Kayaker Dies on Meatgrinder Rapid on Colorado’s Crystal River


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A kayaker drowned on June 17 while kayaking the Crystal River, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.

According to reports, Chason P. Russell, a 41-year-old professional adventure guide and Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer, died June 17 after his kayak overturned and he wet-exited from the vessel while “navigating the fast-paced, difficult Meatgrinder section of the river just north of Redstone,” according to the news release. Crews spent all day Friday and much of Saturday on the search for Russell before they recovered his body around 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the area he was last seen.

Meatgrinder killed longtime Roaring Fork Valley kayaker Henry Filip in 1997, who perished while kayaking it at 1,250 cfs (view more here:)

According to USGS, the river was flowing at 750 cfs at the Avalanche Creek gauge at the time of Russell’s death.

The release went on to say that Russell was a lifelong outdoorsman who began an accomplished guiding and instructing career when he was still a teen in his hometown of Telluride. He worked for nearly 15 years as an outdoor instructor for the Telluride Academy, an experiential outdoor education camp before moving to Aspen in 2011. He also was an involved member of Mountain Rescue Aspen. Russell is survived by his wife, Jessica Christine, whom he married June 9, his brother, Garrett, and parents Salli and Jim.

“Adventurous souls are often admirable or unique, even inspiring. But few, if any, can be all three while rousing a call to shed self and focus on others,” Galena Gleason, a friend of Russell’s said. “Chason Patrick Russell lived as such. He managed to squeeze the inner most drops of a life well lived in the mountains and give back more than he ever took.”

Gleason started a GoFundMe to start a scholarship for those who want to make a living in the outdoors in honor of Russell. In less than a day it’s already raised more than $10,000. To view the GoFundMe, please visit: https://gf.me/v/c/9spn/chason-russell-memorial-fund

“He’s leaving behind a large group of people that in some way or another have been influenced by him and how he thought about the mountains,” Jordan White, head of Mountain Rescue Aspen, told the Aspen Times.

According to Colorado Rivers and Creeks guidebook author Gordon Banks, who wrote up an account of Filip’s death in 1997, “Meatgrinder is divided by a large boulder, known as the “Island,” which splits the river into a right and left channel and marks the middle of the rapid. The upper half is the more technically demanding section, with pourovers, wood and the need to move right or left to avoid the rock island obstacle.”

According to American Whitewater, Meatgrinder is a Class V rapid, “fast-paced, stout, and full of sieves and undercuts. Similar to The Narrows, meatgrinder is more of a rapid and less of the run and most people combine the two for an incredible lap on the Crystal. The general nature of Meatgrinder, is steep, technical, fast-paced creeking. Keep in mind that Meatgrinder becomes much more full on the more water that’s in there and this is a high consequence run. This run is also notorious for the amount of wood that ends up in the run, so make sure you scout beforehand.”

While the river description says there are several different lines through Meatgrinder, the most common route is to take the steep chute at the beginning of the steep section. “Make sure to scout well and hit your lines because if you don’t it is highly likely you could end up in a sieve or undercut,” it reads, adding the section is most commonly run between 500 and 1100 CFS.

The blog GnarMonkey.com defines it this way: “Meatgrinder has a sort of reputation in local boating community. Meatgrinder was once considered the most difficult rapid in the United States. Many great valley boaters (in an era when many pioneers of the sport like Fletcher Anderson and Roger Paris resided here) passed on the Meat. In the 1980s, however, the rapid gained the attention of Matt Gaines and Kevin Padden who made the first descent together in 1983. Gaines and Padden had earned a reputation as some of the gnarliest kayakers out there and were even later called “the godfathers of hair boating”. Their descent of Meatgrinder was a benchmark in Colorado boating and a step above Barrel Springs, Pine Creek, and Gore Canyon, which were considered the cutting edge of difficulty in those days. In the mid-1990’s the drowning of Henry Filip in Meatgrinder solidified Meatgrinder’s reputation. Filip was an elite creek boater and part of the group of 1990’s paddlers that pushed Colorado’s boating to the next echelon. It was a sad and tragic event whose consequences resonate in the minds of valley boaters today.

Pre-scout Meatgrinder in its entirety, it is a long and menacing rapid with truly terrible consequences. Logs often jam themselves in particularly nasty locations and the rapid gets rapidly more difficult and dangerous as the water level rises. Below the river bends right through some manky gnarly water with holes, laterals, and bad rocks. Some water works left into a class VI channel that is often plugged with lumber. Aim right around a giant red-colored boulder. At lower levels you can eddy out river right just as you get next to the big boulder and catch your breath for the last hard part. As you move around and behind the big boulder there is usually a steep section and a small boof with plenty of opportunities for trouble. Sometimes you can catch an eddy on the left just past here.

Read story in Aspen Times here:




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