Kayakers Attempt to Break Record, Set another One Instead
The Grand Canyon is full of opportunities to have a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and for many rafters all across the world, the Colorado River that runs through and continues to form the canyon is the ultimate thrill. Many records still stand, just waiting to be broken by world-class kayakers and rafters, and on January 7th, two men launched in two separate kayaks with one goal: traverse the Colorado River’s 277 miles between Lee’s Ferry and the Grand Wash Cliffs faster than anyone else has before, shattering a record that’s been held since 1983.
As you may have guessed, this is no small task, even for veteran Colorado River guides Ben Orkin and Harrison Rea. From the beginning, a disadvantage was clear for the two seasoned guides: the original record was set by a dory, and the river was experiencing flood-stage flow making it much quicker to traverse naturally. Grand Canyon tours are one thing, but moving through a violent and unpredictable river as fast as possible is a very dangerous task that Orkin and Rea took on knowing their disadvantage. They could only get a permit to try the trip in January, so without hesitation they decided to go for it.
In high-performance kayaks, the group set out to complete the 277 mile trip in less than 36 hours and 38 minutes, and until the home stretch of the journey, claiming victory seemed like only a matter of time. Unfortunately, those high-performance kayaks traded their resilience for speed, and the fragile vessel of Harrison Rea just couldn’t take the abuse of the notorious Crystal Rapids. Rea collided with a rock, hidden beneath the ever-moving foam, and his boat capsized quickly. The group managed to rescue Rea, who incredibly sustained no injuries, and set back out on the river just in time to very nearly beat the record.
Unfortunately, when Orkin arrived at Grand Wash Cliffs, a full 37 hours and 48 minutes had passed since they launched. The record was nearly beaten, but Orkin was just an hour and ten minutes late, and without the assistance of fast-moving flood waters, nearly beat a record set under absolutely perfect conditions.
This story has a silver lining, despite the accident and despite the fact that the record wasn’t broken. Orkin failed to beat the non-motorized record he’d originally set out to beat, but during his attempt, he shattered the record for fastest kayaker to complete the canyon. The previous record, set in the late ‘70s by whitewater pioneer Fletcher Anderson, was 49 hours, and Orkin beat the record by over 11 hours without even realizing it.
While Rea and Orkin may have fallen just short of their original goal, their daring attempt to triumph against high-stacked odds will be remembered forever, and for Orkin at least, will be held in the record books until someone comes along to break the kayaking record set. If Orkin makes another attempt at beating the non-motorized record, he may just succeed, breaking not only the record he originally sought to break, but a second one he set himself.
Have you ever taken a guided tour of the canyon from within? Would you ever consider rafting along the canyon yourself? Share your ideas with us in the comments section below!