Kenton Grua, a fearless young boatman obsessed with the Grand Canyon, was the first person to ever walk the entire length of the Grand Canyon. Yet it was not notoriety he was after; what drove him was his penchant for a good challenge and his immutable love for the Canyon. Nor was he seeking fame in 1983, when he helped set the speed record for boating down the Colorado River. That year saw a record snowpack in the Rockies that would test the limits of Glen Canyon Dam. In order to keep the dam from bursting, they opened the spillways for the first time ever and slowly increased the water to 92,000 cfs, seven times the usual flow.
Grua in the Emerald Mile, Photographer: Rudi Petschek
The lure of setting a speed record, despite the Park Service strictly forbidding the attempt, was too great to resist. Grua, along with Rudi Petschek and Steve Reynolds, launched the Emerald Mile under the glow of a moonlit night in June of ’83 at Lee’s Ferry. Although all three knew the canyon well, they were caught off guard by just how gnarly the rapids had become. The group barreled down the Canyon at remarkable speed, the river hydraulics flinging the dory about like a rubber ducky.
Their adventure came to a screeching halt at mile 98, where Crystal Rapid had turned into a seething three-story high wall of water. The dory became one of many boats to flip in Crystal that year. The three men were hurled into the river and became easy targets for the underwater turbulents. Somehow they all managed to get back to the boat. The group, battered physically and emotionally, continued onward. After 277 miles of non-stop rowing, they crossed the Grand Wash Fault with a time of 36 hours and 38 minutes, a record that still stands today. This story, and many others, is often told by our guides on Grand Canyon Whitewater river trips.