PUBLISHED: July 16, 2017 at 6:15 pm | UPDATED: July 17, 2017 at 8:26 am
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.”