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By Tom Pamperin


Tuesday, March 20

Six months ago I had the good luck to meet Dave Mortenson, who has introduced me to an entire world of river runners, canyoneers, and yes, boat builders, a group that spans the decades from the 1940s to today. Norm Nevills. Moulty Fulmer. Brick Mortenson. P. T. (aka Pat) Reilly. Men mixed up in the beginning of modern Grand Canyon river trips and the origins of the dory-based whitewater boats still used to run the river even now. Mortenson and his friends know the history of Grand Canyon river running—they’ve lived it, told stories about those days, written books and made films about the early river runners.

And those early trips! It’s tempting to think of the past as a Golden Age, easy to romanticize things and forget the advantages of our own time. I’m certainly guilty of that; modernity seldom suits me, with its rejection of the real world—the one I want to live in—and its proselytizing enthusiasm for the digital and online replacements that threaten to overwhelm us. But if there is such a thing as a Golden Age, the 1940s and 1950s was probably it for Grand Canyon river rats. These were men—and women—who ran the river with a degree of self-sufficiency that would be an anachronism in today’s world of cell phones and GPS. They designed and built their own boats, dragged them to the river on rutted tracks that deserved the label of “road” only at the best of times, and when they ran into trouble on the river, they got themselves out of it.

And now, thanks to the river runners and boat builders that I’ve started to meet through Dave Mortenson, the boats of the 1950s are returning to Grand Canyon. 2011 saw three replicas of 1950s boats run Grand Canyon; this spring will see five replicas of 1950s and 60s boats on the river.

PT "Pat" Reilly, Moulty Fulmer and Brick Mortenson discuss final plans before their launch in 1957 on the highest water ever run - 126,000 cfs.

So, this blog: a record of a trip through Grand Canyon, in boats first designed and built by Moulty Fulmer and Pat Reilly in the 1950s and 60s. We’ll follow in their wake, camping where they camped, matching their photos with the river today. Along the way you’ll meet the boats, the people who built them, and, I hope, get some sense of what it’s like to run the Colorado River these days from the perspective of someone (me) who’s never done anything like it before. Twenty-four days and almost three hundred miles on the river, chasing ghosts in Grand Canyon.

We’ll try to post a new update every day—but, canyons being what they are, that may not always be possible. We’ll do our best. Meanwhile, you can find out more about the Grand Canyon scene and the history of river running, along with pictures and video clips of the boats you’ll meet in this blog, at:


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