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Too Quick To Navigate River Rafters, Kayakers Urged To Take Care This Weekend

Just downstream from where Moose Creek empties into the Selway River, white-water rafters and kayakers drop into the infamous “Ladle” rapid.

“That particular rapid is real treacherous,” said Marie Smith, who caters to boaters as co-owner of the Three Rivers Resort on the Lochsa River.

She remembers when three rafters died in the icy-cold caldron - three years in a row in three separate accidents.

“It was exactly the same day, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend,” she recalled.

Following the wildest white-water weekend in years, authorities are warning river rats to take precautions this Memorial Day weekend.

Last week’s higher-than-normal temperatures and heavy rains made the Selway and other Idaho rivers rise quickly and furiously.

The region’s rivers are expected to subside some this week but remain high over Memorial Day weekend.

“If the water would quit coming out of the sky, it would help,” Smith said. “It rained for, like, three weeks solid, so the river just kept coming up and up and up.”

It’s the same story around most of the state.

The Boise County Sheriff’s Department is warning boaters to stay off the Payette River, which is running at flood level.

One spectator clocked kayakers on the Payette River traveling at 22 miles per hour last weekend.

“Right now isn’t the best time to go out,” said Mark Brandt, state parks boating supervisor. “But if you are, with an outfitter is probably the best place to go.”

Last year, five of the state’s 12 boating fatalities occurred on rivers.

So far this year, the raging water hasn’t taken any lives, perhaps because many boaters and outfitters are altering their plans.

River Odyssey West, for instance, moved rafting trips planned for the Moyie River in Boundary County to the slower-moving St. Joe River.

The Moyie River rose so high that the eddies disappeared - eliminating safe escapes from the current.

Last Friday, 25 people who had planned on rafting the Lochsa River with ROW decided against it. ROW gave them rain checks, and encouraged a few of the inexperienced people to wait for calmer currents.

The groups that did float the Lochsa stuck together in case of trouble. The river was running 2 feet above its normal level, said ROW president Peter Grubb.

“People have to be honest with themselves about their own abilities and experience,” Grubb said. “When our levels of comfort are exceeded, we either cancel the trips, move them or we screen the customers.”

Lewis and Clark Adventures, based in Missoula, typically waits until mid-June before running the Clark Fork River through the Alberton Gorge.

“It gets into a narrow portion and creates these big holes and whirlpools,” said outfitter Wayne Fairchild. “I wouldn’t run it at this level.”

Increasing the risk are logs and other debris that create hazardous traps for boats or swimmers.

“There’s been a lot of bank erosion and trees falling into the river,” said Cory Brewer, a paddler and member of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club. “A river you might know could be an entirely different river.”

One of the only people to run the Selway River through the Ladle and Double-Drop rapids in recent days was Larry Watts, a 47-year-old rafter from Grand Junction, Colo.

“We talked about it at the put-in, that it was on the crazy side to go in at 7.3 feet,” Watts said. “The first few rapids on the upper stretch were huge - bigger than what most people had seen unless they’d been in the Grand Canyon or Cataract Canyon.”

They lost one boat, and with it, several people lost their confidence. Nine people from his private group hired a plane to fly out rather than face the churning rapids below Moose Creek.

Watts managed to steer his 13-1/2-foot oar-rig, loaded up with kitchen equipment and a portable toilet, through the infamous rapids while his kayaking companions portaged around the big water.

“I had a sneak line through both of them and hardly got wet. It was unbelievable to me,” Watts said from Three Rivers Resort after finishing the trip. “Luckily, everything worked….Quite possibly, it was a good decision for the people who flew out to fly out.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo