From time to time we all need a wilderness adventure. Not so much an adventure as a pilgrimage. But on every pilgrim’s path lies the unknown. And every journey has potential to become an adventure. One morning during an ice storm in Portland a few years ago I went out on the front porch to get my mail.
The wind had blown a letter onto the driveway so I went down the steps to retrieve it. The steps were encrusted with invisible ice. I slipped and cracked my head, temporarily knocking me unconscious. I awoke in my pajamas and slippers, flat on my back, on the driveway. I rolled over but found it impossible to stand up. After a failed attempt to crawl up the front steps, I decided to crawl to the side steps, where I had just installed a railing.
These steps were also covered with ice, but I was able to pull myself up enough to fall through the side doorway, collapsing onto the kitchen floor, shivering wet and covered with blood just as my wife Sarah was coming in to get a cup of coffee. One need not wander too far from home to find adventure.
In December I met Bob Scholl while having a beer with some river guides at Charlie’s bar in Missoula. Bob is from Lander, Wyoming. And we have many mutual friends in the conservation and river running community. Over a game of pool he was telling me about his plans to float the 1,000 miles from Green River, Wyoming to Las Vegas, Nevada. The float would retrace the historic expedition of John Wesley Powell in 1868, and in the process draw attention to the many issues facing the Green and Colorado River systems.
I asked him how many people were going, and he said so far, only him.
To make a long story short Josh, Jen and I are now part of the expedition team and we are now holding weekly meetings. We launch in September for a ten-week expedition to document the numerous environmental and social issues surrounding those great western waterways.
We will not be the first to retrace Powell’s route. But, it is not a popular undertaking. One recent descendent is the famous writer and wilderness trekker Colin Fletcher who floated down to the Gulf of Mexico in 1994. Buzz Holmstrom was the first guy to float all of the rapids on the systems in 1937, seventy years ago. Holmstrom’s run was an outlandish thing to attempt alone. He was quiet about his intentions in case someone tried to stop him. Holmstrom’s trip ended at the Hoover Dam, where he deliberately bumped his raft into the giant concrete obstruction as a sign of his personal disapproval.
Today there are two additional dams along Holmstrom’s route, and two-hundred-and-seventy miles of reservoirs. That stretch includes Lake Powell, which entombs Glen Canyon, a place described as even more magnificent than the Grand Canyon. The Colorado is now a shadow of its former self. Its waters no longer reach the ocean, instead, loaded with salts and chemicals, the river peters out in the sands of the Mohave Desert. All of this is a testament to the cost of ignoring Powell’s warnings that there was not sufficient water in the arid west for the settlements of large cities and intensive agricultural development.
So here is the deal. This is a Lowbagger trip. In the spirit of the 70th anniversary of Buzz Holmstrom’s solo first descent of all the rapids on the route, our expedition will set a new standard for modern day river trips. We will demonstrate a small carbon footprint. We will use solar technology to power equipment such as computers and refrigerators, grow a majority of our food in an organic garden prior to the launch, and test the feasibility of growing sprouts and culinary herbs on the river.
This expedition will allow us to explore this magnificent river corridor as few have seen it. Our goal is to assess the current state of the river, not from a scientific perspective, but from the view of those who love and cherish this great river system and its history. We will interview people along the way who dedicated their lives to its protection and people who continue to rely on it for their livelihoods. Our perspective will be uploaded on a daily basis from our river camps to our website, www.downtheriver.org
As you can imagine, this is a big undertaking and we will need your help to make this happen. We are accepting donations of food, gear, and money. We are looking for advertisers and endorsements. We want to host events along the river at our campsites, interview interesting people along the way, and highlight the ongoing efforts people are involved in to protect and restore the river, including the many Native Americans who lived here for centuries before Powell’s trip in 1886.
If you want to bring your boat, there will be many opportunities to float with us on most stretches of the route. Although, as most everybody knows, it’s pretty impossible to get a Grand Canyon trip permit, you’d still be able to hike down and meet us at Phantom Ranch the night before we head into the most serious whitewater on the whole trip.
In 1979, I joined Howie Wolke, Dave Foreman, Susan Morgan, Ed Abbey, Ken Slight, Jim Stiles, Louisa Wilcox, Spurs Jackson, Randy Hayes and a group of about 70 people for a demonstration at the Glen Canyon Dam visitor’s center. We hung a 600-foot piece of plastic sheeting off the dam that looked visually like a crack, chanted “Free the River” and Earth First! held its first action. In the quarter-century since that day, the Glen Canyon dam has served both as a potent symbol of our fight to protect the river and as an example of our careless disregard for the planet that sustains us.
I believe I will live to see the day that dam is decommissioned, and the “lake” named after John Wesley Powell drained, something Ed Abbey wished for, but whose untimely death prevented him from witnessing. David Brower, without whose efforts their would be two more dams on this route (one in Dinosaur National Monument and one in the Grand Canyon) fought to have this reservoir drained up until the moment of his death, and could never forgive himself for agreeing to trading a dam in Glen Canyon for two more upriver.
The Colorado River in the 20th century is an issue that has ignited and reignited the conservation movement, from John Wesley Powell to Buzz Holmstrom to David Brower right on down to our current era. Let’s not forget about this great river in the 21st century. Log onto our new website to see how you can get involved. We are looking for sponsors at ten cents a mile for the 1,000-mile journey. Sponsors will receive, along with a tax deduction, special updates, photos and videos via e-mail from the crew.
As I said, you don’t have to go very far for an adventure. For all its problems, we still live in a big, wild country. As Ed Abbey has said, it’s not enough just to fight for wild country: one must enjoy it, celebrate it, and share it with others. We hope you will join us in our effort to bring this river back to life.