#Colorado rafting team falls short in second attempt at speed record down the #GrandCanyon — The Colorado Sun

The U.S. Rafting Team has enlisted three veteran Grand Canyon guides in a mission to set a new speed record for descending the Colorado River’s 277 miles through the canyon. The team tested a new raft design last month on the Ruby Horsethief and Westwater canyons, rowing from Loma to Utah’s Dewey Bridge in about nine hours. (Robbie Prechtl, special to The Colorado Sun)

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

They finished in 37 hours, 55 minutes, missing the 34-hour, 2-minute record set by kayaker Ben Orkin in 2016.

As the miles and minutes passed, the crew on the customized cataraft was feeling strong and pulling hard on their oars, but their pace slipping.

“We just didn’t have enough water,” said John Mark Seelig, whose Colorado-based U.S. Rafting Team was joined by three veteran Colorado River guides on Friday and Saturday in a speed-record attempt to descend 277 miles through the Grand Canyon

As the river dipped to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the crew outraced a pulse of water released from the Glen Canyon Dam upstream, the record slipped away…

The team of eight arrived at Phantom Ranch, at mile 88, at 11 a.m. on Friday, about 11 hours after they pushed into the Colorado River from Lees Ferry. That was only four minutes off their pace to reach the Pearce Ferry takeout around 10:20 a.m. Saturday. But that was also the peak of the surge released from Glen Canyon Dam. Holding close to a 5 mph rowing speed, the water slowed down with each mile. By midnight, the river had dropped from a daily high of close to 14,500 cfs to around 10,500 cfs

Speed records have a long history in the Grand Canyon, dating back to 14-day descents in the late 1800s on log rafts captained by adventurers who likely weren’t racing but simply rowing. In 1951 Grand Junction brothers Bob and Jim Rigg set out to purposely set the speed record. They pushed their wooden row boat into the river at Lees Ferry when the river was roaring at 43,100 cfs and finished in 52 hours and 41 minutes. That record stood until 1983, when Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek and Steve Reynolds caught another flood-stage flow and rowed their wooden dory, the “Emerald Mile,” down the canyon in 36 hours, 38 minutes.

In January 2016, Orkin, an accountant in Aurora, paddled his carbon-fiber race kayak solo down the canyon, finishing in 34 hours and 2 minutes. That record was even more remarkable considering he flipped in Lava Falls and swam from his kayak, alone and at night.

The team this weekend had a clean run with zero mishaps.

Lava Falls: “This, I was told, is the biggest drop on the river in the GC. It’s 35 feet from top to bottom of the falls,” John Fowler. The photo was taken from the Toroweap overlook, 7 June 2010, via Wikimedia.

“We got our revenge on Lava. The boat was fantastic. Everything and everyone held up perfectly. We ran the lines we wanted,” Seelig said. “The water just wasn’t there for us.”

Orkin was paddling a narrow, sleek craft that sliced through water. The Emerald Mile was a wooden dory meant to cut through the river. The raft carrying eight — even with a pair of narrow pontoons beneath a lightweight frame — pushes water out of its way. It might not be possible for a raft to set a speed record in the Grand Canyon…

“OK, if someone was like ‘Hey, I have a permit on this date and it’s going to be this flow’ and we have a crew that is training — that’s a lot of variables — maybe who knows,” Seelig said. “But right now, I’m like ‘No way. Never again.’”

Map of Grand Canyon National Park via the NPS

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