Ryan Morgan

August 9, 2009
Little White Salmon, Washington

By Markus Fant and Jason Rackley

The PDX Kayaker family lost one of our own this weekend.

Ryan Morgan drowned on the Little White Salmon on August 9th, 2009. He was 31 years old. Ryan is survived by his wife Danielle, a loving family, and many, many friends.

The Little White Salmon is a river of exceptional difficulty, but Ryan had completed the run before without problems. On this day, he was excited to paddle it, and he was having an exceptional day on the river. He was enjoying himself very much, and he was paddling at the top of his game.

Ryan was paddling with Markus Fant at the time. After completing the portage around Spirit and Chaos, Markus chose to put in at the outlet of Chaos where the rope ends at the tiny pocket eddy which is surrounded by rock walls on all sides. Ryan put in just down-river from Markus on the left side of the large boulder. This boulder prevented the two kayakers from being able to see each other as they got into their boats. Markus chose the tiny pocket eddy because it was slightly upstream, and it offered more time to ferry out before entering the next rapid.

By the time Markus emerged from the blind pocket eddy below Chaos, Ryan was nowhere to be seen. Markus assumed that Ryan had already paddled downstream and caught the first eddy as was common practice.

Ryan on a Grand Canyon trip in 2007
Photo by Danielle Morgan.

Markus ferried to far river right and followed the usual line until he could catch an eddy. He looked upstream and downstream and blew his whistle but there was no response. Markus continued this eddy hopping cycle downstream several more times until he got to Master Blaster, but still couldn't find Ryan.

Until now, Markus assumed Ryan was ahead of him since he hadn't seen Ryan since they got back in their boats. When he reached Master Blaster without Ryan, Markus decided that he must have missed Ryan somewhere upstream. Markus waited for Ryan for thirty minutes at Master Blaster giving Ryan enough time to discover that he wasn't upstream and for Ryan to make his way down to Master Blaster. Due to the canyon walls, Markus wasn't able to get back upstream. Markus finally decided that Ryan had plenty of time to search for him and make it downstream to Master Blaster, so he then concluded that Ryan must have continued paddling out assuming that Markus was in front of him. Markus then paddled Master Blaster and the last bit to the take out. Upon reaching the take-out, Markus expected that Ryan would already be there.

The Skamania County Sheriff's Office, Wind River Search and Rescue, and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter searched for Ryan until midnight. The next morning the search resumed with the helicopter and kayakers from Wet Planet. Unfortunately, Ryan and his boat were found by rescuers in the sieve on river left just below the put-in after Chaos.

It is not known whether Ryan chose to go left purposely or was forced left somehow. We do know that if you put in below the pocket eddy at Chaos, the ferry options to get to the right side and avoid the sieve are limited to none. Despite being very small, the pocket eddy at the base of Chaos provides the best margin for error and safety to ferry to river right.

Ryan was best known in the Pacific Northwest paddling community for his excellent paddling blog, Testing the Waters.

Ryan was very actively involved in community life in his hometown of Mollala Oregon. He was a city councilman, the steering committee chairman for Weed and Seed, a community-based anti-crime program.

Ryan also coached track and cross country at Mollala High School and worked with at-risk youth at Mollala High through the Todos Juntos program. Ryan had a degree in Social Science from Western Oregon State University.

Memorial Services for Ryan will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday August 16th at the Eckerd Field track, 313 Eckerd Avenue, Molalla, Oregon.

Remembering Ryan
Ryan was a tremendous person and friend. Such a sad day... I'll miss his smile and humor, and of course the river days that we shared together.

Goodbye Ryan...

Will Volpert

Ryan will be missed by everyone who has shared the river with him. Our prayers go out to Danielle and his Family. Ryan was part of our 2007 Grand trip and I know everyone from the trip will miss him.

Keith Bond

I didn't know Ryan well but we had met on several occasions. When I heard the news that a kayaker had gone missing on the Little White Salmon my heart sank. When I heard the news that a body was found it sank even more. It is hard to know what to say when a fellow kayaker passes from one life into the unknown. My heart and thoughts go out to the people closest to him. I know the feeling of loss, as I to have lost a close friend to the river.

Something that helped me smile during those tough times was remembering that my friend died doing something he loved. He is forever captured in my heart and mind sitting in his Savage bobbing up and down in the eddy on one of his favorite runs or smiling as we sip on Oly's at the take out on a warm summer day while reliving the days most exciting moments.

As I revisit the memories of the good times we shared the pain and joy creeps back into my heart and tears swell in my eyes. I hope that those feeling this pain will also find comfort knowing that they are not alone in their sorrows. I believe my fallen comrade was and is happy as his spirit took the final 1st descent over the horizon line into the truly unknown. I hope for peace in the hearts of those closet to Ryan.

~luke spencer

Although I boated with Ryan only three or four times, I really took a liking to him. He was a guy you liked to be around because he had this laughing, unpretentious and soft-spoken manner that immediately put you at ease.

As a boating partner he was enthusiastic and adventurous, but most of all - considerate of others. There was a lot to Ryan: If you have read his blog you will know what I mean. I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to enjoy the river with him, but very sad that I missed the opportunity to get to know him better.

Bruce Schnapp