30 Years: Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Rob Lesser's Return Journey Marks the Anniversary of Expedition Kayaking's Benchmark Run

A-Team Originals: From left, John Wasson, Rob Lesser, Rick Fernald, Don Banducci, Lars Holbek. Photo: Rob Lesser

THE ’81 CREW

Don Banducci‘s decision to walk Site Zed on the ’81 descent was a turning point for the longtime Arcata, Calif., resident. “I was in my early 30s, in a solid relationship, and president of a growing business. Risking everything didn’t appeal the way it did formerly … after that trip I slowly began to back off from pushing my personal limits in a boat.” That didn’t mean he stopped taking risks. Banducci, 62, co-founded rack giant Yakima Products, Inc., in the fall of 1979 and sold it in 1994. “The ‘go-for-it-ness’ I learned kayaking certainly enhanced my business career at Yakima. I was the guy always pushing, always challenging others to step up and take a risk, ’cause chances were, you’d wind up at the bottom of the drop looking back up and thinking, ‘Damn, I’m glad I did that!’” Now “mostly retired” Banducci spends his river time flyfishing in a drift-boat, bird hunting and training springer spaniels.

After running the Stikine, Rick Fernald went on to a distinguished kayaking career, teaching as an ACA-certified instructor for Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe and authoring The Playboater’s Guide to Idaho in 2001. Still pursuing mountain biking and windsurfing, he now lives in Bend, Ore., a safe distance away from the Stikine. You can still find him surfing his favorite wave, Trestle on the Deschutes River, at 15,000 cfs.

Lars Holbek went on to notch numerous first descents, pioneering classic runs across the Sierra Nevada and co-authoring The Best Whitewater in California with Chuck Stanley in 1984, which, in its third edition, is still considered the definitive California guidebook among boaters today. In March 2009, Holbek died from liver cancer in his home near Durango, Colo., at 51 as one of expedition kayaking’s most-respected, all-time greats.

John Wasson, 61, lives on the outskirts of Jackson, Wyo., working some, but mostly skiing the backcountry in the winter, and securing river permits (this summer: his 16th trip on Idaho’s Main Salmon, with his 16-year-old daughter Luna). Though he never returned to the Stikine, Wasson recalls, “all of us rode the crest of a blossoming sport. Adventure films, first descents far away and in the backyard-plastic, plastic, plastic. I paddled a lot with Don and Rob over the years. Some with Rick. Paddling with Lars was just too nerve-racking.” And on his dubious namesake legacy: “I of course left with a rapid named after me. I do not recommend this method for getting your name in a guidebook.”

Stikine Now: Ric Moxon, Taylor Cavin, Ben Hawthorne, Daz Clarkson, Maxi Kniewasser and Cody Howard after their successful September 2010 run.

For a unique river-level perspective of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, check out the amazing dueling helmet cam footage from Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan (top video) and Sean Allen (bottom video) from their late August 2010 descent with Bryce Shaw, what St. Jean Duncan believes was the canyon’s third all-Canadian group. Keep in mind, these are considered LOW flows.

Stikine 2010 from seanallen on Vimeo.

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