Miles to go

Miles to go

The Emerald Mile’s record is still safe. Earlier this month, a team of rafters attempted to break the historic wooden dory’s speed record for an oar rig on the Grand Canyon. But, when the hybrid raft-atamaran reached Pearce Ferry on Jan. 11, 37 hours and 55 minutes after launching from Lee’s Ferry, it was an hour and 7 minutes off the Emerald Mile’s pace.

According to a story in Adventure Journal, the modern rig, an eight-person inflatable catamaran with outrigger oars, had one major disadvantage from the record-setting run in 1983. When the Emerald Mile set sail, flows were at an astonishingly thumpy 72,000 cfs. When the 40-foot cataraft launched, flows were at a comparatively anemic 14,500 cfs.

This wasn’t the first attempt for captain John Mark Seelig and much of his crew, many of whom are members of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team. Three years ago, they also attempted the record – and failed – in a similar craft. That time, Lava Falls claimed the crew, flipping the raft and causing a costly delay for repairs.

For the second push, the crew designed and built a custom cataraft, rigging it with six sliding-seat rowing setups similar to racing shells. It also came equipped with a steering oar, like sweep boats on the Salmon River. This time, they enlisted the help of veteran Grand Canyon guides Justin Salamon, Lyndsay Hupp and Omar Martinez to help navigate through the Canyon’s 130-odd rapids, most of which were run in the dark.

Although the nighttime run through Lava was spot-on, it wasn’t enough for the win. It was, however, a victory for Grand Canyon Youth. The trip raised more than $13,000 for the organization that provides river experiences to young people in the Southwest.

The overall speed record for all manner of craft on the Grand was broken in 2016 by none other than Durango native Matt Klema. An off-the-couch run by he and a group calling themselves “Team Beer” – armed with borrowed kayaks and a bucket of fried chicken – crossed the finish line in 35 hours and 5 minutes. However, like the chicken, victory was fleeting. Three days later, solo kayaker Ben Orkin, in a carbon-fiber sea kayak, beat their time at 34 hours, 2 minutes. Orkin still holds the record to this day.

Will the rafta-maraners try again?

Seelig confided that during the run, morale was low. “We’re yelling in the boat, ‘Screw this! We’re going to burn this boat!’” he told AJ.

But, there’s nothing like a hot shower, dry clothes and the light of day to change a river-runner’s outlook. “As soon as the sun came up, we all started talking about what could be different. I for one would be there in a heartbeat,” Salaman said.

To read more, go to adventure-journal.com.

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