Another reminder of river's dangers

Washington state rafter dies after spill at Rogue's Blossom Bar

GOLD BEACH — The Rogue River's remote Blossom Bar claimed its second life in five days Wednesday when a Washington state man died after the raft he was in flipped at the rapid's set of rocks known as the Picket Fence.

Steven Boyd, 66, of Walla Walla, apparently struck his head on a rock when he and two others were pitched into the signature Class IV rapid within the Rogue's Wild and Scenic Section about 52 miles east of Gold Beach, according to the Curry County Sheriff's Department.

All three were wearing life jackets and the other two rafters were able to float through the remainder of the lengthy rapid with only minor injuries, deputies said.

Boyd's body was pulled from the Rogue by other rafters, who performed CPR on him as a Mercy Flights helicopter was sent in, but Boyd was deemed dead shortly after they arrived, according to Sheriff John Bishop.

A South Carolina man whose raft wrapped around the Picket Fence on July 12 died after he fell into the water while trying to dislodge his raft.

Steven D. Hoyer, of Spartanburg, was wearing a life jacket and helmet when rafters plucked his body from the river downstream of Blossom Bar, deputies said.

It was unclear Thursday whether either man drowned or died from some other reason, according to Bishop. Both cases have been sent to the county's medical examiner to determine their cause of death, he said.

The thrill of negotiating a raft, driftboat or kayak through the multi-maneuver Blossom Bar draws experienced floaters from all corners the country. However, the rapid also has earned the dubious distinction as the most dangerous in a 34-mile, three- to four-day float through the Wild and Scenic Section.

One of its toughest features is that a single mis-stroke or other mistake can put boaters in situations where assistance or rescues can be extremely difficult.

"There's this myth that the Rogue River is an easy river," says Brad Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures in Merlin. "But Blossom Bar is not a gentle rapid if you have a problem there."

While some are attributing the fatalities in part due to low Rogue flows, the flow there this week of about 1,700 cubic feet per second is fairly common during parts of the rafting season, Niva says.

"We run it at that level all summer and fall and it's never been a problem," Niva says of his guide fleet.

Still, enough of the up to 120 boaters who launch daily into the Wild and Scenic Section continue to struggle with slowing their boats down enough to slide it right across the face of the Picket Fence before dropping into the eddy beneath it.

Four rafts wrapped around portions of the Picket Fence last week, "and there's one there today (Thursday)," Niva says.

"When they are coming into that thing they sometimes freeze up," Niva says. "They know that they have to pull, but they don't do it."

The lower water, however, "closes the door on the fudge factor" to get through safely, he says.

As a designated Wild and Scenic river, the section is managed jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management under strict rules meant to keep it wild.

"It's part of the Wild Rogue River and we can't change the construct of a flowing river to make it safer," BLM spokesman Jim Whittington says. "People have to understand if they raft, they do so at a risk."

Like in Hoyer's case, the trio involved in Wednesday's sinking were considered experienced boaters, sheriff's deputies said.

Most rafting fatalities associated with Blossom Bar happen at the Picket Fence, with two boaters dying there in separate drownings in mid-July 2008.

However, those accidents occurred during a high-flow summer when flows through Blossom Bar were almost 50 percent higher than normal, records show.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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