Heard a horrible rumor today that there was a fatality yesterday on mf salmon. We took out yesterday and the water was big. Has anybody heard anything?
SALMON -- Authorities were seeking to recover the body of a boater Monday evening who died Sunday after an inflatable raft overturned amid high water in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
The rafter was swept into the icy, fast-flowing waters more than five miles downstream of Boundary Creek. Boundary Creek is the only launch site accessible by vehicle on the Middle Fork in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
The rafter's identity, gender and age were withheld pending notification of relatives.
The fatal accident comes as snowmelt and rain has caused the river to rise to nearly 6 feet, a level considered hazardous.
The rafter was part of a private party of 14 people who launched Sunday morning at Boundary Creek with four inflatable river rafts and seven inflatable pontoon boats, Custer County Sheriff Stuart Lumpkin said.
The accident happened as the rafter sought to navigate an area of rapids known as Velvet Falls.
A maximum of seven launches daily -- both private and commercial -- are permitted on the river, with many days-long trips slated for the 100 miles of backcountry from Boundary Creek to Cache Bar.
The stretch is prized for its whitewater, fishing and scenic views that begin near the tree line at the upper end and drop into a granite-walled canyon at the lower end, said veteran Middle Fork guide Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips in Salmon.
But the stretch can be more challenging to navigate amid high water and because of a steep gradient of about 30 feet per mile, Bernt said.
John Haugh, wilderness and river program manager for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said the Middle Fork usually has two peaks in flow but a third is likely this year as the water level rises.
Rapids can form in high flows that do not exist at flows from 2 to 4 feet. Although there are fewer obstacles amid high water, "the consequences of a mistake are catastrophic," Haugh said. "In low water, you can take care of it. At 6-feet-plus, you could potentially die."
On average, one boater a year dies floating the Middle Fork. High flows there last June claimed the life of an experienced whitewater rafter who was thrown from his boat about a mile downstream of Boundary Creek.