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Mountain High

Missoula’s whitewater community soaked in sorrow last week as news of local kayaker Jonathan Sullivan’s death washed over the city.

Sullivan (pictured) disappeared Jan. 28 in a class V rapid on the Rio Munso in the rugged Chilean Andes where Sullivan was attempting a horse-assisted wilderness expedition with several other boaters.

Apparently the accident occurred as Sullivan tried to catch a tight must-make eddy for a portage around a triple-drop pocked with several small rock openings, known as sieves. Sieves are incredibly dangerous because they can “strain” a person like a noodle in a colander. Sullivan missed the eddy and was washed into the dangerous rapid below.

The group Sullivan was paddling with maintained visual contact with the boater as he successfully made it through the rapid’s first drop. On the second drop, Sullivan became caught in a hole and eventually his boat flipped, forcing a wet exit. Washed into a sieve, only his paddle came out the other side.

Sullivan’s kayak, camera box, paddle and helmet were eventually recovered. Fellow boaters searched for Sullivan for several hours, but were unable to locate him.

Sullivan is the second Missoula kayaker to die while boating in Chile in recent years. Paddler Brennan Guth died in March 2001 while navigating the lower Palguin.

“This trip combined his love for kayaking, exploring, and horses,” an e-mail from Sullivan’s boating companions said. “Being a wrangler, he was fascinated by the Chilean horse culture—learning their rustic method for loading packhorses, and showing them the Montana style of horse packing. Struck by the contrast of emotions in such a beautiful place, we smiled in tears to see one of the packhorses carry his kayak on our hike out. The entire group who was with him extends its sincerest condolences to all those who knew Jon. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

Another friend, Shawn Robertson, traveled with Sullivan in the weeks leading up to the accident and commented in an e-mail, “We can honestly say in the time that we all had known him, we had never seen Jonathan happier.”

In more cheerful news, two Whitefish teens—Tyler Gardner and Charley Bowman—and Georgia teen Drew Lewis rescued former Big Mountain Resort Ambassador Larry Hanson from near-death in early January. Hanson became trapped head-down in a tree well on Big Mountain near lower Window Pane. The three rescuers noticed his glove while traversing the mountain and were able to dig and uncover the man’s head. When they weren’t able to extricate him from the entrapment, Ski Patrol was contacted. When Patrol got Hanson into the clinic at the Outpost, at the bottom of the mountain, his core temperature registered at 84 degrees.

“I was surprised how easily I got locked in that tree well,” Hanson said. “I was barely buried, just wedged so I couldn’t move. The message here is not to ski alone, and let your partners know where you are going.

“I know I am lucky to be alive,” Hanson continued. “I want to thank those boys for stopping. Had they not found me I wouldn’t be here today.”

Attention mushers! The dogs are ready to run. Montana’s premier dog-sled race, Race to the Sky, starts on Sunday, Feb. 15. The 350-mile race kicks off at the Lincoln Public School at noon and is expected to end on Feb. 19. As the race is an Iditarod qualifier, mushers from across the country will attend one of the most mountainous races around. Check out the checkpoints during the week as well. They are: Cain Ridge West in Lincoln, White Tail Ranch in Ovando, Holland Lake Lodge in Condon, the Seeley Lake Community Center, and the finish at Hi-Country Jerky in Lincoln. For more information, call 881-DOGS.

Trappers, want to avoid catching those pesky endangered species? Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Missoula will host a free trapper education course on Saturday, Feb. 14. The objectives of the course are to teach trappers about management of our fur-bearing friends, trapping techniques, avoidance of non-target animals, as well as skinning and fur-handling techniques. For more information, call 542-5500.

Whitewater season approaches. In preparation, Missoula Whitewater will sponsor “open kayaking” class at the YMCA pool Sunday nights from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Equipment is necessary and can be rented from Canoe Rack, Pipestone or Board of Missoula. The sessions cost $5 for members and $15 for the public, and memberships are available on-site. For more information, log on to

Sweethearts, ready for a Valentine’s challenge? Nothing spells love like a sweaty-faced kiss atop East St. Mary’s Peak in the Mission Mountains. The New Rocky Mountaineer ski-and-snowshoe trip up the 9,425’ peak will encompass 5,400’ of elevation gain as the route climbs up a steep forested ridge. Upon hitting the tree line, strong winds are expected, but also breath-taking views of the massive west face of Gray Wolf. For more information, call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769. Don’t forget to hit the local ski areas. Snowbowl had collected 10 new inches of snow in 96 hours as of press time. Also check out the Masters Alpine Slalom Competition up at Snowbowl this Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 549-9696.
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