On Monday, a crew of local raft guides and kayakers found the body of 31-year-old Ryan Morgan pinned underwater in the rapid below Spirit Falls on the Little White Salmon River, WA. During his run on Sunday, Ryan made the portage around Spirit, got back in his kayak at the standard spot, and was swept into the sieves and logjam on river left directly below the put in spot. This was the first kayaker fatality on the class V Little White Salmon River.
Ryan, who was paddling with a friend, made the portage around Spirit Falls first. His friend saw him make it safely to the bottom of the portage and begin getting back in his boat, and so he began lowering his boat down the steep slope. When Ryan’s friend got everything collected at the bottom he didn’t see Ryan, so he assumed Ryan had already peeled out and started making his way downstream through the remaining few rapids to the takeout. When he hadn’t found Ryan by the time he got to the car, he made the call to search and rescue.
A small crew comprised of local kayakers and raft guides from Wet Planet dropped into the Little White on Monday morning to begin searching the river, as the steep canyon walls and technical class V rapids made any search of the river by search and rescue teams highly impractical. The crew found Ryan, still in his kayak, in a sieve below the Spirit Falls portage. The team was able to carefully extract the kayak, but was forced to abandon efforts to extract the body. A technical rescue team was being called in to recover the body.
The Little White is at a low enough flow that the majority of paddlers have stopped running it for the year. A select few however, still enjoy making low water descents and emerge from the canyon thrilled with the quality of the whitewater. Several other kayakers have been swept into the logjam below Spirit Falls in the past couple of years at significantly higher flows, and have suffered uncomfortable swims as a result. The low water likely had an effect on Ryan’s ability to make it through the logjam as others had at higher water.
Ryan Morgan was a Molalla, Oregon councilman with a “lot of energy and a lot of ideas,” according to John Atkins, Molalla City Manager. Ryan, who grew up in Molalla, frequently led youth volunteer programs and was active in the juvenile justice system. He is survived by his wife.