Vail rafter dies in Glenwood Canyon over the weekend; warning issued for high river dangers this week |

Vail rafter dies in Glenwood Canyon over the weekend; warning issued for high river dangers this week

Corey Peterson kayaks at Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park late last week while a group of rafters are seen passing by.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

A rafter died after falling from his watercraft into the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon on Sunday.

Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire confirmed Tuesday morning that Nicholas Courtens, 34, of Vail, was pronounced dead at the scene between Shoshone and Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon after he fell from a raft and drowned. 

The White River National Forest and other river recreation officials are urging caution when recreating on the currently runoff-swollen area rivers.

The group was able to pull Courtens to the riverbank where his rafting party and two additional bystanders provided CPR and first aid, but were unable to resuscitate him, Glassmire said. Courtens was wearing a personal flotation device and a helmet at the time of the incident, he said. 

An autopsy was performed on Monday by the Coroner’s Office contract forensic pathologist, and the death is being investigated as a drowning, he said. 

Meanwhile, Forest Service officials advise that, while the high river flows this spring are being lauded by rafters and kayakers, the high water creates additional challenges and hazards that can be dangerous even for highly experienced rafters and kayakers.

“Don’t underestimate the river during high flows or overestimate your abilities,” Colleen Pennington, Glenwood Canyon Manager for the White River National Forest, said in a Monday release.

Those hazards can change day-by-day with the rapid river flow, including debris and tree snags that can trap people underwater and puncture rafts, dangerous currents and cold water temperatures that can create dangerous situations for even strong swimmers, she said.

“Know your limits,” Pennington said. “The river is unforgiving with high flows. Always wear a life jacket and use proper boats designed for white water — no inner tubes.”

As of Tuesday morning, the Colorado River below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River near Two Rivers Park was flowing at just under 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) with a depth of a little over 7.8 feet. That’s well above the historical median of 7,500 cfs and a river depth on this date last year of 5.8 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Streamflow data website.

“High flows can be dangerous for all forest users, not just those choosing to float the rivers,” the release states. “Normally small creeks are running high, and conditions can change rapidly. Swift streams are dangerous for all, but pay particularly close attention to pets and small children, and avoid getting too close to culverts.”

The Forest Service also advises that visitors may find more roads and trails damaged from the high flows than in a typical year. “Never attempt to drive through flood waters because the currents can be much swifter and the water much deeper than it appears.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.