Accident Database

Report ID# 668

  • Impact/Trauma
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Other

Accident Description

From: Ken Allen>


Sent: Friday, August 04, 2000 3:51 PM Subject:>

Two deaths in two days in Gore Canyon Bad News.>

By Tom Ross, Staff Reporter Friday, August 4, 2000 STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - A Steamboat Springs man died while kayaking with friends Wednesday on the Colorado River in Gore Canyon, upstream from State Bridge. Christopher Delaney, 34, flipped upside down in his kayak while running the Gore Rapid at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.>

The river section is about 3 miles west of Kremmling and about 65 miles by road from Steamboat. Grand County Coroner Dave Shoenfeld has not determined the cause of death. Grand County Sheriff Rodney Johnson said Delaney apparently remained upside down in his kayak for some distance downstream before other kayakers could reach him. They initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation and continued for about an hour, Johnson said, but could not revive Delaney.>

Delaney worked as a bartender at two Steamboat Springs restaurants, the Ore House at the Pine Grove and the Slopeside Grill, according to friend and coworker Tyler Bunner. "Let Steamboat know we lost a really good person," Bunner said. Delaney taught Bunner to tend bar and had just showed him how to kayak this year. "He was a good teacher. He was really patient," Bunner said. "He really made you feel good about what you were doing." Two of Delaney's brothers, Kier and Alex, live in Steamboat. A third, Eric, was flying here Thursday, friends said, as the pained family and Delaney's longtime girlfriend, Michelle Quinn of Steamboat Springs, came together to grieve.>

Veteran Steamboat kayak instructor Barry Smith said Thursday that Gore Rapid is widely known to be a dangerous Class V rapid. The Class V designation means Gore is among the most challenging stretches of water in the sport; a Class VI rapid is considered un-runnable, Smith explained. Smith said Delaney was a very competent kayaker. "He was a strong paddler and he was a strong guy," Smith said.>

Paddler magazine Editor-in-Chief Eugene Buchanan, who was a friend and paddling partner of Delaney's, said that Delaney had run Gore many times and he was extremely competent in strong water. He said Delaney was a solid member of the local kayak scene, made up of many high- ability boaters. "It was a run that he had done a lot of times. It was not over his head," Buchanan said. "It was just one of those fluke things. It could have been any of us.">

Buchanan said Delaney was the first local boater to die kayaking since Olympic kayaker Rich Weiss perished while boating in Washington in 1997. Drew Brilakis said he was stunned by the death of Delaney, one of his best friends. Brilakis was injured in Gore Canyon last year himself, suffering a head wound that required stitches. �It�s a nasty little rapid; it�s one of the most complex rapids I�ve been down,� he said. Brilakis said the death of Delaney was felt especially hard by a group of 10 to 15 guys who boat together. �It�s a little brotherhood that just got shattered,� Brilakis said.>

One of the dangerous aspects of Gore Rapid and others in the narrow stretch of canyon between Kremmling and State Bridge is that there are sharp boulders in the current, Smith said. He said they tumbled there when the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad were built. Sheriff Johnson said access to the canyon, aside from floating through the dangerous rapids, is difficult - there is no road and the railroad tracks are squeezed against the river bank. It was a representative of the railroad that notified Johnson's office of the emergency. �We rely totally on the railroad,� Johnson said. �They stopped all their operations for two hours.� Rescuers used a �high railer,� a specially modified pickup truck that can travel on the railroad tracks, to reach Delaney at about 6:15 p.m.>>

From: Kelley, Timothy M, MAJ>>>>>

Sent: Friday, August 04, 2000 4:22 PM>>>>>

Subject: 2 Deaths in Gore Canyon>>>>>

This week just came across this while surfing Mountainbuzz web site. Numerous postings in response some w/ more details. TK Posted by Summit Kayak on Thursday, 3 August 2000, at 1:34 p.m., in response to Gore Canyon Deaths! , posted by Summit Kayak on Thursday, 3 August 2000, at 1:03 p.m. Two Deaths in 24 hours in Gore Canyon. This information is relayed from the Sheriff's department.>>>>>

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the exact location and causes of these tragedies. Incident # 2 Paddler Capsized in gore rapid hit head and lost consciousness. Other paddlers were unable to catch up to him and right is boat until several hundred yards down stream. CPR was given without success of resusitation. The Sheriff said these were the first deaths in gore in at least 8 years.>>>>>

Gore Rapid is steep and shallow i know of at least two other serious kneck injuries that have taken place there in the last two years. Please Be Carefull and keep a close eye on each other. Sincerely Summit Kayak.>>>>>

Our deepest sorrows go out to all the friends and family of those invloved. I hope the informations we have recieved of these tragedies is accurate. Please feel to add or correct us with more information. It is important that we evaluate these incidents to hopefully identify hazards and make all of us more educated paddlers. We are sure that everyone involved did what they could. It appears that both of these circumstances could happen happen to anyone. Best wishes our thought are with you.>>>>>

Sincerely Summit Kayak Staff>>>>>

From: Kelley, Timothy M, MAJ [SMTP:KelleyTM@Carson-2BDE91Div.Army.Mil]>>>>>

Sent: Monday, August 21, 2000 2:32 PM>>>>>

To: Belknap, Lee Cc: Walbridge, Charlie; Gedekoh, Bob>>>>>

Subject: Gore Deaths Update The story below was posted on Mountainbuzz. Not sure if AW had these details yet. (Also included a story from the Vail Daily Trail on the Gore Race...w/ a bit more organization, it will rival the Gualey Fest...more yuppies in Central Colo w/ $ to spend. Watching the Race on a Jumbo Tron really was neat...definitely ESPN 2 stuff. The safety for the race can improve, but overall was very good. More Pbms happened from spectators who paddled in to watch than racers. )>>>>>

Full Gore Death Story (new info on Godzilla) Posted by Tom Boyd on Sunday, 20 August>>>>>>

Wazzup paddlers, Here's the story on the two deaths. It can also be found on the dailytrail website ( under archives after today (Sunday). Gary Skiba, owner of the Godzilla that was broached in Kirshbaum, was kind enough to e-mail me and let me know that none of his gear was involved in Matt's death - information that I gladly added to the story in this version. Cheers to the safety boaters and to Paul Tefft for all the fine rescues this weekend, and same goes to the boaters who experienced the chunder for our glazey-eyed entertainment later on the Jumbo-Tron. There'll be a story on the Wicked Women of the West (the Timberline Wings team) on the daily trail site Monday, along with coverage of all the other Vail boys and girls that did us proud this weekend.>>>>>>

Hasta - Death on Gore The story behind two deaths in two days on the Colorado River by Tom Boyd 8/17/2000 (revised 8/20/2000) �We didn't even catch a glimpse. It's like the river just opened up and swallowed him.� The last time Brady Toothaker saw Matt Classen alive was at the top of Kirshbaum Rapid on the Colorado River in Gore Canyon Aug. 1. Classen's gear and a boat he had borrowed were all that Toothaker, along with kayaking friends Rob Williams, Ryan Allen and Mark Gober, were ever able to find. Classen]s body was discovered the following day at the Pumphouse take-out by Vail Fly Fisherman guides Kevin Egan and Miller Lewis only hours before Gore Canyon would open up and>>>>>>

its second victim in two days: 34-year-old Steamboat resident Christopher Delaney. Delaney, who was kayaking with friend Brad �Bobber� White, and four other boaters, capsized while making the right-hand sneak on Gore Rapid and was under his boat for six to seven minutes before friends could get him to shore and administer CPR. �I was thinking worst-case scenario he's going for a swim,� said White, who was paddling behind him when he died. White caught an eddy to keep a watchful eye on two, less-experienced kayakers while two other paddlers from Winter Park paddled to Delaney's aid. White didn't see Delaney until he was on shore upstream from where the Winter Park paddlers had begun CPR. �We were doing CPR for like an hour and 20 minutes, checking for pulses and we never got anything,� White said.>>>>>>

The cause of death for both kayakers is listed by the Grand County Sheriff's Department as drowning, but none of the witnesses have ruled out head injury. Classen's body was found with multiple head injuries, but whether or not they were post-mortem is undetermined. Delaney had minor head injuries but White didn't notice any damage to helmet or head that would appear fatal. White also said that Delaney had cracked his mountain bike helmet after a crash two weeks before the kayaking accident, and had wondered if his head was a little soft from>>>>>>

Delaney ran the right-side sneak on Gore Rapid, which took him into an eddy just above and river-right-of Decision Rock, named so because paddlers must go left or right of the rock or suffer the consequences of meeting it head on. He exited the eddy but flipped in a small hydraulic and was dragged across Decision Rock to river left. White then saw Delaney�s arm come out of the water just above nearby Scissor Rapid, but lost sight of him soon afterward. The two other paddlers (John ?? and John ?? from Winter Park) managed to pin him for an instant before they lost their grip on his boat and he continued, upside down, over Pyrite Rapid. �He was an awesome boater, he had every right to be where he was. He was a conservative boater, he walked things, and he knew when he had a bad run,� said Keely Payton of Steamboat, a paddling friend of Delaney's. �It was just a fluke accident that could have happened to anybody who has paddled Gore before.� �He was a super-tough guy,� White said. �I�ve seen him stuck in Scissor Rapid and he was hanging on - he went a few rounds with the heavyweight and he didn�t go for a>>>>>>

Delaney left behind three brothers and both of his parents. Ropes on the river While Delaney had kayaked Gore Canyon more than 30 times, Classen was a first-timer on Gore�s waters, and had already had a swim just above Pyrite Rapid that day before heading into Kirshbaum. Although Toothaker said Classen�s swim was mild, the Wave Sport X that he was paddling was lost along with a throw-rope Toothaker had let him borrow. Gober, who was complaining of an injured shoulder, elected to walk the rest of the canyon and let Classen paddle his Prijon Fly down to the take-out. Gober took up a position on foot above Kirshbaum as the four remaining boaters prepared to run the stretch. From his vantage point he could see all of the rapid except for a stretch of 15 to 20>>>>>>

It was in that stretch of water that Toothaker said he became ensnared by a rope which brought him to a halt in the water. �All of a sudden I�m hung up around the chest on this rope; as I slid down it was basically knocking my wind out,� Toothaker said. �I still have these hellacious bruises under my armpits from it. �From all the swiftwater (rescue) I have done I can tell this rope was pretty set across the river. This was definitely a line that was taut, it was different than being caught by a loop. The river does funny things, but I�ve never seen a random rope lodged completely horizontally.� The rope that had come from Classen's X was eventually retrieved from the river.>>>>>>

Another boat, a Wave Sport Godzilla, was broached above Kirshbaum�s on the day the Classen party went through, but the throw bag from that boat was eventually found by it�s owner downstream - completely contained inside the bag. Gober and Toothaker agree with he owner of the Godzilla, Gary Skiba, that the Godzilla was most likely broached downstream of where the accident happened. Both Toothaker and Gober also said they had a hard time believing that a free-floating rope, such as the one recovered from the X) could have strung out and lodged itself horizontally from bank to bank. Whether Classen hit the same rope as Toothaker or not will never be known, but it is likely that he swam out of his boat and became pinned underwater. The water came up considerably overnight, and washed Classen�s body downstream. �We have a couple theories,� Groben said. �One being that, since he was found without his helmet, the rope may have taken his helmet off and flipped him over.� Although it was Classen�s first time down Gore, Gober said there was no question as to whether or not he belonged on the run. Besides his kayaking skills, Classen had graduated from Georgetown School of Law and was studying to pass the bar this fall. �He was very intelligent, and a good decision maker,� Gober said. �The timing seems to not make any sense on this one.� Safety first Of all the kayakers present for the deaths, none said they would quit the sport. �We paddled it (Tuesday) and Saturday, and it�s still kind of an eerie feeling to paddle Gore,� White said. �We took some flowers down Gore Rapid and put them where we found him.� The large number of boaters on Gore has upped the chance of a boater death on the stretch, but kayak instructors and event organizers have worked to match increased boater numbers with increased safety awareness among all kayakers. �We generally find that kayakers are pretty self-sufficient,� said Grand County sheriff Rodney Johnson. �They usually can deal with it themselves or with friends that are kayaking with them.� The boating community has been on-line all month discussing the Gore Canyon race, and generally agree with Classen�s and Delaney�s friends that the race should still be held. �Accidents happen and it was a tragedy,� Gore Canyon event organizer Paul Tefft said. �It�s a dangerous sport, but the reality is that if you�re a qualified boater it�s more dangerous to drive on the road than it is to paddle the Canyon.�>>>>>>


By Tom Boyd Daily Trail Staff Hd:>>>>>>

The day after a fatality at Kirschbaum, a paddler died at Gore Rapid, a big Class V downstream of Kirschbaum. Postings made to, forwarded by AW Board Member Tim Kelly with his own observations, described the second accident. Christopher Delaney, 34, was a strong Class V paddler who had run this rapid many times. He flipped in the sneak route above Decision Rock. No one knows exactly what happened because his group was behind some big rocks and could not see him. He might have hit his head, or been recirculated in the hole behind Decision Rock. They saw him floating upside down in his boat and brought him am ashore a few hundred yards downstream. They tried CPR without success. While there was no evidence of a serious head injury, there is a rumor floating around that Delaney had received a concussion recently while mountain biking. If that's the case, it would leave him very susceptible to a second injury.>>>>>>

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