December 2007

Imaging a life on the river

By Pamela Lutz

Having just moved to Colorado, I have been on the Colorado River only once. After reading “The Very Hard Way,” I will have Bert Loper on my mind the next river trip I take. I will be imagining the route he would have chosen through a rapid, picturing smoke billowing up from his campfire alongside the river, and imagining what it must have been like to maneuver a rowboat 162 miles UP the Colorado River in January.

“The Very Hard Way” by Brad Dimock is a chronology of Loper’s life, peppered with the story of the legend he became. Loper came to the Four Corners in the late 1800s, fell in love with the Colorado River and spent his life in a relationship with it.

The book is interesting, informative, and fun to read without being bogged down with too much detail. Dimock’s inserts of Loper’s personal writings and correspondence are charming. While acquainting us with Loper, the book also brings to colorful life the rivers in and around the Four Corners. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially if you love rapids.

Dimock demonstrated a great deal of respect for Loper when writing “The Very Hard Way.” Others who have written about Loper go to great lengths to offer opinions about him and what he may or may not have done on various river trips. Dimock purposefully took his extensive research of Loper and presented it in such a way so as not to lend his own opinion, showing respect for his readers by granting them the intelligence to form their own opinions.

Loper’s is an inspiring life. I see someone who took the hardships that were dealt him from an early age and formed them into the courage and rock-solid grit it took to become the unquestioned best upriver traveler in the West, the first man to ever run all the rapids of the Grand Canyon.

It struck me what a shame it is that so many of the rapids he traversed and the canyons he rowed are now gone, under the water displaced by dams. And how ironic that many of the opportunities Loper had to be on the river were provided due to the Bureau of Reclamation and USGS, who were mapping the rivers in search of the perfect places for dams.

As Dimock does, I wonder what Loper would think about the disappearance of so much natural geography and the role he played in it.

The fact that Loper died of a heart attack at the age of 80 while running Rapid 21 of the Grand Canyon, his body seemingly swallowed up by the river, is very poignant.

Loper once wrote, “If I knew that on a certain day I was to pass on I would get in my boat and would land in Grand Canyon on that day for it seems to me that it would be such a nice place to pass on to one that loves the whole set up as I do.”

Lucky Loper.