Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith chronicles the far-flung journeys of Alaskan legend Dick Griffith, and now it’s official. His story is being made into a film.
A PBS documentary about Griffith’s life was fully-funded as of April 5, thanks to partnerships with Alaska Public Media, a Rasmuson Foundation grant, the generous support of Dr. John Lapkass, and the contributions of dozens of people in and outside of Alaska who donated to the campaign.
Even before he trekked more than 6,000 miles across Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, Griffith was a pioneer of river rafting on the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 1952, he and his late wife, Isabelle, were the first to descend the dangerous Barrance del Cobre in Mexico, a feat no one had achieved until then. Over his adventure career, he raced in 17 Alaska Wilderness Classics finishing his last one at the age of 81. He eventually stopped counting all the miles he trekked in Asia.
Closer to home, Griffith has been an avid volunteer and benefactor to the Eagle River Nature Center.
My boys, Erik and Mark (now grown), first met him on the trails hear Icicle Creek where they were working on a Boy Scout trail project. A white-haired “old guy” appeared out of nowhere in a packraft. Griffith helped the boys for a while, then got back in his little boat and floated away down Eagle River.
Several years ago, when Mark heard that I was writing Griffith’s biography, he was skeptical. “Mom,” he said. “I don’t think you have enough testosterone to write that book.”
Mark Twain wrote, “Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.”
Challenged by my son’s words and leaning on Twain’s, I pored over Griffith’s journals wondering which stories out of hundreds should wind up in the book. How can an entire lifetime be captured in less than 300 pages of text and photos? Even more, how can the complexities of the human spirit – one as notable as Griffith’s – be expressed within the limitations of paper and ink?
The answer is simply – it can’t. So, I set about penning the story of a man who would have you believe that he is just some ordinary guy who has taken a few trips in the wilderness. No big deal.
In spite of his reluctance to receive accolades or recognition, Griffith is far from ordinary. His aspirations have been a quiet quest to explore not only his beloved wilderness but, across thousands of miles of canyons and ice, to test the possibilities of human endurance.
The voices of history echo triumph and regret, jubilation and despair. Griffith experienced nearly every trial the wilderness could dish up. Although most of us may never set out on epic quests across continents, we do have ideas about what we’d like to achieve in our lifetime. Sometimes common sense discourages us from even trying; there is always that one obstacle that seems too big to overcome. And there is always tomorrow that keeps us from taking that first step – today.
Dick’s life reflects the notion that courage is not the idea of a thing, but rather, the doing of it.
It lies in the daily decisions, big and small, that determine the course of a person’s life. In Dick’s case, some of those decisions took him solo and unassisted on a journey across the Northwest Passage. Just last year, in 2017 at the age of 89, he made the decision to raft down the Colorado River one last time.
Dick’s wisdom and persistence in putting one foot in front of the other is apparent in all aspects of his life. A friend going through a difficult time once asked him, “How are you supposed to get through these things?” He replied, “You just keep walking.”
After 6,000 miles and 8.5 million steps in the North country alone, he should know.
Dick has spent a lifetime avoiding fame, but alas to him and happily for us, it has found him. The PBS documentary Canyons and Ice: The Last Run of Dick Griffith will feature Griffith, at 89, attempting to row Grand Canyon’s infamous Lava Falls.
Yet another adventure just beyond the realm of common sense.
Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is the author of Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith and other books. For more information visit her website: www.kaylene.us