In 1983, a speed record was set on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Steve Reynolds rowed a simple wooden boat called a dory 277 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs in 36 hours, 38 minutes, and 29 seconds. This was made possible because of a massive El Niño event that caused so much snow and quick snow melt that the Glen Canyon Dam at the head of the Grand Canyon was overwhelmed and had to keep releasing more and more water into the canyon to avoid possible dam failure. The river was many times higher and faster than normal so that speed helped their rowing along.
Kevin Fedarko uses this event to set the stage for a history of the Grand Canyon from the time the first Europeans saw it; to when John Wesley Powell led the first river expedition down the Colorado River in 1869, emerging at the bottom 98 days later with less men and boats than he started with; to the Sierra Club’s efforts to protect the Grand Canyon from even more dams; all the way to the summer of 1983. It’s a colorful cast of characters for sure, and I found it to be a very engrossing read.
The speed record created in a relatively slow boat still holds to this day. There hasn’t been anywhere near that amount of water seen in the canyon since but new boat materials could make it possible even at normal water levels. It was almost broken very recently by fiberglass kayaks in fact. Personally, I love the fact that a traditional wooden boat holds the record. I have been wanting to do a river trip in Grand Canyon since a friend mentioned it years ago, and I’ve been to Grand Canyon twice now without making it all the way down to the river at the bottom. Now I want my river trip to happen in a dory instead of a raft. A trip down the length of the canyon would take fifteen to eighteen days and would cost the same as a six month thru hike, but I am positive it’d be worth it.