Colorado-based rafting team just misses Grand Canyon speed record
The raft was lined up perfectly for the massive rapid.
The Colorado-based team — eight accomplished paddlers on sliding seats atop a 48-foot custom raft designed to fly down the Grand Canyon — was on pace for a record.
Suddenly the boat was vertical. Then it was broken.
“It sounded like a gunshot,” said Ian Anderson.
“Followed by the sound of a jet engine,” said Seth Mason.
In the pitch black of night on the Colorado River’s burly Lava Falls rapid, an aluminum bar had snapped and punctured a 4-inch hole in the inflatable beam of the custom-built craft. The air hissing from the punctured tube wasn’t just the sound of trouble. It signaled the dissipation of a dream to paddle the 277-mile length of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon in record time.
“It was an exciting couple moments. There was this elation that we had made it through and we had such a clean line and then coming face-to-face with the reality that our boat was sinking,” said Mason, one of seven whitewater athletes who had spent the last year training and designing the speediest raft with a goal of breaking a record set by a kayaker. “It was an emotional roller coaster.”
In the roiling eddy below Lava, the sleep-deprived paddlers — they had been rowing non-stop for more than 20 hours — boiled water to heat a patch. It was dark and raining. The patches weren’t sticking. The tube wouldn’t inflate to the hard pressure needed for speed.
“We really limped out of there,” Mason said of the last nine hours of dejected flatwater paddling below Lava. “We had abandoned the plan and recognized that any dream for a record was gone. At that point, we were aiming to get out alive.”
The six members of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team — the Eagle River Valley’s Jeremiah Williams, John Mark Seelig, Robbie Prechtl and Kurt Kincel, Seth Mason of Carbondale and Matt Norfleet of Breckenridge — spent more than a year building this mission. The team before them — the world champion Behind the 8-Ball rafting team — had set a 24-hour record in a similar vessel in 2006, paddling from the Upper Colorado below Gore Canyon to Moab.
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While Lindsey Vonn remains the most successful female skier in World Cup history with 82 victories (the 25-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin has 68 wins and counting), her haul already pales in comparison to Shiffrin.