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River Incident Report #937011

Date of Incident: June 3, 1993
River: Colorado
Section of River: Cataract Canyon
Location on River: Between Mile 205.0 and Mile 201.8
Relative Flow: High
Gage Reading: 63,300 cubic feet per second
Difficulty: Class V
Type of Incident: Swimming
Injuries: Drowning
Type of Trip: Private
Type of Boat: None

On Thursday, June 3, 1993, a 51 year old male drowned while attempting to swim through the rapids in Cataract Canyon. He was last seen alive at the head of Mile Long Rapid at 12:00 where he stopped and ate a sandwich with a friend who was leading a one boat commercial raft trip. The friend offered passage aboard his boat, but the swimmer declined, indicating that he was enjoying his activity and had always wanted to swim the canyon at 60,000 cfs. The victim's body was sighted by Rangers in an eddy at river-right below the tongue of Rapid 24 at 13:58. The temperature of the water was approximately 65 degrees; the high temperature for the day at The Island In The Sky was 75 degrees, but it was somewhat warmer in Cataract Canyon.

The victim had 25 years of experience as a boatman and was an expert swimmer, having swum Cataract Canyon several times, including a passage in 1983 when the river was flowing 83,000 cfs. He was also well outfitted for his trip wearing: two full length wet suits under a wet suit top, wet suit hood, Type III life jacket, swim fins, and boaters gloves. He carried a small flotation bag containing emergency supplies, warm clothes, concentrated foods, and even maps of his ingress route and intended egress. The bag and one fin were missing at the time of his recovery, but the bag was found against the bank of the river at Mile 198.7 at 18:25.

In Retrospect
This type of accident is impossible to prevent. The man was aware of the danger inherent in swimming through Cataract Canyon and wished to accomplish the feat at what some consider its most dangerous stage. Canyonlands National Park does not encourage or condone swimming in the canyon, but has no regulations forbidding it.

Did You Know?

Rapids in Cataract Canyon

The highest recently recorded flow in Cataract Canyon is 114,900 cfs in 1984. However, scientists dating driftwood piles estimate that in 1884, the river may have reached 225,000 cfs. More...