By John Viehman
Lees Ferry, Ariz. – "Not since John Wesley Powell's first pioneering journey down the uncharted Colorado River in 1869 has any other river trip been so daring as the one completed on April 27 of this year."
That first line of the Lake Powell Chronicle (May 4 edition) said it all for Verlen Kruger and Steve Landick, the paddling twosome from Lansing, Michigan. They had just hit mile 23,410 on the way to realizing their 28,000 mile, two-and-a-half-year goal by canoe and paddle. This most recent milestone of ascending the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon represents perhaps the greatest physical challenge they've had to face thus far in the Ultimate Canoe Challenge, according to Landick.
"We measure our progress as much in feet of elevation gain as miles of river paddled," Steve says as he reflects on the 21 days it took to complete the Canyon stretch—some 1,900 feet in elevation gain over 237 river miles.
"We were able to paddle and pole our way up alongside many of the larger rapids allowing us to make short portages around initial drops. Even the eddies however were incredibly turbulent. The river would surge creating breaking waves on the shore below and alongside the rapids. The water would literally boil like a pot of water on a blazing wood fire."
When they encountered the major rapids of the Colorado they portaged, of course. In many cases they carry around was almost as risky as negotiating the rapids. In many cases, the carry around was almost as risky as negotiating the rapids. The two rapids that stand out in their minds for difficulty of portage are Sockdolager and Sheer Wall. Sockdolager alone took a full day to carry around, but, Steve recounts, "Both of us were really high at the end and happy we didn't have to climb out of the Canyon to get around."
The major hazard, it turns out, may have been off the water. As Steve recalls, "The Grand Canyon has a series of inner canyons called Upper, Middle and Lower Granite Gorge. Over the millennia, the river has polished the granite so that when wet it was like walking on ice-covered rock. I am yet amazed that we didn't sprain or break an ankle while portaging or lining."
Ahead of Steve and Verlen lies Dinosaur National Monument — Split Mountain Canyon, Whirlpool Canyon and Canyon of Ladore. It's the last white water section before heading into the Wyoming Plateau and "quieter" stretches of water. From there it's "only" a 60-mile portage over the Continental Divide, then 600 miles of upstream paddling until they head into Canada and back down through the Boundary Waters, around the south shore of Lake Superior and the west shore of Lake Michigan, for the gala homecoming festivities planned all day November 19 in Lansing, Michigan. For a complete schedule of events for the Ultimate Canoe Challenge homecoming, write Toni McFarland, 518 Hillcrest Ave., East Lansing, MI 48823.