Rowing the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon




When John Wesley Powell made the first successful expedition through the Grand Canyon by boat, he started from Green River, Wyoming. Three boats and ten men headed for Big Canyon without maps or knowledge of white water navigation. It took over three months with time out for exploration and recovery. The journey covered over 1,000 miles.

One hundred and fourteen years later, three men in one wooden row boat launched from Lee’s Ferry intending to set a speed record through the entire Grand Canyon. There was an excess of rainfall and snowmelt in 1983. The spillways on Glen Canyon Dam had to be opened to their maximum flow.

Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Wally Rist knew the river as well as any boatmen could. Their dory, named the Emerald Mile, was highly maneuverable. Still they had no idea how they would control their boat on a river flowing at 70,000 cfs or more. Since they were not carrying proof of a permit for this trip, they started in the middle of the night. They had 276.5 miles to cover before reaching Lake Mead.

It was the gamble of a lifetime and one which these three adrenaline-charged raft guides felt compelled to take. Each man was clear on their role, leaning into the gunnels whenever they were high-sided, keeping the bow weighted if there was danger of flipping, and rescuing the rower if his arms started to give out.

It took exactly thirty-six hours, thirty-eight minutes, and twenty-nine seconds. The speed record was beyond their highest expectations. The fact that they were all alive was an additional accomplishment.

If you desire a brilliant description of this and other trips through the Grand Canyon, read The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko.

Kevin Fedarko has continued his quest to describe the Grand Canyon by attempting a 650-mile ”sectional” thru-hike across the rugged and unmarked trails of the south rim. Go to: to discover the whole story. The September 2016 issue of National Geographic paints a thorough picture of what Kevin Fedarko and Pete McBride attempted.






4 responses »

  1. Terri,
    Interesting article. When did Powell go down the Colorado? How do I get the story you gave the link for with NG.? The link takes me to their website with trips etc. but I do not see a dropdown for stories. It sounds very amazing. When are you planning on going down?

    • In 2019 it will be 150 years since Powell first explored the Grand Canyon in 1869. Sorry about the link, it is from National Geographic Magazine. I’ll post a better link soon.

    • Hi, I hope to take a Grand Canyon raft trip in 2019. It will be 150 years since JWP’s initial trip.(1869) and 100 years since the Grand Canyon NP was formed.

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