Unusually high, cold and roiling waters have claimed at least six lives across Colorado as mountain snow continues to melt rapidly, with plenty more snowmelt to come.
Despite closings of many river stretches and warnings by the National Park Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, law enforcement agencies and others, people continue to seek out rafting excursions and other water recreation, sometimes without exercising enough caution.
As Rocky Mountain National Park advised: “Each year, there are rescues directly associated with unprepared victims finding themselves in the water from falling while hiking, crossing streams, or scrambling on rocks. To stay safe: Stay out of rivers and creeks. Stay away from rock adjacent to rivers; wet rock is extremely slick. Rivers and creeks are surprisingly swift, cold, and dangerous. Stay back from flowing water!”
On June 25, the body of Roberta Sophia Rodriguez, 37, was recovered from the south fork of the Rio Grande after a 10-day search.
The Colorado Springs resident had fallen into the swollen river June 15.
She was traveling with her fiance on U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass when the two stopped along the river near mile marker 175½. Rodriguez climbed onto a rock, slipped and fell in.
“The area she fell in, you don’t have a chance,” Mineral County Sheriff Fred Hosselkus said. And the river’s “fast-moving and turbid” water made the search difficult, the Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.
June 21, water claimed two more women’s lives.
A 31-year-old paddleboarder lost control of her board and became stuck on a tree in the Gunnison River.
Rangers from the Curecanti National Recreation Area responded, and she was taken to Gunnison Valley Hospital and then flown to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, where she was pronounced dead.
Hours later, a 65-year-old kayaker’s body was found on the east end of Blue Mesa Reservoir near Iola Basin.
In response, the National Park Service closed the Gunnison River between Riverway and Beaver Creek to paddleboards, inner tubes and other low-profile water toys.
Yet another woman died June 20 when her raft flipped in a whitewater section of the San Juan River, just below its confluence with its West Fork, the Durango Herald reported.
She was swept about 3 miles downstream. A guide in another boat caught up to her on an island in the middle of the river and started CPR, but the woman was pronounced dead at a hospital.
She was wearing a life jacket, helmet and wetsuit or drysuit, the Herald reports.
None of the women’s names have been released.
A Texas man was killed while rafting the Arkansas River’s whitewater June 10, just days after state officials issued high-water warnings across the state.
Sameer Prasla, 42, was thrown from his raft 17 miles west of Cañon City, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Although he wore a life jacket and helmet, officials suspect he drowned. No one else on his raft was injured.
On the Eagle River near Avon, Nikolay Pezhemskiym, 29, was killed June 6 when the raft he was sharing with four other men hit a high wave and flipped them.
The other men made it to shore, but Pezhemskiy was swept away, the Vail Daily reported. Pezhemskiy was born in Russia’s Republic of Buryatia and immigrated to the United States about eight years ago.
Rivergoers statewide must “exercise extreme caution, watch for debris in the water, and be prepared for other high-water related changes,” authorities advise.