Accident Database

Report ID# 3863

  • Swim into Strainer
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water
  • High Water

Accident Description

Accident Report 5/31/2014: Crystal River, Bogan Canyon

It was Saturday, Memorial Day weekend in Glenwood Springs when we decided to go kayaking at Bogan Canyon on the Crystal River. The run is a class 4 run that begins downstream of Marble. With rivers running high statewide, Bogan was a run that everybody in our crew agreed upon and felt confident in running. The Crystal flow at Redstone was around 1700 cfs and rising at 5:00 pm when we left the house (the flow ended up reaching 2100 Sat night and peaked at 2300 Sun night). We chose to run the 3 miles from Marble to the Bogan Flats Campground. Our group consisted of four kayakers ranging in skills from class 4 to 5 and each of us had double digit years of experience. We had a shuttle driver that would drop us at the put in. For reference the kayakers will be referred to U, D, J, and R, and our driver L.

We met at the Bogan Flats Campground around 5:30 and dropped our camping gear at the takeout. U and D had run this section of the Crystal several times and lived in the valley for many years. It was the first time for J and R. On our way up to the put-in, we looked at the river as we drove up while scouting from the car. We noted that there was wood/strainers in places along the river and reminded each other of where the safe passage appeared. We drove to the put-in bridge at the airfield bridge just downstream (north) of Marble. As we were getting dressed, we were all smiles and excited about putting on, having fun, and getting to our campground takeout. At 6:30 pm, L took some pictures of us as we put on the river in our creek boats and started floating down.

The first 1.3 miles paddling down was really straight forward and enjoyable. The water was swift and manageable. There was vegetation and wood typical along the banks of the river and only one notable log parallel with the current that we easily navigated around. The assessment through this upper stretch was that the river had class 3 character. We eddied out river left, above the bridge that is on the outskirts of Marble.

We knew that the crux of the run was coming up and peeled out ready to navigate in the class 4 rapids below. We were paddling downstream in order of U, D, J, and R. For the most part U, D, and J were river running downstream; our memory recalls our order got mixed while R caught a couple eddies and was in visual contact. From the bridge, it is about 0.5 miles to the accident site; between there is a 90 degree left turn, straight, 90 degree right, straight 150 yards, a 30 degree right, 25 yards straight, some submerged rocks where wood had been collecting, 25 yards straight, 90 degree left, and the river goes on from there. The spot has a natural tendency to catch wood. This busy stretch was moving fast with mostly wave trains and some crashing waves/holes. During our time there, the wood created a strainer that was Gnarly. It took up 1/2 to 2/3 of the river, center/left side and consisted of multiple trees/logs, some that were 12 inch diameter and 40 feet long. Some of them were pointing upstream above and below the water surface in different directions, littered with smaller branches, and rootballs. After the 30 degree right, the canyon with steep walls veers slightly to the right, while the current is still directing mostly straight, pointing mainly where the strainer was.

At the first 90 degree right, U was leading and must have tripped the edge of his boat on a rock (that we examined later) and flipped him over. D was behind him and saw him miss 2-3 roll attempts. U exited his kayak and swam. He swam a portion of 150 yard straight, went around the 30 degree right, was still swimming in the 25 yard straight. D and J were negotiating the rapid and R was behind and could only see D and J. J yelled at him to, "Swim right, swim right!!!" U was struggling against the powerful water. D and J maneuvered right around the strainer. R followed and saw D and J maneuvering around the strainer, and then saw that U was in trouble.

R saw that something was wrong and paddled to catch up. Between the waves he saw U's body bob up and down a couple times and move erratically as he encountered parts of the strainer and submerged wood. It looked erratic like U hit some of the wood and got typewriter'ed over towards the center of the strainer since some of the logs were pointing upstream and slightly angled. A lot of water, current, and force were driving in a V-shape were U ended up wrapped on one of the top logs. R observed an eddy swirling on river left above the strainer and paddled quickly to catch that eddy. He saw U and his upper torso wrapped on the log and jumped in the swirling eddy pool, threw gear to shore, and yelled out to U, "I'm coming!!" R got on the downstream side of the strainer and sidestepped over to U. R yelled to U to check his status, realized he swam into the strainer, and offered a hand out to stabilize U. U took a couple seconds before reaching out to grab R's hand and could tell that his position was not good and was being compromised by the surging water that was hitting him in the back of his neck. U grabbed R's hand for a few seconds, then would regain his grip on the log where his armpits were wrapped around. They alternated hands to try another grip. R grabbed a combination of U's hand/arm/armpit/pfd strap to maintain stabilization. His pfd was not a rescue vest and had flimsy, marginal straps that were elastic. U was fighting hard to stay as high as possible and the water kept surging, at times getting water over his head.

J had eddied out and showed up to assist R and U after about 2-3 minutes after R eddied out. D was further downstream. R and J backed each other up while trying to maintain stabilizing U. R and J eventually both positioned themselves on the downstream side of the strainer to help U. R and J both had hands on U and were able to maintain grip on him. R and J tried to pull on U a couple times with only temporarily raising him a couple inches out of the water. U was able to communicate that he was still fighting and wiggling his lower body to get free. We paraphrase that he said, "My leg is stuck. My skirt is stuck." We offered a knife and maintained stabilization. When we synchronized another pull up on U, U said, "Wait, I'm not ready, my leg is stuck, I need to get it free." We loosened our grip on him and kept a grip on parts of him. The current was hitting him hard in the back and continued to surge over his head. It was around 7:00 pm, he was in the strainer now for about 10-15 minutes. U was getting tired and he was trying to lean more sideways toward river right, away from us to try and wiggle his leg free. U leaned more and wiggled around. That's when the current of water folded him forcefully away from us and under water. Fuck!! He was submerged and the water held him folded sideways and away from us in the water. Half of his body from the waist up was flapping in the current downstream, with his leg still stuck in the strainer. We could still intermittently see him through the water. We brainstormed, how do we get him? We thought to try and get across the river, and extract him with pulling a rope upriver. It was hard to get to him in our positions to try clip or rope him. We tried again to back each other up and reach into the water to get a hold of him. We were both extended with our wingspans trying to reach into the water. Reaching into the water, taking turns had limited success. It was like doing 100 mph down the highway and sticking your arm out the window, getting your arm flung back. There were a few times that we felt the fabric on his pant leg, and a time were able to pull that free leg into the air. The other part of his submerged torso was still trapped in the strainer. R and J continued reaching out to U resulting in no success. It was about 7:45 that we conceded he was gone.

R and J put in to the river again and proceeded to the takeout about 0.4 miles downstream. There were 3 more notable strainers also on the way down. As R and J pulled up to the upper Bogan Group Campground, D was approaching from land by foot. D was notified that U drowned in the strainer. R, J, and D notified nearby campers to call 911 from a land line at the main campground 0.8 more miles downstream.

Authorities and search and rescue showed up shortly before sunset and strategized for the search and rescue efforts. The entire rescue effort spanned from Saturday night to Tuesday evening. A detailed report can be prepared under a separate forum post. Mainly, we want to commend and thank all of the authorities, rescue teams, volunteers, friends, and family that aided in this search.

I want to include some lessons learned from this incident and know that there will be ongoing discussion, so feel free to provide constructive feedback. Lessons learned from this:
-Take extra caution during high water, especially with runs that are susceptible to wood (it's everywhere as well as other hazards).

-A class 1-5 run can immediately have fatal consequences if one exits their craft and is exposed to the river.
-Do your best to have good gear, and be trained to use it. The following rescue efforts to 15+ people, chainsaws, rope crew, and manhours to dismantle only the 1 strainer at the victim's last point seen.
-Scout, scout, and boat scout extensively.
-We wish that we could have clipped or secured U somehow. The rescue effort took a lot of time and resources. It would have been helpful to try and secure the body.

Rest in peace, Uriah.

Be safe and see you on the river, Romeo.

Good friend, good boater, I do not think they have recovered his body yet.

Kayaker missing after an
accident in swollen Crystal

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

A kayaker remained missing Monday evening after he overturned in the surging Crystal River on Saturday afternoon below Marble. Gunnison County Sheriff Rick Besecker identified the missing man as Uriah Shaffer, 39. Shaffer’s Facebook page says he is from Grand Junction and lives in Carbondale.

Search teams were canvassing the river from the accident site, which is about 2.2 miles up Marble Road, all the way to the Roaring Fork River, Besecker said. “The reports indicated five men entered the river two miles farther up” from the accident site, he said. “They said a kayaker had overturned and was missing.”

Several volunteer and law enforcement agencies, as well as search and rescue teams, swift-water rescue groups and cold-water divers are involved in the effort. The search may end today.

“This is a dangerous recovery effort,” Besecker said. “I don’t know if we will continue past three days of searching. Those types of specialized resources are few, and I’m sure they are absolutely fatigued at this point.”

Shaffer’s kayak was recovered, but Besecker said he didn’t know how far the boat was found from where the accident occurred. He said authorities believe Shaffer was wearing a life jacket but have not confirmed that.

The Crystal is swollen with spring runoff and may have peaked at 2,300 cubic feet per second early Monday, said Mark VonderHaar, a veteran rafter.

The area Shaffer was in is a “solid Class V” section, he said, meaning it is full of large waves, rocks and other hazards.

A rapid known as “Meat Grinder” near the accident site was running around 1,800 cubic feet per second on Saturday around the time Shaffer overturned, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.


Body found by rafters in Colorado River; may be local resident

Aspen Daily News Staff Report


Garfield County authorities retrieved a body from the Colorado River near Rifle on Saturday, according to a press release issued on Monday.

Rafters passing by on the stretch of river parallel to Interstate 70 saw the body on Saturday and called 911 using a cell phone around 3:30 p.m. A search and rescue team was dispatched to retrieve the body.

Garfield County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Walt Stowe said a coroner’s office investigation into the identity of the deceased is still ongoing, and will involve checking dental records. Stowe described the body as that of a man wearing khaki shorts. All other clothing had been washed away, and search and rescue personnel believed the man had been deceased for at least seven days, Stowe said.

Stowe said he did not know of any open missing persons cases in the immediate area. However, authorities are considering the possibility that the body may be that of Carbondale resident Uriah Shaffer, who went missing while whitewater kayaking on the upper Crystal River on May 31. 

Authorities called off the search for Shaffer after five days during the height of the seasonal runoff. 

While it is over 55 miles touching the Crystal, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers from the site where Shaffer went missing to where the body was found on Saturday, Stowe said it’s not impossible that fast moving waters could have carried a body that far. 

The sheriff’s office press release says no foul play is suspected in the case.


Uriah was fully alive’


Uriah Shaffer wanted his ashes spread on the Crystal River, according to his friend David Ockers, who was with the 39-year-old Carbondale man when the river claimed his life this spring.

“He went out doing what he loved in a place he loved,” Ockers said in an interview Friday.

Shaffer had introduced Ockers to kayaking in 2002, years into a friendship that started at Colorado State University, where both majored in construction management. He loved to kayak and ski, and played guitar despite having lost pieces of several fingers in a childhood accident.

He grew up in Delta County, went to middle school at Orchard Mesa in Grand Junction and graduated from Fruita High school in the class of 1993. After college, he returned to the Western Slope and was working on being closer to his family and had many friends in the Grand Junction area, but had been staying with Ockers in the Roaring Fork Valley off and on for several years.

Ockers described him as a dancing fool, poetic songwriter, great joke teller, Broncos fan and “the kind of guy people meet one time and never forget.”

“Uriah was fully alive,” Ockers said. “He had the kind of energy people could feed off of.”

Like most people, Shaffer had his share of ups and downs but had reached a good place. He had a chance to ski last winter and was enthusiastic to have a crew to go kayaking with in the summer.

On the afternoon of May 31, Shaffer, Ockers and two other experienced kayakers dropped their camping gear at Bogan Flats Campground and set out to get a run through Bogan Canyon, a Class 4 white-water run, before dark. The water was rising toward its annual peak at over 2,000 cubic feet per second. Without commercial outfits on the route to manage it, a lot of wood was in the water.

Shaffer was leading the pack when he caught the edge of his boat and flipped. He tried to roll upright but ended up in the water.

“It’s not a good place to swim,” Ockers said.

Ockers followed Shaffer downstream for a few hundred yards before losing track of him. The other two kayakers arrived at the scene and spotted Shaffer caught in a “strainer” of debris. Ockers, thinking the situation was in hand, went to chase Shaffer’s gear. When he returned an hour later, empty-handed, he found out otherwise.

According to an accident report one of the other kayakers posted on, a white-water community website, the pair tried to pull Shaffer out of the strainer but had trouble getting a grip. Shaffer’s foot was caught between two logs, and eventually the current pulled him under.

“After a certain amount of time they knew he was gone,” said Ockers.

It was near dark by the time rescue crews arrived, summoned on a landline in an area with no cell service. The search continued until high water and lack of light postponed it until morning.

Ockers made the trip down to cell reception to call Shaffer’s father, and several members of Shaffer’s family showed up on Sunday.

The search ultimately yielded Shaffer’s life jacket and helmet, but no sign of the man himself.

Shaffer’s friends assisted in the search over the next few days, and solicited help from other kayakers on mountainbuzz.

“Kayakers go where others can’t go,” Ockers said. “That’s one of the reasons we do the sport.”

He added that his main concern at the time was the safety of the searchers.

“You have to keep yourself above water to be able to help anybody,” he explained.

Ultimately, the high water made the search untenable, and it was abandoned until levels came down.

Although Shaffer was an experienced kayaker and was a wearing a life jacket, the tragedy has been a reminder of the risks associated with river recreation. It hasn’t kept Ockers off the river this summer.

“Everybody that does it knows that it’s dangerous,” he admitted, “but it’s been part of me for so long.”

When the search resumed in late July, Ockers couldn’t join due to an injury. A pair of skilled kayakers from Gunnison County located the body against a bridge piling downstream on July 26, and a Carbondale rescue crew helped remove it. It provided closure for grieving friends and family.

The family has requested that memorial contributions can be made in Shaffer’s name to the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District, a move Ockers supports. He got to know many of the firefighters during the rescue effort, and gained a great deal of respect for them and the profession.

“It takes strong men and women, mentally and physically,” he said. “They’re really good people.”



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