The trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River covers 277 miles, if you float through on a raft. But try to walk the gorge from Lee’s Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs, and you’ll scramble some 800 miles over treacherous terrain.
Kevin Fedarko, author of the “The Emerald Mile,” about three men who made the fastest recorded trip through the Grand Canyon during a flood in 1983, is working on a new book about that journey.
Fedarko spent 14 months hiking the uncharted route with photographer Pete McBride, whose work highlights the environmental struggle facing American rivers. “(McBride) came to me in 2014 and said, ‘We need to do this,’ – which was an absolutely terrible idea,” Fedarko said.
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The two spent weeks at a time scrambling over boulders and blazing their own path through brush and sun-baked cliffs to accomplish their goal.
“You have to walk into side canyons, and there’s no trail that will carry you by land through it,” he says. “You’re trying to piece together a route that’s trying to resist travel. There’s only one highway through there, and that’s the river.”
The duo began hiking in September 2015 and finished in November 2016. Fedarko says he learned a lot in that time.
“Although it’s one of America’s iconic national parks, it’s one taken from 11 tribes that occupied that space for thousands of years before we arrived,” he says. “They were written out but retain a connection to the canyon and continue to draw sustenance from it – and still do today.”
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Fedarko says the hike reframed his understanding of the Grand Canyon, refocusing it through the lens of the people who lived there the longest.
He’s spent the last six years writing about the rugged trip. He says he’s a year and a half behind schedule and describes the writing process as terrible. He expects the book to hit store shelves in 2023 or 2024.
“I’m just coming out of the prairie dog hole where writers work,” he says.
Fedarko was in Austin this week to promote a different book project called “Whitewater.” That book, a compilation of photographs and essays highlighting the chaos and beauty of rapidly moving water, was produced by Austin-based Yeti, which manufactures coolers and insulated drinkware. Fedarko edited the essays contained in the book and wrote its forward.