Goodbye to a Legend


Whitewater legend Lars Holbek died March 13 in his home near Durango, Colorado, after a tumor in his liver spread and became unresponsive to chemotherapy treatment. He was 51.


Holbek is survived by his wife, Nancy, his brother, Suren, and parents, Erik and Mimi. Plans for a memorial service or contributions in Holbek’s name had not been finalized as of Sunday afternoon.


Holbek was diagnosed with cancer in October after being helicopter evacuated a week into a 15-day Grand Canyon trip for severe abdominal pains. He is known for co-authoring The Best Whitewater in California—The Guide to 180 Runs with Chuck Stanley in 1984, which, in its third edition, is still considered the definitive California guidebook among boaters today. He is also credited with completing numerous first descents in the Sierra Nevada and for his part in the pioneering run of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine with Rob Lesser and others in 1985.


Holbek’s wife, Nancy, began a Yahoo! group November 2 to update friends and family about Lars’ condition. In her initial post, Nancy Holbek wrote that doctors in Durango, Colorado, began chemotherapy treatment November 1. In subsequent posts, she provided that the cancer was thought to be a rare, very aggressive type known as Plasmablastic Lymphoma, for which Lars underwent four chemotherapy sessions in three days.


She posted that Lars started a new “outpatient” chemo regimen Feb. 17, but soon landed back in the hospital to have fluid drained from his abdomen, which left his body “very weak and compromised.” He returned home Feb. 26, Nancy wrote, and was able to go on short walks and eat small amounts of solid food, but still encountered problems with fluid leaching from the tumor in his liver.


“In the last 10 days, there has been a steady progression in Lars’ cancer despite his strong will to fight it,” reads a March 12 post by family friend Mac Johnson, who reported that recent tests had shown the cancer growing and spreading. “We can see him deteriorate more rapidly, getting weaker day by day and having more difficulty doing his normal daily activities.” –Kate Stepan

Please see the June issue of C&K for a tribute to Lars Holbek.

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