Mission: Improbable

Kayaker Erik Boomer's audacious plan to paddle 45 miles of the world's hardest whitewater—in a single day

The deep and dark grand Canyon of Stikine.     Photo: Erik Boomer

British Columbia’s Grand Canyon of the Stikine River is one of the great whitewater problems: a 45-mile stretch of Class V–VI rapids that has been successfully paddled by fewer than a hundred kayakers. Of those, only one has done it alone: Doug Ammons, the legendary 55-year-old boater from Missoula, Montana, who is shrouded by kayakers in the same oracular light as Reinhold Messner is by mountaineers. This month, Erik Boomer, a 27-year-old photographer from McCall, Idaho, plans to one-up Ammons by paddling the Stikine alone—in one day.

“It’s every bit the equivalent of soloing a major Himalayan peak,” says Ammons, who took three days to run it himself in 1992. “Looking at people coming up, I knew Erik would be the one to do it.”

Boomer, who logged a first descent of Quebec’s 100-foot Chutes à Magnan waterfall in April 2011 and spent 104 days circumnavigating Canada’s Ellesmere Island by sea kayak last summer, plans to “create a mental map” of the Stikine’s 40 massive rapids by taking a couple of warm-up runs with a team before his solo attempt. Once he knows the lines, he’ll launch alone at first light and spend the next seven to 10 hours in the sheer-walled, 1,000-foot-deep gorge. “I see it as the culmination of all my skills,” he says. “It’s a soul project.”

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