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According to the Idaho County Sheriff's Office, two of the rafters were able to swim back to it. Another safely made it to shore. The fourth, Randy Eroen, 35, an electrician from a suburb of Madison, Wisc., did neither. Kayakers accompanying the raft threw him a life rope. He couldn't reach it. The river swept him downstream.
The kayakers caught up with Eroen and found him unconscious. By the time someone called 911, the kayakers had pulled Eroen ashore and were performing CPR. They were unable to revive him. Medics couldn't either. "That kind of, you know, changes the mood of everything a little bit," Darla Rogers says.
It was the first death of a rafter on the Lochsa in anyone's recent memory. Heather Berg, the wild and scenic rivers administrator for the Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests, has worked the Lochsa for 10 years and can't recall another one.
The medics were called to a point near milepost 132. Peter Grubb, founder of Row Adventures, one of the local guiding companies, says the boat might've flipped on Lone Pine: "That's actually a pretty nasty rapid that has a big hole in it."
The rafters were approaching Castle Creek, at mile 131.2, perhaps the Lochsa's largest, most demanding rapid. The Forest Service's Lochsa River Guide describes it this way: "A long, twisting rapid whose half-mile length is not totally observable from the water at any one time. Large holes become large waves at high water, and everything pillows left off a huge block of bedrock at the bottom of the rapid. Considered un-runnable at high flows. Must scout. Cannot be seen from highway."
Eroen's obituary said he was an avid outdoorsman who loved water sports. His family asked that memorial donations be sent to a river restoration effort in Wisconsin.
On Sunday, details of Eroen's death are scant. People talk about it, they shake their heads, but the party goes on. In the afternoon, a group of rafters and kayakers navigate Lochsa Falls then pull their boats ashore and join the crowd. Still in their wetsuits, they crack beers and jockey for a spot with a good view. "It was incredible," says one of the rafters.
A half-mile downstream, around a few corners from the crowd, a foursome from Missoula don wetsuits and walk paddleboards down to the water's edge. Taking turns, they stand on the boards, crouch, and paddle onto a big, clean wave called Pipeline. It's a treadmill of smooth rushing water and they ride it for a minute or so at a time, weaving easily back and forth and then falling away. There's a gracefulness here, on a river that seems to be nearly devoid of it. There are few spectators. No one's shooting video.
Marty Engledow has posted his 2011 Lochsa video—eight-and-a-half minutes of carnage set to twangy surf music. Search YouTube for "Lochsa River Madness 2011."