Rafters rescued after losing control near Gore Canyon " Grand County, Colorado
Cold and wet but otherwise uninjured, a couple of inexperienced rafters escaped unharmed before they got caught in the severe rapids of Gore Canyon in western Grand County.
The incident began late Saturday, Oct. 4, when the Grand County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a man who reported that two rafters were “possibly in distress on the Colorado River in Grand County.”
The two rafters were Chris Depaulis, 40, and Mike Killeen, 25, of Fort Collins. They put their 14-foot Aire Raft into the water at Green Mountain Reservoir earlier that morning and began paddling down the Blue River with the intention of entering the Colorado River. Their plan was to exit that river at the upper Gore Canyon take-out point where the caller was suppose to meet them that evening.
However, the caller said he had just gotten a cellphone call from his two friends. They told him they had unintentionally missed the take-out point and were being swept downriver toward the Gore Canyon’s Class 5 rapids, considered by many professional river rafting guides as some of the most severe in the western United States.
The caller said he warned his friends to get out of the river as quickly as they could, but suddenly their cellphone conversation was “terminated.” He was unable to contact them again despite repeated attempts.
In her report, Sgt. Pamela Peschiera said the caller described his friends as “avid outdoorsmen” but complete novices when it came to river rafting and were definitely not qualified to raft down Gore Canyon’s rapids alone. Both men were reported to be in good physical shape and had taken raingear, food and water on their rafting trip.
Within less than 15 minutes of talking to the caller, Sgt. Peschiera received a report from a Union Pacific Railroad engineer that as his train was rolling through Gore Canyon, he had spotted “two rafters hanging onto a tree in the river.”
The engineer said he had also spotted an empty raft floating in the river downstream of the stranded rafters.
Sgt. Peschiera immediately called Greg Foley of Grand County Search and Rescue. Foley said a team would be assembled to go on the rescue mission.
From the location of the rafters given by the railroad engineer, Sgt. Peschiera knew that rescuers would have to hike quite a distance from County Road 1 to get to the river if they drove. Instead, the railroad tracks were only a 100 yards or more from the river and it would be quicker to get them there via the railroad.
Peschiera attempted to contact the local Union Pacific office but was unable to reach anybody. From previous knowledge, she knew Deputy Coroner Cindy Eller has a brother who works for the railroad. She called her, but Eller was unable to reach her brother. Instead, Eller contacted Union Pacific Railroad inspector Gerald Sanchez. He offered to have one of his drivers take the rescuers to the rafters in one of the railroad’s “High Road” trucks, which is a truck that runs on the railroad tracks.
With Peschiera relaying the information, the Grand County Search and Rescue team of Troy Nelson and Chris Bruno met Union Pacific Railroad truck driver Marvin Sanchez at the Kremmling railyard. Boarding the High Road truck, they drove to the reported location of the rafters in Gore Canyon.
Arriving there, they found the two rafters had made it to shore and built a small shelter out of brush. They had also started a small fire to dry out and stay warm overnight in temperatures that were dipping down in the low 40s.
The two men were uninjured in their ordeal. They were given a courtesy ride back to their vehicle at Green Mountain Reservoir.
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