After a good nights sleep at my friend Andrew's house in Durango, Adam got up in the morning and made up some eggs for breakfast. We packed up and made it to the Vallecito campground just before 11:00. Our third boater was waiting for us and said that a group of 4 had already headed up the trail. His girlfriend wasn't feeling good and decided not to go, but we felt good about the group of 3 and started carrying our boats up the trail.
Our friend set a nice slow pace on the walk up since he had just arrived from <3,000 ft. Adam had hiked the trail before and we discussed how beautiful the place was while trying to ignore our sore shoulders from carrying our boats 4 miles the day before. When we reached the put-in the group of 4 was still hanging out and we all introduced our-selves. We discussed how many times each of us had been down the run and that it was Adams first time. After briefly discussing the run they started gearing up and we agreed to give them a few minutes to ease congestion once in the canyon. We watched their lines through the first two drops before entering the gorge and then started gearing up ourselves. We put in and all had good lies through the first two drops and joined in the last eddy before entrance falls. Our friend decided to go first and we briefly went over the line again. ?You want to throw your boof stroke as late as possible and land right on the right wall? was said several times.
Adam and I watched him enter and I told Adam thats where you want to be and to remember the late boof stroke. Im not sure what the last words we exchanged in that eddy were, but it would be the last time I spoke with Adam. I watched Adam go over the falls and he appeared to be in the correct place. I gave him 30 seconds or so, enough time to clear the hole, and peeled out to run down. When I came over the lip I immediately saw Adam swimming and his boat in the base of the falls on the left. I landed where I wanted to be, but was flipped up against the right wall and rolled up just clear of the falls. The base of the falls has a very aerated hydraulic that feeds into a cave on the left and up against the left wall. I got near Adam on the left wall where I believe he grabbed my boat and I unsuccessfully attempted to paddle out of the boil. We were both pulled back into the cave and very near the base of the falls. I know I flipped over at least once and was able to roll up and struggled to stay out of the base of the falls.
I'm not sure if I told Adam I couldn't get out of there with him on my boat or he let go when I flipped, but I was able to roll up and fight my way back out to river right where our other friend was standing with a throw rope. He said my rope isn't long enough so I quickly threw off the gloves I was wearing and grabbed his rope and paddled back in, thinking if I could stay on the river right I'd be able to paddle out once he got the rope. I threw the rope toward Adam and tried to stay toward the river right side of the falls. I felt a strong pull on the rope and quickly turned around to paddle out of the boil. I was just being pulled back so I tried to hold the rope in my mouth while paddling as best I could. In the aerated water I was having difficulty just staying upright and was still being pulled back into the falls.
I don't recall if I flipped again, but somehow lost the rope and fought my way back out to the river right. I quickly exited my boat in a small eddy on the right and grabbed for my rope. Our other friend yelled ?where is he? and I looked up only to see his boat still in the falls/cave. Adam was nowhere to be seen. I?m guessing at this point Adam was swimming for nearly 2 minutes. He was out of sight for what seemed to be hours, but was probably 10-15 sec. He then surfaced about 10ft. past the boil line of the falls and less than 10ft. from the entrance to the next drop ?Trash Can?. I don't understand how he flushed so deep and so far out from the falls, it seemed impossible to me.
I made an unsuccessful throw of my rope as he flushed into ?Trash Can?. From where he surfaced, even if we had immediately gotten him a rope I don?t think it was possible to get him out before entering ?Trash Can?. Our other friend immediately got into his boat and followed him down river. Adam passed through the first part of ?Trash Can? cleanly, and appeared to be swimming with his head up. I saw him enter the second part of the drop just right of the large rock with his head up and still moving, in the exact line where you run the drop. Our friend followed him within 20-30 seconds and I got back in my boat and followed in the next 30 seconds. When I got through ?Trash Can? I saw our other friend already out of his boat about 10 feet up the bank looking downstream. I yelled ?where is he? and he signaled that he didn't see him. From that vantage point you can see 100 ft. plus downriver and I expected to ?worst case? be chasing an unconscious body, but we saw nothing. We got back in our boats in a state of panic and paddled downriver as quickly as possible.
Once we reached ?Fuzzy Bunny? we quickly portaged river left and discussed if we should attempt to hike out or continue down. With the climb out being extremely long and the possibility of still having a body in the water downstream we chose to paddle out as quickly and safely as possible. We ran out the reminder of the run and I paddled a fast as I could to the campground area. I exited my boat, ran up to the campground host and contacted search and rescue. The group of 4 boaters immediately in front of us was quickly located.
The first search and rescue personnel arrived within 5 minutes. Teams were formed and entered the canyon on both river right and river left. A helicopter arrived shortly and began searching the canyon top to bottom, flying within feet of the river in places. I was asked to remain in the campground to answer questions at first and attempted to join a few of the later rescue parties to enter the canyon and was held back by the sheriff since at that point was obviously not in correct mental state to be in the canyon.
In the following days search and rescue personnel and other kayakers have continuously searched the canyon. At the time I'm writing this, his body has not been found. This is a very confusing and frustrating situation. Water levels have dropped over 50% and there is still no sign of Adam. Search efforts are still continuing.
My wife flew to Durango to help me and assist in the search. She is amazing and the only way I have made it through these last few days without completely loosing it. I love you Kate. I was pushed to make the decision to leave Vallecito and return to Silverthorne to give Adam's parents a first hand account of the tragedy. Getting in my truck and seeing his clothes that he had left on the passenger seat and all of his gear was unbelievably horrible. I can't even describe the feeling of driving away with all your friend's gear, but not the only thing that counts, your friend.
I'm still in a state of shock over this and it doesn't yet seem real. Adam was one of my best friends and in the 4-5 years I knew him we shared some amazing times. Some of my best memories were the 40+ South St. Vrain runs we made after work. Running through the narrows at dusk and hiking back up to the car just so psyched to have ended a long day with a great friend on a stellar river where some of the best moments of my life. Adam was one of the few guys that I could take with me anywhere and he?d be right there pushing me along, up for anything. The only time I've seen Adam a little timid is climbing, the kid didn't like heights. Everything he did he gave 100% and loved every minute of it. He had the type of personality that he could strike up a conversation with anyone at anytime and have a new friend within minutes. He'd be there for you at anytime and would be the first one to volunteer to help out with anything you needed. The world was a better place and I am a better person because Adam was here. Adam, you will be greatly missed.
I can't believe I lost my friend and I can't believe I had a chance to save him and I failed. Since the accident I've thought of hundreds of things I should have tried differently and that may have worked. At that time in those conditions I did what my instincts told me to do and it didn't work. I lost my friend and that is something that I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life.
This is the hard reality of kayaking class V that everyone talks about but in the back of my mind I didn?t think it would happen to me or one of my close friends. Kayakers at this level feel like we can handle almost anything and on this day and this time, I couldn't. This was a terrible tragedy and I hope others can learn something from the events that occurred that day.
Adam, we love you and miss you and know wherever you are you've already made it a better place just by being there. My deepest condolences go out to Adam?'s family and friends. I know how I'm feeling and can't imagine what they are going through. I am deeply sorry for what happened that day. I hope by writing this I may help answer some of the numerous questions everyone must have. Pete and Kate Roth