Bradt’s Back

Rehabbing, Tyler Bradt-style, through the intriguing Box Canyon of Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone

Bradt boofs the Box / photo Eric Parker

By Joe Jackson

In March, Tyler Bradt crushed his L1 vertebrae after landing flat off of Oregon’s 100-foot Abiqua Falls. Three days shy of the five-month anniversary of that accident, on Aug. 17, Bradt—the 25-year-old reigning waterfall world record holder, at 186 feet—was back, cruising through a legendary canyon run, “The Box.”

Bradt is still three months away from getting the four screws and one rod removed from his back; that hardware, along with some bone marrow, is allowing the vertebrae to heal. But these medical facts did not stop Bradt—along with Ryan Lucas, Evan Garcia, Fred Norquist, Lane Jacobs, Eric Parker and Eric Johnson—from putting on and running the committing and physically taxing Wyoming’s Box Canyon of Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River in mid-August. Bradt’s run of “The Box” also represents one of a handful of recent, late-summer descents of the canyon that have been generating buzz and exposing one of North America’s premier Class V multi-days in a rash of engrossing POV footage. See below:

Bradt's back, from X-ray. Photo: Tyler Bradt collection

The Clark’s Fork is the third deepest canyon in the Lower 48, and even aside from its apparent remoteness, it’s been called one of the toughest multi-day runs in the country. A group including Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins and Rob Lesser ran the first descent of the Clark’s Fork, in three days, in 1984. Since then, select expedition kayak crews have committed to running a canyon that contains three heinous, mandatory portages—including the nearly mile-long Green Monster—and thousands of sieves and undercuts. Trip reports juxtapose the beauty of crystal clear waters and multiple thousand-foot granite walls with the danger of catching micro-eddies to miss big drops that disappear into death sieves. (Take a look at Ben Litz’s telling trip report and photo gallery from the Box as a prime example.)

This is the 10th year that Bradt has paddled the 36-mile run. “The whole experience of being in that place is amazing,” Bradt says. “You are down in the bottom of these 2000-foot vertical walls working your way through these portages and really unique rapids.” When asked about the Clark’s Fork’s dangerous, sieve-riddled obstacles, he explains that really clean lines do exist on every runnable rapid, and that it just ups the ante. Bradt even claims he genuinely enjoys the portages that turn many trip reports into grievance lists. “It adds to the fun in a twisted way,” Bradt says. “It’s part of it, like the whitewater.” Expect to see video from the crew’s descent, next week, in a new Bomb Flow Magazine online episode.

And that pesky injury? Well, the surgically placed hardware does affect his range of motion or impede his roll. A calcified ridge has formed on his hip (where doctors harvested bone marrow), which hurts every time he gets in and out of his boat. Bradt did make a few key adjustments to protect his back, like intentionally lifting his boat with two hands. But Bradt doesn’t like to dwell on the negatives. “You won’t hear me complain. I am just so thankful,” Bradt says. “The neurosurgeon told me there was a far better chance than not that I should be a paraplegic.”

So confidently on to the next challenge: B.C.’s version of the Clark’s Fork, the Ashlu. Bradt is en route and plans to do quite a bit of surfing on top of creeking before having the screws and rod removed from his back. Doctors predict he should have 99 percent mobility after the November surgery, while Bradt predicts the recovery process will only make him a better paddler by forcing him to focus more on his conditioning. “I’m getting back, man,” says Bradt. “Hell, I’m already back!”

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  • http://facebook.com/uk Mr B Hickman

    WHY! do these people need to do this crazy stuff.
    ME personally, I think its because they have a warped misconception of thrill seeking, and that life is cheap “The attitude of oh well, we all die sometime!” seems to ring a bell here?
    A broken back, and doing what broke it the first time again. would he feel better stuck in a wheel chair, or an iron lung, probably having soiled himself because he has no control of his bodily functions, or feeding through a straw, because his arms no longer able to work.
    Selfish, foolhardy, and absolutely barking mad, this person to me will only be pleased when he finally get killed, as he has no respect for those around him.
    I suggest that he, and all these so say adrenalin junkies, go for a walk in the front line, along with the troops serving in AFGHANISTAN. THEY DONT NEED TO SHOOT OR ANYTHING, if there life is so cheap.
    Let them be on point!
    Theres a adrenalin rush, for real men, not oh look at me idiots, tell your self to get there mate, waste your life doing something that will give you the same results, maimed, disfigured, crippled,or dead!
    the difference will be you giving up your life to save some one else.
    THEN IT WONT BE WASTED eh!

  • Timmy Morris

    I was disappointed to read Mr B Hickman’s response above.
    Mr Hickman, obviously does not know anything about expeditionary kayaking, or Tyler Bradt. None of these paddlers have a death wish, its the other way around….. “a life wish.” Sure they take chances in chancy places…. however, these crews of paddlers are successfully proving time and time again that these runs can be done in a safe manner. There careful planing and determination display a love for life and the world they live in, they are not Mad… they are a success.
    Mr Hickman wrote:
    “Selfish, foolhardy, and absolutely barking mad, this person to me will only be pleased when he finally get killed, as he has no respect for those around him.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Tyler, and the crews that do this type of run are not selfish, foolhardy, disrespectful or mad…they are exactly the opposite. You can not be selfish when you put your life on the line to watch your buddy’s back, deep in remote class 5. The foolhardy could never do this type of thing time again. These guys do this everyday, because they respect those around them, and our earth. Better words to describe them would be trust, discipline, accomplishment, skill, and courage. Much like the troops Mr Hickman referred to, these guys are a team. Sure they sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes people loose there lives. I know for a fact none of these guys want to go down, they want to live, and live life to the fullest. This is what they do, and how they live there life with meaning, and fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with that Mr Hickman. these boys win! everyday there winners!
    I am grateful for people like Tyler , I thank people like Tyler. I thank the crews that do this and then share what they have done with us. A big THANKYOU! goes out to the Demshitz, and the TribeRiders, the BombFlow and ShastaBoys big thank you’s to all these Crew’s. I thank them for there generosity to share, there wonderful stories, and photos and video’s. I look forward to the next adventure that they share with us.

    I hope that one day the haters like Mr Hickman ..will do something else rather than hate… maybe they could go for a paddle.. and have a KAVU day of there own! -t

  • Northwest Kayaker

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Long Live Tyler Bradt !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • the real B Hickman (the above is the Mrs.)

    Get back to knitting and sewing you washed up bone pile!

  • Michaël

    Mr Hickman are you being serious?

    How can you live with thoughts like yours…

    You go back to your cave and let us enjoy our life
    TY

  • Austin Woody

    “from putting on and running the committing and physically taxing Montana’s Box Canyon of Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River’” The Box is in Wyoming.

  • Austin Woody

    WYOMING’S Box Canyon of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, that is.

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  • Niall Madden

    Started kayaking at de ripe age of 40, It has given me nearly 4 years of pure excitement , adrenalin, an a whole new bite for LIFE, new friend’s , some of de most fantastic memories , here in Ireland, and Scotland, France, Slovenia. The world has now become a very small place and my plan is to paddle as much of it as is , Physically an financially possible.
    ROCK ON TYLER , what ur putting on film is fantastic, NEVER LIE DOWN :-)

  • Callum McMahon

    Mr B Hickman have you ever kayaked have you ever been in the flow? Have you ever had that feeling of weightlessness when your at the top of a water fall? My educated guess is no, let me clear this up with you these guys do it not to get famous but for the feeling of it. The moment when your at the of the falls the river seems to die down to a quiet rumble it all goes in slow motion as you take your last stroke the amazing power and beauty of it all gets to you. THAT is why these guys will continue to do it even if they brake their vertebrae or limbs. War is not a man’s adrenalin rush. I know people who have died in this war. War is not a game soldiers on the front take orders even if they don’t agree with them. PTS is no joke either. That is as bad as crippling yourself those men will never fully recover from it, so try to tell me its for real men, and how it’s a real man’s adrenalin rush. I hope Tyler and the rest of the guys who paddled with him read this. I want them to tell you why they do this.

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