The Upper Animas River in Southern Colorado is notorious for icy, relentless Class IV-V whitewater that becomes even more intense at high flows. The river was running high on June 19th when a five-boat commercial trip entered “Ten Mile Rapids,” the most relentless part of the run. A raft flipped in the second drop, dumping five people into the water. Three rafters swam ashore safely, but guide Daryle Bogenreif, 25, and guest Scott Liacona, 30, were carried away with shocking speed. Two rafts set off in pursuit, but the pair was lifeless when picked up downstream. After CPR was attempted unsuccessfully they flagged down a railroad car and loaded the bodies on it.
This accident was discussed extensively on Mountainbuzz.com and two interesting threads emerged. The first discussed the challenge of conveying the risks of whitewater to rafting guests. Several trip participants told newspapers after the accident that they “didn’t know what they were getting into,” despite an extensive briefing the day before. That talk-up included a no-nonsense discussion of the risks of a whitewater swim on the Lower Animas in Durango. The presentation is frank enough that some guests decide that they don’t want to go! But while many people want exciting adventures, few would start a trip if they knew that someone would be hurt or killed. The same is true for experienced river runners. But as Oliver Grau wrote in a recent issue of Kayak Session, “conscious risk taking is one of the greatest expressions of freedom we have.” Our normal regrets after an accident do not make the impulse wrong.
The second thread discussed whether a safety kayaker is more useful than a safety raft. Both have advantages and disadvantages. A kayak is faster, but can only assist one person at a time and can’t pull them out of the water. This is a disadvantage when a raft flip puts a group of people in the water or when the swimmer is in a weakened or unconscious state. The truth is that both types of backup work well, but individual circumstances may favor one or the other.