Russell Kelly, RIP - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-10-2004   #1
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 3
Russell Kelly, RIP

Sad, sad news on the wire today:

NO1>rule is kamapnobyline<NO0><NO1>BC-WY-BRF-Yellowstone Fatal,148
Colorado man killed in park accident
HLN FILED-hout-srcli
<NO0>[BYLINE]<MC>By The Associated Press<QA>
[LEADIN] Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. - [TEXT]One man died after a
rollover accident on U.S. Highway 191 Monday night inside
Yellowstone National Park.
The victim was identified Tuesday as Russell Kelly, 29, of
Ophir, Colo.
Kelly was a widely known kayaker, park officials said.
He was alone in a pickup truck driving south on Highway 191 at
about 8:15 p.m. when the vehicle left the road about a mile north
of the Gallatin River Bridge, rolled several times down a steep
embankment and came to rest on its roof, trapping him inside.
Kelly was dead at the scene.
The accident is still under investigation. It was the second
vehicle fatality in the park this year, officials said.
<NO1>AP-WS-08-10-04 1448EDT

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Old 08-11-2004   #2
jonny water's Avatar
Geologist, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 615
Russell guided me down some of the most amazing runs of my life...he will never be forgotten. His contribution to kayaking will live on through wonderful stories and memories. My heart goes out to all of his friends and family.

Please post any news about funeral services.
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Old 08-11-2004   #3
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 1,303
I had the pleasure of paddling and camping with Russell too. He is one of the most spirited and wild people that I have met, both on and off the river. His thirst for adventure in remote, unexplored places will rarely be matched, and will never be forgotten. His smile both on his face and in his eyes was amazing, and you could always see it on the river.
Kyle McCutchen
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Old 08-11-2004   #4
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 17
I met Russell in Chile a couple years ago and had the luck of paddling and camping with him for a couple of weeks. I was down there solo and meeting Russell really helped make my trip come together. He was the special kind you don't run into that often and you're better for it. Who can forget his big grin and blond ponytail on the river? I only talked to him a few times after that but I'm glad I had the opportunity to share some time with a unique spirit like Russell. He'll be missed.
Janir Thorndike
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Old 08-11-2004   #5
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Filmmaker, Colorado
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 104
Of all the places I've travelled, I've never run into a single person more often than Russel. In the past 5 years our paths crossed everywhere from Chamonix to the Big South to the Futaleufu. It never ceased to amaze me the places he would turn up...always with a smile as big as the day is long.

Our paths last crossed over a couple of beers in Telluride. His good humor and positive energy will be missed.

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Old 08-11-2004   #6
placerville, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1993
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 781
i'll post again later- this is from another friend here in town.....russel kelly: gone to the spirit river

ophirian russel kelly has gone on to the spirit river long before his time. he was undoubtedly one of the worlds top paddlers, but more importantly, he was a friend and inspiration to many, myself included. i'll spin a yarn in his honor to share some of the ways I knew him on a level that i think few people except those closest to him did.

3 or 4 years ago, after i hadn't boated with russel for quite some time he interested me in going to crested butte on a june weekend to paddle oh! be joyful creek with him. i was worried that it might be a little much for me after all the crazy stories i had heard about it but, true to form, russel was my guardian angel for the day and walked the whole run from bottom to top along the creeks edge, pointing out all the critical moves. after watching him ace the waterfall above the put in that most people don't run due to the tiny landing zone surrounded by shallow rocks, we stroked it down through the first 2 technical and tight drops and then launched the first waterfall, making a shallow landing in the center of the pool to avoid the rocky landing on the right. thanks for the tip, russ! we continued working our way downriver. me: nervous but psyched. russel: all fired up and showing more confidence in me than i had in myself. it helped and i was thankful. we would cruise the class 4 boogie water, him leading, me following. he would always be there in that critical eddy offering me the beta on the next drop just in case i wanted a reminder. he always offered me the option to go first, which i did a few times, not being one who likes to follow much except when out of my comfort zone. on the second waterfall, i pencilled in perfectly but due to a loose left shoulder that likes to come out at inoppurtune times, i was holding my elbows in tight against my sides, not proper waterfall technique. well, as sure as snow melts and we will paddle it, the paddle that was so snugly laid across my lap snapped neatly in two. two paddles better than one? i think not. toss one half and use the other half to roll up and get your butt into the eddy or you're going down avalanche falls shy half a paddle. russel waited patiently while i ran back to the camper to get my backup. no bummer for him to wait, he was on his favorite creek in the world! and, no heckling for my amateur waterfall faux pas, though for sure i had earned it and would have heckled him endlessly had he broken his in the same way. russel, lorne and i all aced avalanche falls and the complicated drops below it that many boaters don't run. my first run on oh! be careful (that's what russel called it, it's real name being oh! be joyful) was mighty fine, mighty fine. many thanks to russel for being the man that he is. kind, helpful, considerate. not necessarily the character traits he was best known for around town. my favorite people do seem to be better known for their wilder side.

sunday ,we went on to paddle the double "spider" rated class 5+ ruby fork of anthracite creek, a personal first for each of us. russel and lorne both are some of the best paddlers anywhere to tackle a complicated, wilderness creek run of this difficulty with. they treated me as an equal, though i wasn't so sure i was worthy of it. this run earns its double "spider" rating due to the 3 difficult portages around nasty sieves and the 27 log jams we encountered which often suprised us at the last moment. it made for a long day, but luckily there was always a mini eddy right where we needed it and we made good time getting downriver considering the epic nature of the run. kyle, a grand junction boater we had met at the put in, broke his boat running a nasty pile of rocks that looked more like an irrigated boulder field than a rapid, requiring a big hike out of the remote canyon. us three Ophirians knew better than to take that kind risk in a remote location and we struggled our way along the shore around the drop and completed the run without any problems.

although many thought of russel as reckless, those who had paddled what he called "the sick!" with him knew him to be an elite world class expedition paddler in possession of uncommonly good river judgement. how else could you survive the multiweek self support class 6+ super epic solo descents he had done all over the himalaya. (read that phrase again carefully! it is sounds heavy...and it is) he wanted me to join him for some "fun" in asia one fall. i passed on the offer and when he returned to ophir that winter to score some of his beloved colorado "whitewater" in its frozen form, we gathered at the Finn after skiing to tell our tall tales from our respective fall adventures. though i am known to some for my adventurous ways and am thought of as reckless by many, russels tales were always very much taller than mine. still, he would listen attentively to my stories of my little paddling adventure to run class 4 rivers in the jungles of ecuador. they paled in comparison to his epics. at his mention of many class 6+ rapids that he had to run for lack of any possible portage or escape back upriver left no doubt in my mind that i had made the right decision. i was alive and happilly enjoying one of jay raibles fine margaritas at the Finn and wouldn't be if i had tried to tackle those rivers. but he could and did, boasting only a little, but mostly just wishing that he could have shared the privelidge of visiting some of the worlds most secret, beautiful and remote places with some of his buds from the windy valley. the 9/11 tragedy had prevented him from continuing on to pakistan that fall to paddle the Baltoro river from it's source at the Baltoro glacier. but, no worries for russel! "where we gonna paddle this spring?" was his response.

russel was a finely honed paddling machine, having cut his teeth on the premiere class 5 training run in north america, the north fork of the payette in idaho. he picked off the easier rapids first and gradually worked his way up to paddling the whole 17 mile 1700 foot descent at all water levels, including the 6,000 cfs or higher flows of big snowpack years believed by many to be a "die if you swim" level. lucky him! safety boating on the south fork of the payette and camping just across the highway from the north fork. not just any north fork...THE north fork! it is a dangerous river but learn your lessons here and you will be ready for anything, anywhere

we had the good fortune to spend some time with russel and annie in chile last january. although both angelina and i were having back trouble and couldn't paddle with him, we couldn't wait to hook up with them and hear about his runs through the Colca canyon and the Abismo of the Apurimac, two of the hardest, most remote and challenging runs in all of south america. angelina and i had paddled the 3 day class 4/5 commercial run on the apurimac and had wondered of the epicness of the Abismo that lay hidden a few miles below our takeout. true to form, russel had successfully run both the abismo and the Colca with his friend damon of durango and a local peruvian, juanito. he regaled us with stories of the upper canyon of the Colca, which they had made the second descent of, scurrying around the sieves carrying their fully loaded boats over their heads to protect themselves from the constant rockfall. that was the scariest moment of the trip for him. they found the polish account of their first descent in 1982 to be just a little overly dramatic. russel and damon ran many rapids that the poles had portaged, but to be fair the poles had used a ragged second hand paddle raft and a couple of beat up old fiberglass kayaks that they had tortured on their paddling adventure from the western US all the way to deepest peru. they simply didn't have the equipment, nor had paddling abilities or boat designs evolved to the point where the worlds most difficult and fearsome rapids could be slayed by their capable team.

yes, russel stared down the river dragon many times. he took his lickings occaisionally but mostly popped into the eddy below sick! drops hungry for more. he and damon continued south in chile to slay the 3 canyons of the baker (Russel quiet and pensive before running the first drop, knowing it would all come out fine but mortally scared just the same) and on to make the second descent of the Rio Pascua, even further south. we pelted him with emails hoping to hear the stories as they unfolded. he didn't let us down. the last time we saw them in chile they were querying a chilean guacho about some local waterfalls they has heard about. classic scene! boater dirtbags in the patagucci baggies and nappy t shirts and the gaucho all stylish on his horse with his burgundy beret. we all went down by the river to fish a little and have some lunch before angelina and i headed across the andes and into argentina on some little travelled, dusty mountain road. they, headed ever further south, in search of the sick!

one of my fondest memories of russel is

dream your wildest life and live your wildest dreams! russel did and we're all the richer for it even if he did go to the spirit river long before his time. i hope the ophirians will honor his inspiring life with a giant bonfire with all the trimmings. i think you know what i mean. you know i would if i was in hte valley.

big wave dave
kwazulu/natal, south africa
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Old 08-11-2004   #7
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 1,303
I was the junction boater that Dave mentioned in his story of Ruby Anthracite (the one that ran the pile of rocks). I mention this only because this was the most amazing day that I spent with Russell. We were scouting a long continuous drop that had four parts too it. I looked at the first part and thought it would go, plus the protage looked horrible since I had already slipped twice during the scout. I decided to run and broke my boat when i landed on a sharp rock. I got out and drained my boat on a small island only to look over at Russell...

Here we are in the middle of nowhere and I see this crazy looking guy crawling under a tree with a shouldered boat, trying not to slip on the rocks, and the entire time he has a cigarette in his mouth! I'm thinking to myself, here we are 4 miles from help in a remote canyon, and this guy brings along a lighter and a cigarette for one of the crappier portages on the run! To this day I have never seen anything like it.

I watched Russell run amazing lines that day, and he really was one of the greatest paddlers on the water. He could dance with the water better than most paddlers will ever experience. He will be missed.

Keep your chin up Dave.
Kyle McCutchen
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Old 08-12-2004   #8
placerville, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1993
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 781
One of my favorite Russell stories took place in Idaho. We spent a few springs paddling the early season high water before the weather got nice and the rafters showed up. This was only my second or third year as a kayaker and I was nervous that Russell would insist we immediately get on the classic north fork of the payette. I at least needed a couple days warm-up, so my buddy and I snuck into Banks, hoping to elude him for a day or so. The first morning, Derek and I drove up the staircase section of the southfork, which was running about 7000. We had second thoughts, as this was a huge flow, but it looked forgiving and we were psyched for big water. About a mile into the run, I realized that we were being followed on the road by a beat-up blue van with a 6 foot long submarine sandwich on top. Next I heard the catcalls-“what are you boys doing on this run? NORTH FORK! NORTH FORK! NORTH FORK! He was stalking us, yelling from the van, smoke pouring out the windows. Needless to say, later that morning, we ran more of the north fork [at 5500] than I ever had before, thanks to Russell’s coaching [prodding] and enthusiasm. He had more confidence in us than we did. I will remember that day forever. I will remember that sub that stayed on top of his van for a couple seasons even longer.

I remember the Chevy at OB. A couple years later, sandwich finally gone, we were car-camping at the oh-be-joyful campground outside of crested butte. One of my quiet, timid friends from Georgia was out west for some boating, and you could tell the entire time that our boy Russell made him nervous. Later that night, after knocking back a few sodas, we are hanging in the back of his van, discussing safety techniques. Everyone leaves the van except for this quiet guy Matt. Russell proceeds to lock him in the back of the van with all his smelly gear and fire the van up for some high-speed laps around the campground. You could hear Matt and the boating gear getting scrambled in the back of the Chevy. Russell was zig-zagging through campsites, the Chevy throwing dust and rocks everywhere, the whole time yelling “CHEVY AT OB, CHEVY AT OB”. This was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Matt did not think so, and was totally freaked when Russell stopped and let him out. But our boy needed room to hide from all the disgruntled campers who were out looking for a piece of this psycho who had just almost mowed down all the tents [with people in them] in the campground. They were banging on the van and yelling for him. We told them he ran into the woods, He was no doubt in his sleeping bag in the van, giggling his ass off. I think the next night we crashed a party in downtown crested butte, at some really expensive condo, where Russell inadvertently walked through a screen door. He went right through it. Our crew gave a quick break-dancing lesson on the kitchen floor, then felt it was time to leave.

A couple months later, Russell, Lorne, and I went to marble one weekend to run the crystal gorge and to check reports we had heard on yule creek. The first afternoon we spent hiking and scrambling to get a look at the waterfalls in the yule creek canyon. We were blown away by the size of the final four. After a fitfull night of sleep, we geared up early and prepared to drive up the yule creek road a few miles to try and find a place to enter the canyon. When we got going, Russell said “I need to go to the marble store for “water and a snickers”. We reluctantly turned around [Lorne and I were prepared] and drove to the marble store. It was about 9:20 a.m., and the store did not open until 10. Lorne and I said “oh well, we’ll share our stuff with you”. Russell then said “there is no way I am going anywhere without some smokes” we were pissed. A yelling match ensued, two against one, but he didn’t budge. And neither did we, until the store opened 40 minutes later with us out front in our paddling gear. Stubborn bastard. [ Later, when on a road trip and he was forbidden to smoke in my truck, his routine would be to say “man, I really gotta piss”, I would pull over so he could get out and…smoke a cig. I fell for it every time] After a feel-good therapy session with our trip moderator, Jenn, we headed up the road and put on to one of the best days of creeking I have ever had. The three of us leap-frogged, the lead guy would get out at the horizon line and give the other two direction, then pick up the rear and do it all over again. Those final four drops we took turns probing were exciting to say the least. We must have hooted and hollered for hours. We drank shots “to the falls” that night until our boy puked and layed down to sleep in the grass. He was the first one up for the crystal gorge the next morning.

I have so many more like this that are racing through my mind each day: him waiting for me at the bottom while skiing, wearing a sweaty jo mama’s shirt, lips covered with dip[he finally quit smoking], showing us new runs in Idaho, gashing his head on the slate, missing the line at escalante falls 3 years in a row, psyching-up my whining-ass on the ruby fork, running the upper animas non-stop through the box at 4-5000, south mineral, vallecito, and on and on and on. If not for you my friend, I would have much fewer adventures to speak of. Thank you.

Early on Tuesday, august tenth, I got a call from Annie. I knew what it meant before I called her back. I went to the river and just sat, shocked. The clouds broke and a bright sun came out, and I knew a few laps on pine creek would allow me to boat with him again. I hooted and hollered as if he were there. That night I watched a lightning storm and figured he must have had something to do with it.

We should all take inspiration from how Russell would always be having the most fun, even on class 3, even on misty maiden. He just loved to be out there. He was just getting started.
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Old 08-13-2004   #9
placerville, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1993
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 781
Thanks for including me in your mailing list. Reading your story was really the first time that Russell's death has hit me. Not having seen him for a long while, it all seems so abstract and possibly unreal. But shit, it's real. What the hell? Driving? Sure, why not.
Yeah, Russell always had more confidence in me, and Angela, and my buddy Marcia in Taos, and I'm sure many many others, than we had in ourselves. It was an amazing force. He took me down the North Fork too. Many years ago. And I just remember sitting in an eddy above some big drop with Rus yelling "WE'RE GONNA RUN THE GNAR, LILLIAN, WE'RE GONNA RUN THE GNAR!!!" He proceded to surf and play his way down the rapids while I frantically backpaddled to try to stay behind him. Eventually I flipped in some hole I was backpaddling through and smashed the shit out of my cheek.
Later that month I had to go to court in Idaho City because of a mistake with my supposedly suspended license. I walked into the crowded court room, and who was sitting there but Russell. He'd been busted with weed on July 4, in some campground. We whispered back and forth till our numbers came up...

Most of my memories of Russell he is yelling something. "Between the rock and the tree!" was our mantra in Taos.

I just lost another great kayak friend in June. Deb was the craziest woman I know. Russell was the craziest guy I know. What's up?

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Old 08-13-2004   #10
jonny water's Avatar
Geologist, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 615
Upon meeting Russell....

Jon: So Russell, where do you live?
Russell (smoking a cigarette and pointing to his huge Chevy): In my van!
Jon: Well I mean, where do you live?
Russell (smiling from ear to ear): Down by the river dude!

It is amazing that Russell was so happy just to be on the water. The last time we paddled together was Granite thru the Numbers and he was playing and surfing all the way down, just as happy as he could be. He wasn't telling me of some big adventure he had just come back from. He was just enjoying the the fullest!
Oh and did I mention he had a perfect line thru Pine Creek @ 2500 cfs.

"Ready psycho? Let's grease it!" R. Kelly
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