NE MN kayak death

Can’t find much about this, but the apparent lack of ww buddies with him suggests this 20 y/o didn’t really know what was getting into. North Shore streams get crazy this time of year. But the only thing reported is that his boat was spotted on the Caribou River and he was found on the shore of Superior a short time later, suggesting he dumped and got flushed out of the river by high water. I pulled over to let emergency vehicles by in that exact area at the exact same time this unfolded. Now I know why.

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Not a lot of info on the Caribou in American Whitewater but it is listed as class II - IV(V+) with a 35’ waterfall not too far upstream from the lake. Hopefully someone will get more information to Charlie Wallbridge.

I don’t think its a common destination. Just above the lake its extremely small, maybe 20’ wide and fast and rocky, and just doesn’t look like an appealing place to paddle. But I’m not a ww guy. I think this one will remain a mystery unless someone does some digging, but inexperienced and poor judgment is my guess since he obviously was by himself.

There is a video on line from a week ago of the Caribou River.

Based on the AW description, it looks like the section. Very pretty, and some very nasty features. Not for me, but that seems to be the kind of stuff that creek boaters gravitate to. Can’t imagine anyone trying to run that alone, or trying to swim through there.

Very sad. Maybe more details will come out.


Yes, very sad.
Mortality is an unknown concept for many twenty-somethings, unfortunately.


Yep, nasty indeed unless you like rocks. I distinctly dislike rocks when kayaking.


This one was quite familiar with the concept of mortality for reasons I will not go into.

I love rocks – they create eddies to get in behind, they create downstream V’s that define the deepwater channels, and the they create hydraulics that are fun to surf. Of course, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. With the rocks, the steep gradient and the high flow this river looks kind of scary. Not for me that’s for sure. I do hope we find out what happened.

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I agree that it just adds to the tragedy if there is no learning and all the public hears is “body found”.

I am going to make some inquiries


This morning I saw a guy getting ready to put in an inflatable kayak on the Gallatin south of Bozeman. The river is very high and very cold … Plenty of snow still in the high country.
I hope he was waiting for others but he appeared to be alone.
I do not want to watch the news tonight.

I had some luck with contacting a local news channel. Maybe you can help people better understand their local waters.

When I looked at that stream online there was tourist info saying you could walk up the stream to the falls when the water was low but looking at those wicked rocks it looks like that stream could easily knock you out in high water.

Luck with what? This incident? That’s rather vague.

Here’s what I found out. I’ll note what I believe are assumptions by myself or non-kayakers involved in the incidence

  1. He was alone
  2. His car was at the lower parking lot at State Hwy 61 so I assume he put in there.
  3. He wore a helmet, pfd and “some kind of suit”, I assume immersion protection of some kind
  4. cause of death I could not find out or they wouldn’t tell
  5. he was in a 12 foot “sea kayak” ( I presume this is simply a mistaken identity by someone not familiar with kayaks). I couldn’t get the make/model
    6, and most importantly) He had little to no ww experience

Kind of an odd combination of proper gear and no experience. But as many of us know, judgement is the most important safety feature.

My take on the evidence suggests he put the boat in, was quickly overwhelmed, probably capsized and was separated from the boat and was washed out to the lake. I don’t think he could have paddled upstream at all under peak spring flow conditions, so it all had to happen in the mere .18 miles between the parking lot and the lake. He likely drowned because there are houses at the mouth and with the road so close if he had been injured or even getting hypothermic he could have found help pretty easily.


Google maps shows it at low water, but it still looks like there is plenty in that short stretch to get someone into trouble if the water was high enough. Couple of spots look like there are river-wide obstructions. If he got stuck in some sort of a retentive hole that would explain things. It is an odd combination of gear. 12-foot boat, so he is heading out to the lake? (not a WW boat) But has a helmet, so he knows he is going to be paddling through rapids? (or maybe rock gardening on the lake) I guess we will never know.

I was looking at a sea kayak safety and rescue manual that has an interesting definition of Judgement.

Judgement is the filter through which knowledge, skills and experience are translated into action.

So true. Trouble is sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know…

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High water to low water is a matter of days. It was high water then; you probably couldn’t even float a kayak today. 12 foot isn’t a kayak for open water on Lake Superior either.

Familiar with river in question. Not really something you paddle alone, those rivers are very steep and very rocky. Some sections are more or less vertical canyons with no way out. Tons of big trees get washed in as well. The falls themselves are 40’ of vertical drop.
There is a hiking trail along the river. It seems as though the paddler parked at the bottom, hiked up an undetermined amount and put in. The falls are roughly 1/2 mile from the parking lot. The kayak stayed in the river according to the press release. Paddler was washed out or swam out to the lake and beyond that we have no more information.

Apologize for being vague. The “luck” I had was finding a local reporter that was open to learning more about a drowning here in Michigan in a river that I know well. I just thought that maybe your local news might also be open to learning from someone with direct experience on your local waters.

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