In the winter of 1983, the largest El Niño 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.
Mark L. says:"The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko is a remarkable book that evokes an adventure so well that the reader can become immersed in its places and events. Set in the Grand Canyon and centered around an attempt to run the Colorado river in a wooden boat for the fastest time ever, Fedarko tells far more than just this event and shows us an unsuspected world, from the history of the canyon, its first discovery by conquistadors, John Wesley Powell's exploration, the projects to dam the river, the environmental movement backlash, and the development of the subculture of river runners and the tourism that supports them. All these tributaries of narrative make the central tale far richer and nuanced than a simple adventure story, and more enjoyable.
Spring thaw in 1983 brought more water, faster than at any time since the dams were constructed and we see the struggles of both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation as they try to manage the potentially deadly and destructive effects of the unprecedented runoff. The park service is caught between preventing fatalities and not depriving people of trips that were years in the planning, and the bureau has to manage releasing the water so as to minimize the damage to and avoid failure of critical components of the Glenn Canyon dam. The drama in the competing aims, contrasting points of view, and the clashes of legitimate authority with traditional freedoms is as turbulent as the river.
This book is a perfect choice for anyone who loved Into Thin Air and should find a place for itself as a classic in outdoor adventure literature."