Accident Database

Report ID# 840

  • Swim into Rock or Sieve
  • Head Injury / Concussion
  • Other

Accident Description

The Clark Fork of the Yellowstone in Montana was the scene of one death and several close encounters this past summer. The run contains two days of challenging Class IV-V water and several mandatory portages in a steep gorge.

On August 7th a group of seven strong Class V boaters were on the second day of a successful run. But even though the party included three paddlers who had made the trip before, they forgot that below the “Leap of Faith” the mandatory portage around an unrunnable section comes up pretty fast. Here the river goes under a field of giant boulders and over several huge drops. The group ran a straightforward Class IV ledge, went around a blind bend, and all hell broke loose.

AW Safety Chair Tim Kelly is preparing a detailed account for the AW Journal using excellent reports from Boatertalk and Montainbuzz and some incredibly gripping email accounts. I won’t try to duplicate his work, but I will try to summarize what happened. First, the entire group washed into a sieve and over a cascade, dropping about 50 feet. The cascade had multiple sieves, underground tunnels, and drains. Two surfaced in lightless underwater caverns. One was able to climb out after a desperate struggle, while the other was forced to blow his whistle until paddlers on the surface heard him and lowered a rope. One paddler (who remained in his boat somehow) and three swimmers reached safety in a pool below this cascade. Three of these paddlers suffered serious injuries, including serious cuts, broken bones, a ruptured eardrum, and a collapsed lung.

Dan Crain, 42, a former college football player and smoke jumper, was knocked unconscious. He was still in his boat when he washed into the first pool. He then went over a 20 foot falls. This lead into another massive sieve that dropped 30 feet into a second pool below. When rescuers got to his kayak he was no longer inside. His body was spotted four hours later, pinned between two rocks in the middle of the river. It could not be recovered for several weeks,

Several other groups who were running the river helped with the search and recovery. Several boats were missing. The walking wounded had to face the final few miles of Class IV water and the dreadful duties of notifying the family and reporting the accident to authorities.

Originally posted on Mountainbuzz:

This weekend multiple paddling groups went into The Box on the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone river in Northern Wyoming. It is the third deepest gorge in the lower 48 states. Sheer granite walls rise up on each side in the heart of the canyon, some 800 feet high from the river up. The run is paddled in two days with a hike out point half way to camp. It features multiple class V and VI drops, with multiple portages. One of the most beautiful places I have ever paddled with challenging but manageable whitewater. The place is a hair boater/expedition paddlers dream.

A group of seven of us put on for the second day. Montana locals and experienced class V paddlers Dave Schroder, Barry Bohrer, Lofty, and Dan Crain. They were joined by Colorado paddlers including myself (Kyle McCutchen), Lyle Petterson, and Fred Zachrell. Craig Corial was with us the first day but did not enter the second day after breaking his boat. All of the Montana boaters had paddled the Box before. Our group was extremely talented and experienced. After completing the last notable drop we began to make our way downstream. We dropped over an easy 9' class IV sliding drop that appeared to end in a big pool.

All seven paddlers were flushed into an unrunnable cascade, what was supposed to be the 6th and final mandatory portage in the box. Immediately below the entrance slide two large boulders blocked the river, and the entire flow went under the rocks. Everyone flushed through the sieve. Below that their were no eddy's. All seven of us went over the main part of the cascade that dropped a total of about 50'. The last 35-40' were near vertical. The cascade had multiple sieves and underground tunnels and caverns. Dan Crain was knocked unconscious somewhere on the cascade and floated by me in the pool below in his boat. Myself and Lofty were unnable to reach him and his boat before he flushed over the next horizon line which led to a 20' vert into a very small pool, and then massive sieves were the water dropped down another 30' and resurfaced in another pool. His boat resurfaced on the far side of the river in an eddy. When I reached the boat 4 minutes later I turned it over and he was not in it. His spary skirt was still attached. His body was found 4 hours later under water and pinned inbetween two rocks in the middle of the river. From my understanding search and rescue was not able to get to him yesterday, as well as approxiamtely 20 other paddlers from groups upstream the day of the accident. He was unconscious when his body pinned.

Out of the seven paddlers only three of us escaped without injury, Fred, Lofty, and myself. Two others ended up in caves, Dave and Barry, and they are both extremely lucky to be alive. Multiple rescue boaters told us that all seven of us should be dead. We all feel the same way. I will post a much more descriptive account of the accident in a few days. Please do not post any questions, or criticism. Our group made a terrible mistake, and we are lucky that only one person is dead.

I have never experienced or heard of anything like this happening in the 10 years that I have been paddling. If it wasn't for the help of multiple groups of paddlers on the river that day three paddlers in our group would likely be dead. We cannot thank them enough for their efforts.

Thank You,

Kyle McCutchen


My thoughts on my friend Dan, originally posted on Whitewater! August 4th 2003.

This morning I received some very sad news. My good friend and boating partner, Dan Crain, was killed while paddling The Box, a class 5/6 run on the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone in Wyoming this weekend. Dan was a generous soul, quiet and modest, with a quick wit and warm smile. He contributed enormously to the boating community in the Black Hills, Big Horns and Rocky Mountain region. He owned Dark Canyon Sports/Global Market in Rapid City South Dakota, a store from which he gave instruction, sold boats and gear, and did guide work. Dan was in the process of authoring a book on creek boating in the Wyoming Big Horns and built, a website featuring information on Black Hills and Big Horn area paddling, photos, and a discussion board for local paddlers. He pioneered steep creeking in the Big Horns and is credited with first descents on most every runnable creek they contain. Dan was also an active participant in American Whitewater's StreamKeeper Program. He contributed information on Wyoming's Tensleep Creek, Tongue River and Clear Creek, Montana's Clark's Fork and South Dakota's Spearfish Creek, Redwater River, Rapid Creek and Whitewood Creek.

Two years ago while paddling the Clark's Fork with Dan and the Cody Wyoming crew, I was pinned, chest against a rock, boat behind me and vertical, slowly being driven to the bottom. I was holding on to the rock for dear life, slipping lower and lower with every movement I made. Dan paddled up to the rock, jumped out of his boat , grabbed my stern loop and held me and my boat up to keep me from sliding any lower. This allowed me to let go of the rock, cut my way out of my spray skirt, and extricate myself from my boat. His skill, strength and quick thinking saved my life. I only wish I could have done the same for him. I thank those who tried.

Dan was a good man and a good friend. His generosity and kindness were unmatched. He will be sorely missed by many, from coast to coast.

His family is enroute to South Dakota. I will post details as to any arrangements Kathy, Dans girlfriend and his family make as they become available.

Peace and Inner Harmony,

Andrew/Rapid Creek


Dans Obituary - Composed by his sister, Terri Hastings -

Daniel Louis Crain , a long-term resident of Spearfish, South Dakota died on August 3, 2003 in a heartbreaking kayaking accident on the Clarks Fork River in Wyoming (also referred to as The Box). Dan, age 42, was born on November 12, 1960 in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. He spent his early childhood in Spearfish and returned to the area in 1985. He was valedictorian of the class of 1989 at Black Hills State College and graduated with a B.S. in Biology.

Dan was a global traveler and adventurer, and had a strong commitment to the global community, the environment, and to outdoor activities. He eventually incorporated these interests into thriving businesses in Spearfish and Rapid City. Dan started his business out of his backpack while staying with a host family in Guatemala, and grew it into a one-of-a-kind enterprise that served the Black Hills communities.

Dan was an expert class-five kayaker and proved himself on some of the most challenging white water in the world. His main focus was pioneering the Big Horns and he is credited for several first descents. He was recently featured in the last three editions of American Whitewater, where he was described as a "bad-ass" butterfly.

Dan's love of kayaking reflected his philosophy. The sport is not about who is the best or about how big you go, it is about friends, unreal places, personal limits, and mental strength. This sport brings all walks of life together in search of the same goal: to live life to the fullest. Most people will never be called to put their lives at risk for a friend, yet, in kayaking it happens every day somewhere in the world. Kayakers are special people with special values that create an untouchable bond between paddling partners. Friends and living life are the reason Dan was out there. Either way you look at it, Dan was out there getting it done.

Dan is survived by his family and numerous friends from around the from world, including his parents, Dan and Louise of Anywhere USA; sister Erma Crain of Las Vegas; sisters Teri Hastings and Linda Bonner of Seattle; niece Sara Bailey, nephew Paul Bonner, and grand nephew Dylan Bailey of Seattle; and niece Carly Bonner of Salt Lake City. Dan is also survived by the people from Spearfish he chose as his extended family, not limited to, but including: Kathy, Brian, and Turner Miles; and Todd Andrew.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial for Dan is being set up through American Whitewater. In celebration of Dan's life and the sport he loved, please send donations to American Whitewater P. O. Box 1334, Spearfish, SD 57783. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 9th at 6:00 p.m. at Salem Park in Spearfish. You are invited to celebrate Dan's life with his family and friends. Dress is informal and BYOB (bring your own blanket).

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