Kayaker Attempts New Grand Canyon Speed Record

The route for the speed record attempt (credit: Canoe & Kayak)

While the average athlete may fit in a workout before chowing down on turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, Harlan Taney has a different plan for Thanksgiving: to paddle 276 miles in 36 hours.

Taney has his sights set on a new speed record through the Grand Canyon—an attempt popular with paddling masochists over the last 50 years.

The first speed run was done on a whim in 1951 by brothers Jim and Bob Rigg. Paddling wooden boats, the men camped out at Bass Camp their first night and arrived at the end of the Canyon on day three. All told, the trip took 50 hours.

Thirty years passed before another team beat the Rigg brothers' time...but not by much. Kenton "Factor" Grua, Rudi Petschek, and Wally Rist finished the trip in 48 hours. Two years later, Grua and Patschek returned to lay a more solid claim on their record. They launched under a full moon from Lees Ferry and rowed nonstop, passing the end of the Grand Wash Cliffs in 36 hours, 38 minutes.  The time was considered unbeatable.

Taney faces the additional challenge of doing almost the entire trip solo, however he does have a few key advantages. The most obvious is the federally scheduled water release of the Glen Canyon dam. Previously, kayakers watched water levels and went when the waters were high, but the new age of controlled high-flow events gives Taney a unique advantage. Taney is working closely with a hydrologist to coordinate his launch in order to ride the flood for 24 hours and to avoid outrunning the water.

The paddler also knows the canyon well. He's a Flagstaff, AZ native who has guided the Colorado River for 15 years. With more than 100 runs under his belt, he's just as equipped as any of his predecessors.

Taney will also have some help from paddler Dave Dill, who will join him at Diamond creek and pace him through the Canyon's final fifty miles. For the last 37- mile stretch, there will also be a boat ready to offer Taney support.

And finally, there's Taney's boat. Taney will make the trip in a 18-foot fiberglass EPIC X donated to him by flatwater speed icon Greg Barton. The boat is designed to be fast, which can't hurt on this mission.

Taney will launch at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 21 and will paddle through Soap Creek, House Rock and Roaring Twenties in the dark with the help of Petzl headlamp. He will run the upper and middle gorges in daylight and then, as night falls, he will take on the 205-mile rapid below Lava Falls. This will be the hardest and most dangerous part of the trip, as the jagged river bottom can be treacherous and Taney will already be fatigued.

Although he has paddled the Colorado many times, Taney still considers this trip unique.

"The Grand Canyon Speed Run for me will be exhilarating and an amazing adventure," he said in an interview with the Outdoor Industry Association. "But it will also be a way for me to experience the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River on whole new terms; just me, alone with my kayak, exhausted, paddling downstream on a river in flood."

Via Canoe & Kayak and the Outdoor Industry Association.