IN THE WINTER OF 1983, the largest El Nino event on record--a chain of "superstorms" that swept in from the Pacific Ocean--battered the entire West. Read more...
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IN THE WINTER OF 1983, the largest El Nino event on record--a chain of "superstorms" that swept in from the Pacific Ocean--battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon. As the water clawed toward the parapet of the dam, worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history.
In the midst of this crisis, beneath the light of a full moon, a trio of river guides secretly launched a small, hand-built wooden boat, a dory named the "Emerald Mile, "into the Colorado just below the dam's base and rocketed toward the dark chasm downstream, where the torrents of water released by the dam engineers had created a rock-walled maelstrom so powerful it shifted giant boulders and created bizarre hydraulic features never previously seen. The river was already choked with the wreckage of commercial rafting trips: injured passengers clung to the remnants of three-ton motorboats that had been turned upside down and torn to pieces. The chaos had claimed its first fatality, further launches were forbidden, and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park.
An insurgent river run under such conditions seemed to border on the suicidal, but Kenton Grua, the captain of that dory, was on an unusual mission: a gesture of defiance unlike anything the river world had ever seen. His aim was to use the flood as a hydraulic slingshot that would hurl him and two companions through 277 miles of some of the most ferocious white water in North America and, if everything went as planned, catapult the "Emerald Mile "into legend as the fastest boat ever propelled--by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God--through the heart of the Grand Canyon.
Grua himself was already something of a mythic figure, a fearless boatman obsessed with the mysteries of the canyon. His quest embraced not only the trials of the speed run itself but also the larger story of his predecessors: the men who had first discovered the canyon and pioneered its exploration, as well as those who waged a landmark battle to prevent it from being hog-tied by a series of massive hydroelectric dams--a conflict that continues to this day.
A writer who has worked as a river guide himself and is intimately familiar with the canyon's many secrets, Kevin Fedarko is the ideal narrator for this American epic. The saga of the "Emerald Mile "is a thrilling adventure, as well as a magisterial portrait of the hidden kingdom of white water at the bottom of the greatest river canyon on earth. This book announces Fedarko as a major writing talent and at last sets forth the full story of an American legend--the legend of the "Emerald Mile."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Fearlessness, and possibly foolishness, compelled Kenton Grua and a small crew to launch a refurbished dory, a flat-bottomed fishing boat, named Emerald Mile into the Colorado River "on the crest of flood tide" late one night in the summer of 1983. Grua used the swollen river "as a kind of hydraulic slingshot" to pitch them as fast as possible from Lee's Ferry on one end of the canyon, to the Grand Wash Cliffs on the other. In this absorbing volume, writer and part-time river guide Fedarko provides an intimate look at Grua's motivations and accomplishments. Nicknamed "the Factor" because he "injected a uniquely wild-ass variable into the river equation," Grua was implacably stubborn and combative, but also intensely playful. More importantly, he had a genuine appreciation for "the grand whole of the "—the river, the rim rock, and the trails in between. Grua's wild ride on the Colorado, how it mirrored his mercurial personality, is just one part of Fedarko's story; however, the river, which runs through seven states, and the canyon, rich in both geological and political history, prove to be the real protagonists. Eight page photo insert. (May)