to the right, while the current is still directing mostly straight, pointing mainly where the strainer was.
At the first 90 degree right, U was leading and must have tripped the edge of his boat on a rock (that we examined later) and flipped him over. D was behind him and saw him miss 2-3 roll attempts. U exited his kayak and swam. He swam a portion of 150 yard straight, went around the 30 degree right, was still swimming in the 25 yard straight. D and J were negotiating the rapid and R was behind and could only see D and J. J yelled at him to, "Swim right, swim right!!!" U was struggling against the powerful water. D and J maneuvered right around the strainer. R followed and saw D and J maneuvering around the strainer, and then saw that U was in trouble.
R saw that something was wrong and paddled to catch up. Between the waves he saw U's body bob up and down a couple times and move erratically as he encountered parts of the strainer and submerged wood. It looked erratic like U hit some of the wood and got typewriter'ed over towards the center of the strainer since some of the logs were pointing upstream and slightly angled. A lot of water, current, and force were driving in a V-shape were U ended up wrapped on one of the top logs. R observed an eddy swirling on river left above the strainer and paddled quickly to catch that eddy. He saw U and his upper torso wrapped on the log and jumped in the swirling eddy pool, threw gear to shore, and yelled out to U, "I'm coming!!" R got on the downstream side of the strainer and sidestepped over to U. R yelled to U to check his status, realized he swam into the strainer, and offered a hand out to stabilize U. U took a couple seconds before reaching out to grab R's hand and could tell that his position was not good and was being compromised by the surging water that was hitting him in the back of his neck. U grabbed R's hand for a few seconds, then would regain his grip on the log where his armpits were wrapped around. They alternated hands to try another grip. R grabbed a combination of U's hand/arm/armpit/pfd strap to maintain stabilization. His pfd was not a rescue vest and had flimsy, marginal straps that were elastic. U was fighting hard to stay as high as possible and the water kept surging, at times getting water over his head.
J had eddied out and showed up to assist R and U after about 2-3 minutes after R eddied out. D was further downstream. R and J backed each other up while trying to maintain stabilizing U. R and J eventually both positioned themselves on the downstream side of the strainer to help U. R and J both had hands on U and were able to maintain grip on him. R and J tried to pull on U a couple times with only temporarily raising him a couple inches out of the water. U was able to communicate that he was still fighting and wiggling his lower body to get free. We paraphrase that he said, "My leg is stuck. My skirt is stuck." We offered a knife and maintained stabilization. When we synchronized another pull up on U, U said, "Wait, I'm not ready, my leg is stuck, I need to get it free." We loosened our grip on him and kept a grip on parts of him. The current was hitting him hard in the back and continued to surge over his head. It was around 7:00 pm, he was in the strainer now for about 10-15 minutes. U was getting tired and he was trying to lean more sideways toward river right, away from us to try and wiggle his leg free. U leaned more and wiggled around. That's when the current of water folded him forcefully away from us and under water. Fuck!! He was submerged and the water held him folded sideways and away from us in the water. Half of his body from the waist up was flapping in the current downstream, with his leg still stuck in the strainer. We could still intermittently see him through the water. We brainstormed, how do we get him? We thought to try and get across the river, and extract him with pulling a rope upriver. It was hard to get to him in our positions to try clip or rope him. We tried again to back each other up and reach into the water to get a hold of him. We were both extended with our wingspans trying to reach into the water. Reaching into the water, taking turns had limited success. It was like doing 100 mph down the highway and sticking your arm out the window, getting your arm flung back. There were a few times that we felt the fabric on his pant leg, and a time were able to pull that free leg into the air. The other part of his submerged torso was still trapped in the strainer. R and J continued reaching out to U resulting in no success. It was about 7:45 that we conceded he was gone.
R and J put in to the river again and proceeded to the takeout about 0.4 miles downstream. There were 3 more notable strainers also on the way down. As R and J pulled up to the upper Bogan Group Campground, D was approaching from land by foot. D was notified that U drowned in the strainer. R, J, and D notified nearby campers to call 911 from a land line at the main campground 0.8 more miles downstream.
Authorities and search and rescue showed up shortly before sunset and strategized for the search and rescue efforts. The entire rescue effort spanned from Saturday night to Tuesday evening. A detailed report can be prepared under a separate forum post. Mainly, we want to commend and thank all of the authorities, rescue teams, volunteers, friends, and family that aided in this search.
I want to include some lessons learned from this incident and know that there will be ongoing discussion, so feel free to provide constructive feedback. Lessons learned from this:
-Take extra caution during high water, especially with runs that are susceptible to wood (it's everywhere as well as other hazards).
-A class 1-5 run can immediately have fatal consequences if one exits their craft and is exposed to the river.
-Do your best to have good gear, and be trained to use it. The following rescue efforts to 15+ people, chainsaws, rope crew, and manhours to dismantle only the 1 strainer at the victim's last point seen.
-Scout, scout, and boat scout extensively.
-We wish that we could have clipped or secured U somehow. The rescue effort took a lot of time and resources. It would have been helpful to try and secure the body.
Rest in peace, Uriah.
Be safe and see you on the river, Romeo.