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Frog Rock Drowning, Arkansas River: July 11, 2010

Posted: 04/06/2011
by Charlie Walbridge

Frog Rock Rapid on Colorado’s Arkansas River is a deceptively dangerous place. At high flows it’s a straightforward Class III, at lower levels much of the water runs under a massive rock . It has been the scene of at least six deaths in the last two decades; the lower the water, the worse it gets. Signs warn boaters to stay left or portage, but for those used to higher levels, its hard to shift gears. On July 11th  a group of river guides high-sided a raft here. One of them, Kimberly Appelson, 28, fell out of the raft and washed under the rock. Rescue was impossible, and recovering her body would take several months. Photo shows conditions on the day her body was found.

Rescue squads arrived with search dogs, divers and underwater cameras. Even when the flow dropped to 160 cfs most of the water still went under the rock. Ultimately a small diversion dam was built to redirect the current. On October 28th divers slipped through a 4’ wide slot and entered a 10’x10’ room under the rock. They found Ms. Appelson’s body pushed into a narrow exit slot that was jammed with debris. Because heavy equipment would be brought in to make the dam there was some talk about modifying the rapid to make it less dangerous. The idea was set aside out of concern for the liability it would create for the agency doing the work. Managers also worried that this action could lead to pressure to modify other parts of the river perceived as dangerous. Ultimately the riverbed was restored to its original condition. The cost of the recovery, just under $10,000, was split between Chafee County Search and Rescue, the Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado State Parks.