Canoers go over Curtain Falls in the BWCA

Boundary Waters Canoe camping trips are supposed to be unforgettable in a good way. Unfortunately for those camping near Curtain Falls last weekend their memories of their BWCA canoe trip will be one of chaos and tragedy. While out fishing above the falls a group of four paddlers in two canoes experienced a harrowing accident when they went over the waterfall. The water drops 30 feet between Crooked and Iron Lake along the Canadian/US border. The tragedy is ongoing since two of the paddlers have yet to be found.

The missing canoeists have been identified as Jesse Haugen, 41, of Cambridge, and Reis Grams, 40, of Lino Lakes. According to newspaper articles they are both fathers and small business owners who were out enjoying the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness during their annual fishing trip.

The Governor recently called in the Minnesota National Guard to help in the search. According to the National Guard, “The St. Cloud-based CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew of four are providing heavy-lift capabilities, transporting equipment including a boat into the remote area.” Ground crews continue to search and visitors to the area are asked to stay out of the way and travel through the area as quickly as possible.

a dog stares at a helicopter
St. Louis County Rescue Squad via Facebook

Accidents can happen quickly anywhere but are especially dangerous in the Boundary Waters because help is so far away. The men were fishing above the falls and no doubt knew there was current and danger yet something happened. One canoe got in trouble, the other went to assist and they both ended up going over the waterfall.

It is so important to be extra cautious around moving water at both the top and bottom of waterfalls or rapids. We make sure to tell our guests at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters that when they have completed portaging around a waterfall and are ready to put in above the falls they should have their backpacks stowed in the bottom of the canoe, not on their backs, even if it is a short paddle, have their life vest securely fastened on their body, and paddles perched and ready to paddle. If the current is really moving and one of the people in the canoe isn’t ready to paddle it only takes a second for tragedy to strike.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the missing men. We hope for the best yet a positive outcome after this amount of time is unlikely. If they haven’t been found on the shoreline yet they are most likely submerged somewhere, perhaps in the waterfall itself.

All of you heading out into the Boundary Waters this summer do your best to have a safe and memorable canoe camping trip.

Silver Falls