C&K Hero Rob Lesser

Rob Lesser portrait by Blake Gordon.
Rob Lesser portrait by Blake Gordon.

By Joe Carberry

Forget that he single-handedly saved the North Fork of the Payette with his conservation work, was the first to run Wyoming’s Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone and Pakistan’s Braldu, and that he virtually invented whitewater rodeos. If you only associated Rob Lesser with British Columbia’s Grand Canyon of the Stikine, that would be enough. It’s enough because the remote and relentless Class V run he pioneered is still considered the planet’s single greatest test of whitewater skill. “I’m very proud of that fact,” says the Idaho native. “It’s still a benchmark in a kayaker’s evolution.”

For the Stikine and all the rest of it, Lesser was part of the first class inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame. Such accolades are welcome, but the true measure of Lesser’s legacy is revealed when the phone rings and a world- class boater is on the other end of the line, seeking Stikine details. “I always try to get paddlers to experience the sense of place,” he says. “I don’t want them to just bomb through it. It’s important to get out at Entrance Falls and climb over the ridge and really know every crease and current.”

Last summer, Lesser was paddling his beloved North Fork at 2,000 cfs. At each horizon line the river exploded in anger, the mist rising up like the souls of lost pad- dlers. After exiting Jacob’s Ladder into Golf Course, Lesser took a ferocious hit from a lateral wave, bounced hard off the river bottom and, for the first time in a decade of hard paddling, he swam. Lesser escaped the river with a few bruises and the renewed conviction that at age 61, his envelope-pushing days are behind him. All part of the game. Paddlers live and die, but great rivers live always, joined forever to the names of those who first paddled them.

This story first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.

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Richard Bangs // Greg Barton // Tao Berman // Paul Caffyn // Graham Charles // Serge Corbin // Nigel Dennis // Dubside // Steve Fisher // Bob Foote // Dan Gavere // Alan Hamilton // Freya Hoffmeister // Mick Hopkinson // Nikki Kelly // Payson Kennedy // Rob Lesser // Anna Levesque // Martin Litton // Brad Ludden // The LVM/T-Dub Connection // Sean Morely // Nappy Napoleon // Michael Peake // Scott Shipley // Jim Snyder // Rush Sturges //