Ben Manfredi

November 9th, 2003
Elwha River: Rica Canyon, Washington

On November 9th, 2003, we lost a friend and local young legend in the local skiing and kayaking community.

Those of us who know Ben really came to admire his humble and amiable personality, and his incomparable spirit for doing the things he and all of us loved. Ben's positive attitude, skill and love of all things outdoors was very inspiring, and his passing has been a huge loss to us.

We were running the Grand Canyon section of the Elwha, as Ben had previously done by himself(!) and for the first time(!!) not very long ago. The gauge was reading around 1050 cfs. We all made our way safely through the upper canyon, portaging the hole in Eskimo Pie and the last part of Landslide. Upon entering the lower canyon (Rica), I elected to lead the first drop (Goblin's Gate) and the set safety at the end of the pool below it, to prevent anyone from swimming into the next drop.

I got through okay, and pulled out on some shallow rocks that were walled in by the sheer canyon walls. Ben went next and ran into some trouble, capsizing and finding difficulties to recover in the rapid. He hadn't been able to roll back up, despite several attempts, and it wasn't clear what was wrong. He drifted around the bend, still upside down, and out of sight. The next in our group then began to chase him down.

When I caught up to them, my heart dropped. Ben had evidently failed to recover or swim, and was found still in his boat. It wasn't clear whether he simply ran out of time or whether he had sustained an injury in the rapid (we later learned that he had been afflicted by a heart condition which may have contributed to the accident). I wish I could say that the next hour was a blur, but it wasn't. We were not able to resuscitate him, and he was gone.

We are all greatly saddened by this loss, and cherish all of our best memories of Ben. The loss of a friend and partner during a recreational activity that we loved and believed we had adequate control over is something that will stick with me forever.

As the bold adventurer and typical instigator, Ben was never one to shy away from extreme adventures, and he did so with full knowledge of the possible consequences. Yes, he was doing what he loved and he was happy that day. Ben spent his last day with us deep within a beautiful, pristine wilderness canyon accessible only by kayak, and only by kayakers possessing the kind of expertise and dedication that he did. We were in a place so majestic and so rarely experienced that the risk involved seemed manageable and worth being able to intimately explore such an amazing place.

Knowing Ben's spirit, his loss might have been greater had he never followed his dreams up the snowy peaks and down the crystal clear rivers of his home and heaven here in the Cascades. He was a hero to many, a best friend to a few, and true to himself. The times he generously included me in such beautiful adventures as exploring the creeks, canyons and mountains of the Pacific Northwest are some of my most vivid memories, and I always be extremely grateful for that. We carry on our loving and inspiring activities in honor and memory of him and the ways we all have truly found ourselves by heading out into the wild unknown together.

Ben's adventures and an uplifting tribute by Ben's best friends are hosted on the following site:

Justin Ashworth