I dropped to my knee and tears welled in my eyes! Receiving news of my friends passing has been a relatively regular occasion for me after a life as an outdoor athlete and competitor, so I was shocked by my reaction. Usually, I am just quiet and I say my goodbyes, wishing the friend godspeed for the next adventure….wherever they are going, where I cannot follow. “This is nothing new.” I told myself, as I kneeled with a hospitable raft guide.
I wondered why I was hit so hard by the news I had just received from the Search and Rescue Coordinator regarding Beth and her fatality. The friends we have in our lives can be fleeting or distinguished. They can be that pal you run into once a year, or the friend you call weekly, they can be lifelong or set aside for a special time in your life. They are all Friends and that makes them special! My friend Beth McVay was a friend I saw a few times a year during the “Gore Season”, Bailey Fest, or at the Poudre, for a special afternoon. She was “Fun!” She was the kind of person that made you smile, she would always be energetic, fun loving and ready for adventure, so I was always happy to see her.
That afternoon started out like most on Gore. Meet at the takeout, pack into a car, loaded like the Guiness book with boats and Kayakers and head to the put in outside of Kremmling Colorado. Tom had forgotten his skirt, so Brian and Tom went back to the take out for it. The three ladies and I, including Beth, opted to put on and start in on the miles of flat water paddling ahead, while Brian and Tom made a quick run back to get his skirt. We put on, Beth and I slid down about a 50’ embankment and slid into the glassy water of the Blue River.
I paddled in with a young lady from New Mexico, talking of school in Idaho and skiing at Bridger Bowl. We talked the whole way …..miles of flat water before the gates of Gore change the horizon to make you feel small, yet awesome to be a part of something so grand…..if only for a fleeting moment. The area we gear up is just above the first class 3 rapid. It is behind a big grey boulder the size of a truck. There is grass and trees, the last signs of life, on the edge of this canyon as you prepare to go into no mans land. We were putting on gear, I was the first one there, then the young lady from New Mexico, then Liz. We were making small talk when Beth went speeding by on the green flat water of the Colorado river, then off the horizon line and into the first rapid. The low rumble of rapids in the distance and the loud white noise of whitewater in the immediate vicinity combine to form an audio experience that speaks volumes to a kayaker…it says be aware. This is a place that demands respect and is somewhat unforgiving, you can feel it, taste it, your in it!
I told the girls I was going to catch up to Beth and I would see them down river. As I put on the green water turned to a white froth and I was exhilerated to be back on Gore, this was the first run of the season for me, August 16, 2014. I was paddling hard, warming up and about an eighth of a mile down the class three rapids, scanning the horizon for Beth. Beth yelled ,“Todd!” I was just nearing the flat water before Applesauce, the first significant rapid on Gore with a move. She was on the side of the river, out of her boat. “Whats going on Beth?” I asked and she said she wanted to get a head start since there was a group of about 15 or so in back of us. I said “Ok, I will run Applesauce first and I will be waiting at the bottom for you, give me a minute!”
Applesauce is a rapid with one big boulder in the middle that is likely really broken up because it does not form a smooth hydraulic, but a look like applesauce sheering the water into froth in so many directions, hence the name. Beth came down the rapid, which is short, maybe 100 feet, into the center line of Applesauce and bounced over the middle, rolled over and came out of the rapid upside down. This was a little scary to watch, since we all go left or right and avoid the middle section, usually. I paddled over to her as she rolled and rolled, at about the 4th roll, she was not getting entirely up so I rolled her by grabbing the stern with both hands and twisting her up. She was thankful. I asked her if she was feeling ok? She said yes and I wanted to see how she faired going through the next set of rapids…..more class 2-3 rapids. Beth was in back of me maybe a hundred yards and I saw her struggling with her roll again. I paddled to get to her, but wanted to make sure she had her roll before we were at the top of Gore rapid, which was coming up in a few hundred yards. She did not roll up.
Beth swam to shore with her boat in tow, I got out of my boat and helped her drain it. By this time the girls, Paul, Tom and Brian were with us. We had a discussion about needing to have a solid roll and be solid when your in Gore. I told Beth I would stay with her and that we should walk Gore Rapid. She agreed and we proceeded to the large boulder on the right, top of the rapid. The rapid itself is a procession of large car sized, and in some cases, house sized boulders. The run starts with a couple 2-3’ drops in and around boulders, then you either funnel down a tongue of water about -6-8’ drop into a procession of more drops where most of the river is channeled into an 8-10’ wide spout. There are three main runs, the Meat line, the hard left and skip a big hole on Ginger, or do the sneak. They are all challenging since there are multiple boulders, holes, and the drops are continuous for about 200 yards before it mellows very briefly before Scissors and Pyrite Falls. There is not a lot of time to recover in here and the eddies are sparse for reprieve. The boulders are razor sharp in some cases from the construction of the railroad, which cut through the canyon like a knife, the explosives used made the boulders sharp and intimidating, not smooth from a millennia of water dulling the edges. There is a portage available on the railroad tracks and provides an opportunity to scout, run safety and to avoid the carnage, if your not up to the run.
Beth and I took out and were talking about the rapid, I wanted to hike her out of the entire canyon, since I was uncomfortable with the last two rapids we had run together. Brian and Paul backed me on this, we opted to have me carry her boat out. I would leave mine stashed in a sole bush/tree at the top of Gore Rapid. Beth was upset and was determined to run the sneak, but finally gave in to us and her and I began the hike out. I stripped out of my gear, quickly put my running shoes and tank top, grabbed her boat and began the hike out. She was visibly upset and wanted to run Gore. She spoke with me on the way out saying she could carry her own boat and this was not necessary. She told me my actions were admirable, but she could take care of herself. There were times on the hike out I did not know what to say to her, she seemed conflicted and a little angry at me for not letting her do as she pleased.
After maybe 15-20 minutes of hiking along the train tracks, upriver, we ran into another smaller group of boaters, four I think? Tim asked me if I needed any help or if I wanted to use his phone? I responded that we were fine, but thanked him for the offer……that is the thing about kayakers……mostly amazing, thoughtful and considerate people who have experienced a level of humility with the challenges they voluntarily face, it builds a character which I have always found admirable. We pushed on, Beth and I. After about an hour we were a quarter mile or so from the canyon and into the flat water of the Colorado. It is so flat here it looks like a lake. I asked Beth if she wanted to paddle out, it would be faster than walking and likely easier. She said she wanted to paddle! I found a nice spot to shove off the edge of the tracks, you have to understand that here you cannot get to the river, there is not a shoreline, so you slide down the hill and into the water, maybe 30’ on a 35-40% incline, through 3’ high green grass…….she slid into the green placid surface and skimmed nicely into an upriver paddle.
I watched her for about 5 minutes to make sure she was moving consistently upriver. There are currents that cannot be seen and I was not sure how the headway would be? She was doing fine! I began running the tracks, I figured at my pace I could get to my boat and be back by dark, it was nearing 7pm at this time, although I am not positive since I did not have my phone.
The run was slow, my pace was limited by the short strides allowed by the cross members of the railroad. There is not a smooth trail to run, so it likely took me 20 minutes or so to get back to my boat. As I was running I had some dialogue with myself regarding my current options. Lets get geared up and paddle downriver to get out by dark. This is where you have food and water. I am starving. The long afternoon was catching up with me and I had not eaten since breakfast. My body was feeling weak and my balance was beginning to feel off due to low blood sugar. Not good!!! The thought of hiking my boat out was not appealing, the thought of paddling 4 miles upriver on top of that was not either. I decided I would paddle down myself and began to put on my gear on the tracks by the tree I had my boat stashed in. Dusk was not to far off and I did a double take when I saw a boater coming down river. Sole boater…….it couldn’t be I thought? As I stood there, amazed anyone would be soloing Gore at this time of day/night, I had the realization that Beth would likely be this boater. She was! I yelled at her and she came into the large eddy we use for scouting where awhile earlier her and I had pulled out and began our hike upriver. She said she wanted to run the sneak and I said “no were hiking” I turned around and she began going down Gore……….I watched as an observer, without any ability to assist in her upcoming endeavor. I knew it, She knew it!
The sneak was a mess, I thought if I didn’t watch I would be somehow absolved of responsibility I felt. I looked standing on the tracks and saw her roll up above Scissors, a large rock splitting upper Gore rapid and Pyrite falls, which marks the end of that section. Beth amazingly pulled it off and I was excited to see her right side up in back of a rock in a small eddy on the south side of the river. I thought to myself, I should hustle up, get in my boat and get into the water so I can run the rest with her, but it was to late, she was on her way downriver and Scissors. She flipped during Scissors, I was trying to get to a better position and missed exactly what happened, but I saw her trying to roll below Scissors and above Pyrite. There is a small lull here with an eddy on the left and right side of the river. I hoped she could make it to one of them. She did not make it to either and I watched her with gritted teeth as she flopped over Pyrite Falls, right down the center, rolling like a rolling pin, sideways down the rock and into the river. The boat was in the eddy at the bottom of the falls along with her paddle, pink tape reflecting the light.
Beth swam to her boat and grabbed a boulder in the eddy, partially submerged and looking fatigued, she held on to both……… I yelled at her to let go of the boat and get to shore to wait for me…….I don’t think she could hear me and my hand signals had no effect on her. I put on and paddled to the eddy. It took me less than ten minutes to reach the last place I had seen her and at first I was concerned I lost her. She was climbing a strata layer that goes on about a 35% angle or so up to sheer cliffs. About a hundred or so feet up, I ferried across the river to see her better and started waving and yelling that that strata layer led into a sheer cliff. I kept motioning and yelling for her to go the other way…….she was going downriver and I wanted her to head back the way she had come to the river shore. I thought that if I could get her back to shore we could pendulum her over to the railroad tracks and she could hike out. She kept going and was well out of ear shot. She did not look at me, so I was not able to signal her anymore, she seemed determined to climb, higher and higher on a sheer face that was terrifying to me. I knew that if I went up to try and rescue her I would be putting myself in a situation I was not sure I could get out of. I was very doubtful, and for the first time in my life I called search and rescue.
She Died in a fall after Gore Rapid Dial 911 and hope for reception, yes! “911 Operator!” “Yes, Hello, I need a Helicoptor ASAP!” That is how I will Remember you Beth, charging, working, going, non stop, willing yourself forward in a tough spot, never giving up, never complaining! Godspeed.
August 16 2014
Stranded kayaker dies trying to scale cliff
Kelly Sommariva, KUSA
August 19, 2014
GRAND COUNTY - A Boulder County woman was killed after becoming separated from her kayak in the Colorado River and falling off of a rock wall she was trying to climb to safety. Investigators say the body of 38-year-old Elizabeth "Beth" McVay was discovered Sunday morning at the base of a tall canyon wall along the Colorado River in Grand County. Grand County officials believe McVay was killed trying to scale a rocky cliff wall near the Gore Canyon Rapids.
The Grand County coroner ruled McVay's death an accident, as the kayaker died from blunt force trama due to the fall. McVay had been reported missing Saturday night after becoming separated from her kayak in the Gore Canyon Rapids. She got out of the water and tried to climb a nearby rocky cliff wall when she tumbled to her death, the coroner said. (KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)
A knowledgeable source commented: Although Gore Canyon was near the limits of Ms. McVay's skill, she had run it many times, usually portaging Gore Rapid. This time she had difficulties above Gore Rapid and decided to hike out, but later returned to the river and continued downstream alone. She swam above Pyrite Rapid, reaching shore with her back to steep cliffs. She fell trying to climb out over those cliffs.