An unprecedented ten inches of rainfall had flooded rivers over their banks. Stephan, 27, thought that this was the perfect time to tackle Big Piney Creek, a challenging whitewater run even at normal water levels. Dressed in overalls and a sweatsuit, and notably lacking a life vest, Stephan set out with three friends and two rafts "of the type obtained by sending in Marlboro cigarette packs."
Only a dose of common sense stood between Stephan and glory.
Enroute to the Big Piney put-in, the four men were stalled at a bridge over Indian Creek. The water was flowing 3 feet over the bridge, and they could not drive any further. A crowd of experienced whitewater paddlers had gathered there to pay respectful homage to the freakishly high water. This benevolent group implored the foolhardy party to desist. They warned the men that Indian Creek courses through two miles of dangerous willow jungle before joining Big Piney.
But the men would not listen to reason. They climbed into their lightweight rafts, put-in, and immediately capsized. Undeterred by continuing pleas from experienced paddlers, undaunted by the dunking, the men launched again. They managed to stay on the surface for 200 yards before capsizing downstream.
At this point, one man realized he was fighting a losing battle. He bowed out, and hiked back to the bridge. Two other men climbed back into their raft, and Stephan decided to venture onward solo in his raft. A half mile later, the flotilla had a close encounter with a tree across the stream, and both rafts capsized.
A search party located Stephan's body later that day.
In the final analysis, "these inexperienced and ill-prepared paddlers ignored warnings from a group of obviously knowledgeable paddlers. The absence of a life vest was probably the (second most) significant error." Despite warnings, despite seeing the cold water flowing menacingly over a bridge, and despite capsizing--Stephan chose to tackle this hazardous river. His tenacity was selected against, removing him from the gene pool.
In conclusion,"Warning unprepared floaters can be unproductive, but it is worth a try."
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