Colorado kayaker hits rock, flips, drowns in Yampa River

Part­ner pad­dled 24 miles to get help for 66-year-old man

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Bruce Finley

A 66-year-old man from Craig died kayak­ing on the Yampa River in Di­nosaur Na­tional Mon­u­ment this weekend, ap­par­ently af­ter hit­ting a rock in the TePee Rapid on Satur­day af­ter­noon and cap­siz­ing. It was the fourth river fa­tal­ity in Di­nosaur dur­ing the past cou­ple of years.

The man was wear­ing a flota­tion vest as he ran the rapid around 2 p.m. in his in­flat­able kayak, and he had ex­pe­ri­ence nav­i­gat­ing rivers, Na­tional Park Ser­vice spokes­woman Sonya Popelka said.

“It is a con­firmed drown­ing,” Popelka said.

The man’s part­ner pad­dled 24 miles down­river from the rapid to Hells Canyon Ranch on Satur­day night and alerted author­i­ties of the ac­ci­dent around 9 p.m. On Sun­day, a PJ He­li­copters con­tract chop­per fly­ing from Mesa Verde Na­tional Park, di­vert­ing from wild­land fire work, found the body about 3 miles down­river from the rapid. He­li­copter crew mem­bers plucked the dead man from the river.

Di­nosaur mon­u­ment staffers then hauled the body to the Mof­fat County coro­ner for an au­topsy, which could de­ter­mine whether a heart at­tack or other prob­lem trig­gered by in­tense ac­tiv­ity might have been a fac­tor in the death. The man’s name wasn’t re­leased, pend­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of his rel­a­tives.

The Yampa River has been run­ning rel­a­tively low, at 680 cu­bic feet per se­cond. High waters in spring bring flows at 9,000 cfs and above. Low flows mean more rock haz­ards are vis­i­ble.

This was the se­cond river fa­tal­ity in­side Di­nosaur this year. A rafter died in June on the Green River, which meets the Yampa in the mid­dle of Di­nosaur. Last year, two peo­ple raft­ing in Di­nosaur died, one af­ter climb­ing on rocks above wa­ter and fall­ing, the other while raft­ing down the Green.

Per­mits are re­quired to run the river, Popelka said. “It is al­ways a wild en­vi­ron­ment.”

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