The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River

“Man must feel the earth to know himself and recognize his values…. God made life simple. It is man who complicates it.”

— Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader’s Digest, July 1972.

Calendar Falls on the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone. One of my favorite spots on the planet.

The sun sets rapidly over the high horizon of the deep canyon, and we do not know how many more miles of whitewater need to be traveled. In front of us is a Class IV rapid leading into a blind corner that cannot be scouted, and our food is nearly gone. But we have a comfortable camp, the scenery is awesome, and the weather is perfect.

Table of Contents:

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River

How Kayaking Ruined my Climbing Career

Glenn Rink rapping off of Snoopies Nose after the first ascent. He forced me to put my name on the waiting list after this trip.

Lava Falls at 75,000 CFS

Mr. Mattson: You are currently number 814 on the waiting list for a private permit to float the Grand Canyon. You may apply as early as next year, but if you wait one year your chances of getting a preferred date will be much better.

“Wow! Maybe I should start kayaking.”  My mind was buzzing with new ideas, as I walked away from the Aspen post office.  I spotted a garage sale a few weeks later, and traded an old pair of skis for an old kayak, and the needed accessories.  I had a small Sears Raft, and managed to talk some friends into a maiden voyage down a class II section of the Roaring Fork river.

Captain Gundy performs a wedding ceremony on his homemade raft at Vacey’s Paradise.




The new craft was an instant hit. The boat was quite stable and could be maneuvered very easily. I was cruising upright around the rocks instead of bouncing upside down over them, and the cold water splashing on my face was very refreshing.

We stopped for lunch on an empty beach with a fabulous view of Mount Sopris, and I felt like I had entered a hidden paradise in my own backyard.

The rest of the story:

Earthquake in the Colca Canyon

Hiking into the deepest canyon in the world.

The steam from the many hot springs and the occasional giant condor made us feel as if we were dropping ever deeper into a great abyss. But as we reveled in the incredible scenery, the rapids became a bit more serious.

First Descent of the Mekong River in Tibet

“Crash! Boom! Bam! Crash! Splash!”

A loud noise startled us, so we looked downstream and saw a large rock avalanche crashing into the rapid — in the very spot where we had thought about lining the rafts. The avalanche also inundated one of the eddies I had thought about catching, and watching the rocks crash into the river brought back harsh memories of the Colca. The avalanche sent a very strong message to everyone else, as well, and as we hid from the rain and enjoyed a warm lunch, we all pondered how dangerous this river really was.

Intense portage through an active rockslide!

Filming “In Winter It’s Chile”

In wilderness, I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.”

— Charles A. Lindbergh, in LIFE Magazine, Dec. 22, 1967

Paul Sharpe filming “Kevins Dream” in Pucon, Chile with a lot of help from the locals.

“What in the heck are you gringos doing on top of my bus?” the bus driver asked suspiciously in Spanish.

No comprende, no problema (I don’t understand, but it’s not a problem),” Kevin replied, as he boldly climbed onto the roof of the bus with his ropes. Paul climbed inside the bus to secure them, and I pushed the three kayaks up to Kevin, while the driver watched in bewilderment.

Table of Contents

The Rivers of Chile