Accident Database

Report ID# 462

  • Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
  • Does not Apply
  • Poor Group / Scene Management

Accident Description

On June 17, 1997 three kayakers planned to run the north-flowing Sturgeon River , 30 miles south of Houghton, Michigan . They intended to paddle a 17 mile stretch of Class II-III whitewater, portaging Sturgeon Falls . Some expert kayakers believe this 25 foot-high drop might be runnable at low levels. But the river had risen 3-4’ following recent rains, making the falls unrunnable and the ledges leading into it big and pushy.  

Late that afternoon James Hughes, 29, missed the portage and washed over the falls in a kiwi-style kayak. Newspapers said he was last seen alive “swimming” at the bottom of the drop. He was probably being recirculated by the hole at the base of the falls, which a skilled paddler who has hiked into the overlook felt was a keeper at moderate levels. Police found him floating face down in the water at

9:30 p.m.

SOURCE: Dag Grada; the Marquette, Michigan Mining Journal; Carole Snowdon, Wisconsin Chapter of the Sierra Club  

ANALYSIS: (Walbridge) High water levels made the stop above the falls much more difficult than usual. Less skilled boaters should allow additional stopping room above dangerous obstacles at this level.


On June 17, three kayakers attempted a run on the Sturgeon River near L'Anse, a run on the Sturgeon River near L'Anse, Michigan. The river was high after recent rains. One member of this group, paddling a kiwi-style kayak, was swept over 25' Sturgeon Falls. He did not survive the plunge. Sierra Club leader Carole Snowdon, who reported the accident judged the flow at the take out unsafe and took her group elsewhere..

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