Yet another Upper Animas death - Mountain Buzz

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Old 07-04-2005   #1
no tengo
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Baytopia, Colorado
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Yet another Upper Animas death

from the durango herald.

July 4, 2005

Woman drowns on upper Animas

By Jesse Harlan Alderman
Herald Staff Writer
Woman drowns on upper Animas. Durango, Colorado.
Jurgen Herbst, with La Plata County Search and Rescue, loads gear onto a railcar as a helicopter carrying rescue personnel lands at the Rockwood train station Sunday. A search was under way for a woman who died while rafting on the upper Animas River. The search and rescue workers were taken by railcar to the site where her body was found.

ROCKWOOD - The swollen waters of the upper Animas River claimed another rafter Sunday.

A woman from Golden died after her raft flipped near the same stretch of treacherous rapids that killed a tourist from Texas and a local river guide last month. Her identity and age were not available Sunday night.

Dan Patterson, an investigator with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, said the woman was not on a commercial rafting trip. She and her boyfriend were navigating the harrowing set of rapids in their personal cataraft - a pontoon-like double-hulled boat.

According to Butch Knowlton, La Plata County's director of emergency preparedness, the couple's raft flipped in No Name Rapids, an extreme section of whitewater north of Needleton in San Juan County. The woman's body was found later about three miles down the river near Broken Bridge.

At 2:23 p.m., a party of backpackers spotted the woman floating in the water near the Needleton Bridge, said Knowlton.

Because the accident occurred in the remote canyon only accessible by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad or helicopter, the backpackers were unable to alert authorities until about an hour later, when someone placed a call to 911 on a satellite telephone.

By 5 p.m., Knowlton dispatched a New Air helicopter to the upper reaches of the Animas to search for the victim. Skip Favreau, a volunteer with La Plata County Search and Rescue, was aboard the helicopter.

At the same time, a team of four volunteers drove to Tacoma, west of Haviland Lake off U.S. Highway 550, and hiked to the accident scene.

The flipped green cataraft was spotted near Broken Bridge just after 6 p.m. At the same time, the victim's boyfriend was found standing on Needleton Bridge. Authorities at first feared the man might be in the river, too.

The man told investigators he clung to the raft through the rapids and was able to pull himself to shore. The victim was about six feet in front of him tumbling through the whitewater with her body in the "swiftwater" position - a feet-first emergency posture used in turbulent water.

Patterson said the couple had experience with class-5 rapids. They went rafting numerous times, including floats on the Arkansas and Colorado rivers, he said. They had dated for five years, he said.

"They took all the right precautions, but it's just one of those things," said Patterson. "They got hung up in hydraulics. It flipped the raft on its end."

Rescue crews spotted the woman's green vest along the river, providing a brief glimmer of hope that she had shed the vest and was walking along the river. However, investigators now believe the vest was wrenched from her body by the roaring waves.

At 7:18 p.m., two people camping nearby found the woman's body just north of Broken Bridge, three miles downriver from where the raft capsized, said Knowlton. Her body was lodged against a branch on the east bank of the river.

As dusk fell, Knowlton quickly assembled technical equipment in the event that the rescue crew would need to haul the woman's body from the river. Fourteen rescue workers left for the upper Animas from Rockwood Station on a Public Service Co. of Colorado track car.

Knowlton did not know if the woman's body would be retrieved Sunday night.

"We'll assess recovery possibilities up there," he said. "If we have enough gear and personnel, we'll try to get her out. Otherwise, we'll secure the body and take it out in the morning. It's a good possibility we might be camping up there."

Throughout the day, Knowlton and the rescue crew remained in close contact with Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad workers passing the accident on passenger trains. He said communication between county emergency teams and rail workers has aided rescue operations on the roaring river this season.

After Knowlton's team left for the river, the victim's boyfriend was flown to Rockwood in the rescue helicopter, where he was met by grief counselors.

This season on the Animas has already been deadly, killing six in Colorado and New Mexico. Spring run-off from last winter's abundant snowfall has caused the river to swell to above-average levels.

On June 17, Daryle Bogenrief, a popular local river guide, and Scott Licona, a tourist from Lumberton, Texas, died on a commercial rafting trip on the upper Animas. Their boat turned over in Ten Mile Rapids, a few miles north of No Name Rapids.

Last week, a 15-year-old Boy Scout drowned in harsh undertow on a stretch of the Animas near Farmington.

Timothy Michael White, a Durango man, died June 24 after jumping off Baker's Bridge and drowning.

Knowlton said that despite the mounting deaths, he did not expect the upper Animas to be closed to rafters.

"It's all public land, so it would be very hard to do," he said.

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Old 07-04-2005   #2
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so more info:

they werent wearing adequate clothing - just a splash jacket according to a rescuer. and they had only one boat. sounds like from the article they had never done it before so were basically a solo boat on a class v they had never done. i don't count the arkansas and the colorado (assuming westwater and browns/gorge perhaps?) as class V.

from the article it appeared they didn't attempt an aggressive swim to shore but were in the feet first position. that will only kill you up there.

anyway this is still very sad but i think did not have to happen. if they had taken the following steps:

1. go with someone who knew the run and to provide additional safety
2. dress in appropriate gear to swim (drysuit)
3. aggressivly swim to shore after a flip or another boat that is upright
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Old 07-05-2005   #3
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the golden rule

if you can't swim naked in gotta have the right protective clothing on the upper
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Old 07-05-2005   #4
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First of all, I totally agree with the above- especially about having another raft or some kayakers around for safety. We were a large group also on the Upper Animas on Sunday (3 paddle rafts and 8 kayakers). Just about everyone on the rafts took a swim at some point. We were all well clothed (wetsuits, dry tops, fleece, etc.). Most of those rapids are not very easy to swim to shore in. I myself took a swim in tenmile from a raft and it was some time before the raft could get back to me. I have plenty of whitewater swimming experience (though class III- IV), and let me tell you-- I could NOT self-rescue/ swim to shore in the middle of that rapid. It was all I could do to assume the swiftwater swimming position, to not gulp water and panic. I banged myself up just trying to swim hard to avoid holes. The water is incredibly cold, the rapids continuous and completely unforgiving.

We must not have been to far ahead of this ill-fated group, as we began to pick up all kinds of stuff floating thru the river- including the woman's chacos, the man's wallet, etc. We didn't know whose it was- figured it was from one of our rafts' flipping episode - til we met with rangers close to the takeout. Very sobering.

Please have some sympathy for these people who suffered a terrible tragedy. Nobody except the deceased woman knows what she went through and how she tried to survive. Yes, they made mistakes- most of us underestimated this river as well and as a group most of us were experienced with whitewater and some had been on the run before at various levels. Every one of you out there has gotten in over your head before. These death threads on the buzz seem to constantly seek blame. I understand, we all want to reassure ourselves that it couldn't happen to us. But shit happens out there, to experienced and inexperienced boaters.

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Old 07-05-2005   #5
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Assuming in threads like this can lead to trouble. Could just as easily been Pine creek at 3 and the Gore Race. Just cuz you don't count it becuse of parochial emotinalism doden't make it not so. Lets get facts straight before we go dissing dead people or questoining the judgment of of those wose actions led to the problems. just my 2
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Old 07-05-2005   #6
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First off, my sympathy to the girl's boyfriend whom survived, and hats off too all those who participated in the rescue/recovery.
Second, I had the oppurtunity to speak with the couple before they embarked on their tragic journey. We spoke in Durango just before doing a play session at Four Corners. They were inquiring about the Upper and asking the usual questions; whats it like, where to camp, how 'bout the drops, where are the eddies, scouts, etc, etc. I gave them all the info I could, although I have not run the Upper at those levels, only much higher, and a little lower. Everything I told them they seemed to take pretty lightly. The man had said they were running the Numbers and the Eagle; I told them the Upper was at least a full step above the numbers, however, it seemed to not bother the man in the least. I urged them to use caution, as the Upper is very cold (38 degrees in Needleton) and the lack of big eddies makes scouting difficult, especially for their first time down it. Once again, the man seemed overly-confident in his abilities and in his water craft. I believe the lady just didn't know what she was getting into.
I'm not here to place blame on anyone; I just want to share a side of this matter with others in hopes that we can all learn from this incident and excercise caution and the use of better judgement on the water. There was no one single factor that led to this; it was a combination of factors that eventualy caught up with the individuals, and eventually took it's turn for the worst.
To everyone out there who reads this, please excercise caution when running a new stretch of whitewater; get all the info you can about it, know your abilaties, go prepared for the conditions, whenever in doubt, scout, and go with respect to the river.
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Old 07-05-2005   #7
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At current flows, are the rapids in the Upper A really a full step up from the rapids in the Numbers? Can someone shed some light on this?
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Old 07-05-2005   #8
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I would say the Upper A is full step up from the Numbers for many reasons.

For most whitewater you are looking at really a scale of 3,4 and 5. Aside from + or - this is not much of a scale to rate whitewater. I have experienced alot of variety in all three rating. Has anyone else noticed this or am I being picky? Sorry to change the subject, I should start another post.
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Old 07-05-2005   #9
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Well, I ran the upper yesterday including the box, and I think it was about 1000 in Silverton. I have also ran Pine Creek/ Numbers at about 1000, 950? The rapids of the Upper A COULD be comparable to that of Pine Creek, however I think that water is much, much colder. (about 38 in needleton) Also, the boogie water on the Upper is much more continuous than the Ark. Taking the whole runs into account, I do believe that the Upper is a good step above the Numbers, although both I would consider to be rather "difficult" in nature compared to say Animas town run, or Browns canyon.
Take this with a grain of salt, however, and use your given abilites of thinking and judgement when running whitewater.
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Old 07-05-2005   #10
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I wonder if this run isn't a little sandbagged. CRC says its a IV a normal water, but I have heard several people say it is definitely harder than the Upper Gauley. The Upper G has loads of big class IVs and a few IV+s and a couple soft Vs. If the Upper A is really harder than that, then a class IV rating is a sandbag, esp. considering that the Gauley is pool-drop and usually warm water. Hopefully I'll get my butt down there and find out for myself.

My condolences to the famililes involved.

Let's hear the facts before we start armchair quarterbacking here, and remember that most of us have made decisions that could have cost a life, we just are luckier - if you've ever gone over the horizon line of a familiar rapid without scouting for new wood, that's what I mean.
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