Death on the River: Third year of high water spotlights dangers of commercial rafting |

Death on the River: Third year of high water spotlights dangers of commercial rafting

Jennifer Brown
The Denver Post
Arkansas River Ranger Supervisor Andrew Maddox, a former river guide, goes over a safety checklist with KODI Rafting head boatman Krista Martinson before a group heads out on the Arkansas. Commercial rafting boats must contain a first-aid kit, patch-repair kit and a life vest for every person plus one extra.

More people were killed during guided rafting trips the past two seasons — when Colorado rivers pulsed with high water — than in the previous five years combined.

Twelve people, seven last year and five in 2014, were victims of deadly commercial rafting trips along the Arkansas River, Clear Creek, the Cache la Poudre, the Roaring Fork and the Animas, a statistic rafting experts blame on rushing, higher-than-average water flow.

At the start of the third high-water season in a row, river rangers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife warned thrill seekers to check themselves before signing up for major whitewater. Two people have died on commercial trips this summer on the Arkansas and the Roaring Fork, and another was in critical condition last weekend after falling out of a guided raft on Clear Creek.

“It’s not Disneyland. This is the real deal,” said Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger at the Salida-based Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which has just five river rangers to watch over 152 miles of water coursing from Leadville through Brown’s Canyon and the Royal Gorge. “Everything is fine when you are in the boat. Once you are out, it’s a whole new game.”

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