Accident Database

Report ID# 617

  • Vertical Pin
  • Does not Apply
  • Cold Water

Accident Description

Poudre Falls west of Fort Collins, CO is a set of three 15 to 25 foot waterfalls located above the highest conventional run on this popular river. They are rated Class VI at low flows because the third drop develops unavoidable undercut obstructions becomes unrunnable. By mid-September the river was at a runnable level. Dan Stotz, 32, was a strong local boater who knew the falls well and had run them successfully earlier that week. Like anyone contemplating running the falls, he had scouted and studied each drop in great detail and knew full well the dangers involved. What follows is taken from a post written by Kevin Hammonds, who was there on September 16, 1999,when the accident occurred.

“I met Dan about a week before the accident. I told him that wanted to paddle and to give me a call. Our schedules never meshed until the day we planned to run the falls. After arriving there, we spent the better part of an hour scouting every last detail of the run. We had it all laid out: "run the first two drops, eddy out on river left, ferry across to a small micro-eddy on river right, then slide backwards to the guy at the bottom who then clips in to the grab loop of your kayak.

“Now, I will admit, taking out directly above the unrunnable third drop in a small and awkward micro-eddy seemed a bit sketchy, but it could be done and had been done before. We decided to go for it. I was planning on going first but before I could say anything, Dan said he would like to go first and I should wait at the small micro-eddy to pull him out. I agreed and we took our places.

“A friend of mine was up top to video, I was down on the rocks, and Dan was at the top of the first drop. I couldn't see Dan run the first drop from where I was sitting but I had a perfect view of the second one. When he came over it looked like he was in a video. He was right on line, took a good boof stroke, and came up smiling. He eddied out on river left in a small cove of flat water as me and my friend cheered. He had the biggest grin on his face and was giving us a thumbs up. We thought it was over.

“All he had to do now was ferry across to river right and catch the small micro-eddy, then slide back a few feet to me so I could grab him. This is where things really went wrong. He caught the eddy perfectly, but as he slid back to me stern first and I reached out to clip into his grab loop, he began to slip out into the current. I yelled at him to bring it back, but it was to late. He was already committed to running the third drop.

“We aren't talking about much of an error here, but there was absolutely no room for mistakes. I had my foot on a small rock, less than a foot wide, just under the surface. If Dan had been to the right of that rock he would have been safely in between my legs; instead he drifted off to the left side just out of my reach. Maybe if he could have taken one more paddle stroke, or if I could have reached just an inch or two further, things would have been different.

“He made one last ditch effort to paddle up onto a flat shelf coming down off the cliffside to the immediate right of the drop. He only got about half-way up onto it when the current grabbed his stern and spun him off the rock backwards over the third drop. I watched him disappear over the horizon line. My friend and I raced over to the falls looking for him, but he’d simply vanished. My friend went for help and I stood over the falls, throwing a throw bag down there time and time again, screaming, praying, and begging that he could grab it. I never saw him again. Ambulances and sheriff's deputies. showed up about an hour later but they had already written him off. There really wasn't much anyone could do.

SOURCE: by Kevin Hammonds


1. ( Hammonds ) I still don't  know what to say or to think. I want everyone to know that Dan was not in over his head. He studied every aspect of the run. He ran those first two drops like a pro. This  was a true accident that could have happened to any of us. Dan had no last words, but the look of panic on his face, the second before he disappeared over the last drop, will be engraved in my mind forever.

2. ( Hammonds ) Local paddlers believe that Dan is probably stuck in an undercut on river left at the bottom of the third drop or lodged between boulders directly beneath it. Although Search and Rescue was able to get the authorities to shut off some of the water, the flow was still too great for them to probe the rocks effectively or to deploy a diver into the water. They could not locate, much less recover, the body by nightfall.

3. (Walbridge) This accident shows clearly the stakes involved in running difficult whitewater. In Class V and VI rapids there is little margin for error. Rescue is always difficult and sometimes impossible. Paddlers cannot afford to make a mistake, and if they do, it may cost them their life.



Charlie & Lee - I know you’ll respect Riviera Ratt’s editorializing in “private” about the skills of this latest fatality, but I thought I’d share the “context” as well as the public post. Kathy Attachment:

Do you read MountainBuzz? What I’m forwarding is something I sent to my fellow Keel-haulers about it. I’m very upset, as you can imagine.

Ratt Attachment: Guys, I’m sick about this. Dan is one of the guys I ran Gore Canyon with. He’s the guy who rolled up on the backside of Decision Rock, whose indecipherable picture is in the latest KaNews. He was a nice guy (gave me a beer at the takeout) with a good attitude. Perhaps he was a bit prone to errors, and perhaps he was taking too great a risk by running Poudre Falls; but no way would I say that in a public forum. Anyway, this is the first death on a river that involved anyone I’d actually met. I hadn’t yet bothered to send him the pictures I had from Gore. Too late. Others in the group I ran Gore with were Tom Carter, mentioned in the account, and Brian Gardel (“Frenchy”), who wrote it. Dang. I can’t believe it. Matt

Posted by frenchy on September 16, 1999 at 21:44:40: In Reply to: Re: Something bad happen on Poudre Falls yesterday? posted by :( on September 16, 1999 at 13:52:19: I was up there all day today as search and rescue was trying to extricate the body of Dan Stohtz, a good friend and Fort Collins local paddler. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life as this day, watching the crew moving so painfully slow and getting nowhere.

Dan was a good friend. He worked at Hewlett Packard, was extremely intelligent and generous, and, like many of us in this forum, loved paddling more than anything. I received a call from him yesterday asking me if I wanted to join him for a session at the falls, I told him I was too busy...that’s the last I heard from him until the dreaded phone call which woke me this morning. Dan was with us when we ran the falls, over and over, earlier this week. In fact, he and 4 others were helping us with our safety. Like anyone contemplating running the drops, he had scouted and studdied the features in great detail and knew full well the dangers involved in running these drops.

Poudre Falls is a set of 3 15-25ft waterfalls rated class VI. It gets its class VI rating because at low flow the 3rd drop becomes unrunnable, medium flows is insane (big hydrolics and a hard move at the last drop), and at high flows - forget about it! At the time I left the falls today, around 4pm, search and rescue had been unsuccessful in even locating the body. While they were able to get the water authorities to shut off most of the water, there was still too much water to be able to probe or send a diver in the water. As I was leaving, they were deploying some huge hook which they were going to use to sweep the waterfall with. Mike Pagel, Tom Carter, and few others showed up after I left and will be there until the authorities leave tonight... As far as anyone can tell, Dan is either stuck in the undercut on river left at the bottom of the 3rd drop or is lodged in between boulders directly underneath the drop. I’ve never seen this drop in bone-dry conditions (I’m not sure if anyone has) but I’m quite sure that there is a very very deep undercut and that this undercut may be partially filled with debris.

My deepest and most sincere appologies go to Dan’s family and everyone whose lives he touched. It grieves me deeply to be bringing this bad news to the boating community, but I feel that it has to be done. All I want to do right now is confirm the content of the message above. I was there, I was the paddling partner. Needless to say, things did not go as planned. I don’t feel at liberty to release any names at this time but I have a feeling that several people from this forum knew the victim. I may later give a first hand account, but for right now this is all I have to say. Please keep this man and his family in your thoughts and prayers as you go about your daily chores and remember one is precious, don’t take anything for granted.

By mid-September the Poudre River west of Fort Collins, Colorado had dropped to a low level. This made it possible to run Poudre Falls, a very steep Class VI roadside drop above the highest conventional run. According to a first-person account posted to by Kevin Hammonds, he met Dan Stotz, 32, early on the evening of September 16th. Together they spent over an hour scouting this very difficult, complex drop. The plan was to run the first two drops, eddy out on river left, then ferry to a micro-eddy on river right, just above a final unrunnable drop. There Hammond, waiting with a rope and carabiner, would clip into Stotz's grab loop and secure him so he could get out safely. Stotz ran the first two drops flawlessly, caught the left eddy, then ferried over to river right. He caught the micro-eddy, but as he slid backwards to allow Hammond to reach his grab loop his stern passed to the wrong side of a small boulder. This put him just beyond Hammonds' reach. Stotz struggled briefly, attempting to beach himself against a shallow rock. Then he slipped backwards, over the horizon line and into the unrunnable drop. No one saw what happened, but he was almost certainly pinned beneath the surface against a rock in very powerful current. Rescuers searched for three days without finding his body, and were planning to close upstream dams to reduce the rivers flow before looking further.

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