Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kayaker Death?

I just returned from a weekend in the Apostles and have an unconfirmed report that a kayaker died near the mainland sea caves off Meyers beach on Friday night. I searched both the Duluth News Tribune and the Ashland Daily Press and found no info on the incident. The volunteer couple at the Michigan Island lighthouse told us on Saturday that they had heard radio chatter of a kayaker being airlifted to Duluth by helicopter Friday night after being pulled from the water by the Coast Guard. The ranger at Meyers beach, this afternoon, told us that the guy didn't make it; he was flown to Duluth around 6pm and died around 10pm. His core temp was 77F. This afternoon in the Village Inn in Cornie, the topic of conversation was 'stupid kayakers' and 'how many times does this need to happen before they wise up'. One of the commercial fisherman from Halversons said water temp a few feet below the surface in the lake was 41F.

Here's the story to the best of my knowledge, pieced together from a half dozen unconfirmed sources. Two kayakers, mid 30's, with rec boats, life jackets but no spray skirts or paddle floats/bilge pumps, try to launch at Meyers Beach but are strongly discouraged by the ranger on duty. After the ranger leaves they launch and head for the caves anyway. One of the guys, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, capsizes. The other has no idea what to do. Whether he heads for help or not is unclear. A woman hiking on the trail above the cave spots the situation and goes for help. The fellow is in the water approximately one hour. Coast Guard Bayfield pulls him from the water and the LifeLink helicopter from Duluth lands on Hwy 13 in Cornie to pick him up. Conflicting stories at this point say he was taken to Ashland via ambulance or helicoptered to Duluth. Makes no difference I guess. Bottom line was he didn't make it. Core temp of 77F alluded to above and the 10pm time of death were info from the NPS Ranger on duty at Meyers Beach this afternoon.

More to follow when I make a call or two in the morning. I have to stress this is unconfirmed but the basic story is consistent with all the folks we talked to. A similar incident happened in 2004, August to be exact. We were up there paddling that weekend also and information came out very slowly. Grant Herman from Living Adventures in Red Cliff wrote an excellent article in Sea Kayaker describing the situation. I would hope to provide some comment and analysis when I learn more.

The title of this blog is The Lake is the Boss. I believe that with all my heart and NEVER take Gitchee Gumee for granted.... in any situation. As our friend Silbs says at the end of each of his blogs, "Paddle Safe". Its our job in the kayaking community to continue to get the word out and educate people about the opportunity and danger that our inland sea, with 11% of the planets fresh water, affords us. We need to keep teaching people to paddle safe. More to follow.....

Quick update.......I found the article in the Duluth News Tribune this afternoon, Kayaker Dies of Hypothermia. One man died and the other was found incoherent on the rocks.


Ron said...

I was up on Basswood Island all weekend with a "Intro to Superior" group. This is the first I heard about this. Warm air temps, and cold water are a recipe for trouble.

Silbs said...

Thanks for bringing this one to us. Unfortunately, I think most of your readers are the ones unlikely to be out poorly dressed and poorly prepared. The "rec" paddlers who need to hear this over and over again are, saddly, the least likely to be into reading kayak blogs. Thanks for your service.

DaveO said...

True, but I have co workers, acquaintances, customer, etc. ask all the time, "Wow, kayak Lake Superior, sounds cool, what do I need to do?". Without scaring the hell out of em or making it sound like outfitting the D-Day invasion, we need to figure out how to tell em how to 'paddle safe'. And we need to get the word out. No one is going to notice a page 4 article in the Duluth paper.

Joshua said...

I feel kinda guilty having just been up there and NOT heeding the ranger's recommendation to change our plans and camp in a protected area of the park. I know we had the skills to do it, and we were dressed properly - and we obviously didn't have any problems, but who's to say these guys didn't read my trip reports just before going out? We kinda set an example that it's okay to ignore the ranger's advice, and that cost this guy his life.

Cory said...
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Cory said...
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DaveO said...

Joshua, I've done the same thing. People experienced enough to assess their skill level and the weather and waves rarely get into trouble. Having backup like paddle float/pump, dry suit, radio, skilled partners, etc. tends to help cover the bases.

Doyle said...

My wife and I were the two that spotted the kayaks. We had gone to Meyers beach to paddle and decided it was too rough for us. We decided to hike instead. We spotted the boats roughly 1/4 mile east of the 1st big crack you come to. (the really big one)

We could not see the guy that survived. Apparently he was at the base of the cliffs in chest deep water. He had been in the water about three hours.
Both guys were in their 50's. The boat that floated ashore had a spray skirt in the rear compartment. The life jacket was not on the guy that died, his arm was wrapped in it.

We did talk to people that said the lake was flat early in the day... no excuse you still need a wet suit.

The whole incident confirmed our respect for the lake and the need to wear all the gear, all the time.
It also reminded us to practice our rescue procedures.

DaveO said...

Wow, so you were the hikers that called. We didn't paddle on Friday either but hit Michigan Is on Sat and the mainland caves on Sunday. We just heard bits and pieces from several sources. You almost certainly saved the life of the guy on the rocks! Good job. I'd like to figure out how to connect and maybe talk about this a bit more. Thanks much for the post.

Doyle said...

We live in St Louis Park, happy to talk. Any way to connect without leaving phone #'s or emails on the Blog site?

Adam Bolonsky said...

Hi DaveO,
thanks for your recent comment on my blog at

A similar accident here on the East Coast three years ago (two young women in rec boats drown in Nantucket Sound) led to all sorts of well-intentioned state legislation written by lawmakers who don't understand kayaking.

Some busy fellows at and Charles River Canoe and Kayak worked real hard to have the legislation's language modified.

Sad that this is so often rec boats. But it's not always rec boaters who get into trouble ( ); difference is that experienced paddlers who get in trouble are more likely to be able to call for help themselves and more often survive.

By the way, feel free to delete my crosslink. It's the first of a five or six part series of posts I wrote on a Coast Guard/rescue swimmer rescue of two experienced New England paddlers here a year ago this spring.

The guys were carrying pen and rocket flares, a spare VHF and spare paddles, and either used, broke, or exahusted them all.

They made it home safely after basketlift.

DaveO said...

Thanks for the feedback Adam. Good to know you're keeping folks informed of whats happening safety wise on the east coast. We just had the Inland Sea Society's kayak symposium in Washburn, WI and the theme was rescues. Very appropriate.