Rafting safety on the South Fork of the Boise River
It’s unclear why a raft went over a waterfall on the South Fork of the Payette River on Thursday afternoon — despite numerous signs warning rafters of the dangers — but the result was that one man died after three were tossed into the water.
Kenneth J. Evans, 27, of Boise, died Thursday, Boise County Coroner Pam Garlock said late Friday afternoon.
The raft that Evans was in went over Big Falls Rapid, said Garlock and the manager of a local guide company.
Kenneth Long of Cascade Raft & Kayak told the Statesman that Big Falls is a Class VI rapid. The classification system on RaftingAmerica.com shows that Class V rapids are “exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids.” It says Class VI is unrunnable.
“Don’t even think about it! These constitute waterfalls and other death-traps that should not be attempted,” the website says.
Few people go over Big Falls intentionally, Long said, and there are warning signs where people typically put in the river, as well as near the rapid itself. It drops about 40 feet over three tiers.
“We all portage it — we get out of the boats and walk around it,” Long said. “It is infrequently kayaked, but never intentionally rafted.”
Big Falls is on a stretch of river called “the Canyon,” between Lowman and Garden Valley. Rafters typically put in at Deadwood Campground and get out at Danskin Station. It is primarily Class III-IV whitewater, which is moderately difficult to difficult.
The raft was one of three floating in a group without a guide, a Boise County sheriff’s deputy told KTVB Channel 7. Two of the rafts diverted to the shore before the falls. Three people were in the raft that went over the falls, and two people got out of the water safely, the deputy said.
It was the second rafting death in Southwest Idaho in a week. The other occurred on the Main Payette on July 4 — in a comparatively placid stretch of Payette that’s similar to the Boise River float from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park.
“People do it in inner tubes, small rafts and are probably not wearing life jackets all of the time,” Long said of a popular Main Payette float from below Black Canyon Dam to the Washington Avenue Bridge in Emmett.
Even placid sections of rivers can be unpredictable, powerful and dangerous, though.
“If the water is past my ankles, I’m wearing a life jacket,” Long said. “It doesn’t matter which river.”
Misty Cannon Martin, a 44-year-old Enumclaw, Washington, woman who previously lived in Emmett, died on July 4. She was part of a group of five women rafting and tubing that day.
The raft that Martin was in submerged at Farmers Cooperative Diversion Dam, according to the Emmett Messenger-Index. Another rafter in the group told the Emmett paper that she saw Martin and Emmett resident Holly Reed “going under and coming back up.”
Porter Child, 16, told KTVB that he jumped in the river near the Washington Avenue Bridge to pull Martin out — but she appeared to have been underwater for a significant amount of time. Another person gave her CPR, but it failed to revive her.
Reed was taken by air ambulance to a Boise hospital and survived the harrowing float trip.
A GoFundMe account has been set up by Martin’s family to help cover funeral expenses. Potter Funeral Chapel in Emmett is handling arrangements.