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Review by Tom Martin

It is with great pleasure that I see the life story of Dick Griffith has just been published. I stumbled upon Dick’s exploits with his stunning wife and life companion Isabelle Galo while researching my latest book on Grand Canyon river runners.
The first river runners to run Lava Falls in Grand Canyon were the team of George Flavell and Ramon Montez in 1896 as they piloted the wooden boat PANTHON through the cataract. It took another fifty five years before a rubber raft would attempt the run. That would be Dick Griffith, credited with the first run of Lava in a rubber boat in 1951. The photographer who documented his run was Isabelle.

A year later, Dick and Isabelle were pioneering routes through the Barranca del Cobre along the Urique River in northern Mexico, and by the close of the 1950’s, Dick and Isabelle had moved to Alaska, where Dick began his love affair with long walks over the Wilderness of the arctic.

While the book recounts one man’s love affair with Wilderness, it also chronicles a change to the land and people of remote landscapes. Indeed, the remote Grand Canyon and Urique Barranca Dick knew are gone, and the arctic badlands now team with snow machines and sport hunters. At one point in 1999, late in Dick’s wanderings, an old Eskimo woman followed Dick out of Cambridge Bay into the icy Wildlands. Dick wrote in his journal “…She wanted to go back to the land where life was not easy but a happy one and like myself she must have loved the memories of a simple basic life.”

While I would have liked to hear more about Dick’s travels in the Himalaya, one of “…three magic places in this world,” the book is filled with enough adventures to keep anyone occupied, and author Kaylene Johnson has done a superb job of recounting Dick and Isabelle’s travels.

Even though Dick may not be the first person to travel through part of Grand Canyon in a pack raft, that “first” possibly going to Frank Moltzen and Neal Newby in 1956, Dick’s willingness to attempt the Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek section of the river, sans permit in 1991 in a packraft at the age of sixty-three, demonstrates a willingness to test the boundaries of human endurance and our relationship to wild landscapes few others have attempted.

This January while the Grand Canyon History Symposium was underway at the South Rim of the Park, eight-four year old Dick Griffith was out making Grand Canon history yet again. Dick and a small group of friends launched from Lee’s Ferry for another river run through Grand Canyon by boat. Sixty-two years after his first run of Lava Falls, Dick now holds the record for the longest span of Grand Canyon river running. I hope to see Dick on the Grand for many more years to come, and highly recommend this book.

— Tom Martin co-founded the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association and River Runners for Wilderness. He presently serves as Secretary of the Grand Canyon Historical Society. He is the author of several books including the recently released Big Water, Little Boats: Moulty Fulmer and the First Grand Canyon Dory on the Last of the Wild Colorado.

 

Review by Roman Dial

Canyons and Ice is a non-fiction account of an unbelievable life, the life of Dick Griffith.

At 85, Dick Griffith has lived several lives, and this is the book that tells those stories.

Based on more than 500 pages of his notes and journals and well-illustrated with his photos spanning over sixty years, this is the definitive Dick Griffith book, the one  that we have all been waiting for. It’s a biography, not autobiography, so it is much closer to his personal style and demeanor: ego-free.

In his 20s Dick was a canyoneer in Mexico before that term was coined, and whitewater rafter, taking his wife down Glen, Grand, and Copper Canyons in the 1950s. In his thirties, the year Alaska was granted Statehood, he traversed half the Brooks Range, solo and living off the land. In his 40s he took his two kids and their friends all over the Chugach Mountains and completed his traverse of the Brooks Range. In his 50s he introduced packrafting to the rest of us during the original adventure race, the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic. In his 60s and 70s and on skis he followed the Arctic coast of Alaska and the Northwest Passage to Hudson Bay, solo; at 64 he paddled the Grand Canyon in an open Sherpa Packraft (pre-Alpacka with smaller tubes and no spraydeck) also solo.

But there is much more to Dick than these wilderness adventures and fortunately for the rest of us, this book captures much of the human and family side of this great man.

The book is not a chronology of his un-sung achievements. No, it’s a well-crafted narrative that intertwines these achievements with quotes and observations of Dick, his family, and his friends.

Having been fortunate enough to know Dick and read some of his journals, I feared that something of the unique quality of his voice, the “aw-shucks” wit and humor would be lost. But his insightful one-liners are there and all the stories are well-told and true.

The only critique is that the book should have been published in hardback.

This book deserves a lasting place on our bookshelves.

— Roman Dial is a professor at Alaska Pacific University, teaching courses in ecology, outdoor skills, and math. He has climbed, hiked, and skied across the major mountain ranges of Alaska. Roman’s 800-mile mountain bike traverse of the Alaska Range was featured in the May 1997 issue of National Geographic magazine, his “canopy trek” through Australia in the March 2003 issue, and his expedition to find Borneo’s tallest tropical tree in the July 2006 issue. He is the author of Packrafing!

 

Review by Craig Medred

Dick Griffith has lived the sort of big, wild life that most cardboard-cutout adventurers of today only dream of living. He has engaged the wilderness in his own way on his own terms without ever once pandering to sponsors. He has undertaken adventures hard to believe, and survived every one of them. The result is a life so awe inspiring you may not believe this book true. But every damn word is as real as the north-country dangers that have killed lesser men.

– Craig Medred, is reporter for Alaska Dispatch, long-time outdoor columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and author of Graveyard of Dreams.” 

 

Review by Jon Krakauer

In Canyons and Ice, Kaylene Johnson recounts the adventures of Dick Griffith, who has undertaken a series of remarkable wilderness journeys across Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and the American West over the past six decades. On at least one of these trips he barely survived. Stoical, utterly self-reliant, and attracted by challenges of immense scale, Griffith brings to mind heroic figures of an earlier, less craven era — stalwart individuals like Shackleton, Amundsen, Nansen, and Stefansson who explored some of the least hospitable places on earth without benefit of GPS, Gore-Tex, or the possibility of rescue. Unlike most of his celebrated antecedents, however, Griffith’s motives for seeking a life of risk and hardship had nothing to do with a desire for wealth or prestige.  As this gripping and inspiring book explains, Griffith is simply “afflicted” with an irresistible inclination to attempt what others say can’t be done. When asked what possesses a man to repeatedly strike out alone across hundreds of miles of rugged, lonely country, he replies, “Every so often, it’s just time to walk.”

– Jon Krakauer, Author of Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Where Men Win Glory

 

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