An Alaskan legend just reached another milestone yesterday when Dick Griffith, adventurer extraordinaire, turned 90 years old. I was fortunate enough to be included in the celebration and also document the event with photos.
Born in a one-room farmhouse in southwest Colorado, the family moved to a homestead in rural Wyoming when Dick turned 8 years old, one year after he had contracted scarlet fever. Although he survived, a young companion and friend of his did not. Later, at age 16, Dick had a bout with rheumatic fever that left him with a heart murmur. Due to this medical condition, the US military deemed him physically unfit to serve after high school and it seems that Dick has spent the rest of his life proving them wrong. He was one of the first people to raft the Grand Canyon and also explored parts of Glen Canyon prior the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, which created Lake Powell and flooded much of the area along with the many Native American dwellings and artifacts. In addition to exploring the American Southwest, Dick also made first-ever voyages down canyons in Mexico and trekked through the Himalayas in Nepal. Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was when Dick decided to cross the arctic coast of North America on skis, from northwest Alaska to Eastern Canada, a feat that took him years to accomplish, completing it in segments. This cold weather travel came with its share of obstacles, including confronting hungry polar bears unarmed and at one point near Anaktuvuk Pass in Alaska’s Brooks Range, he literally froze his a$$ off (you can see the photos and read all about it in his biography, Canyons and Ice, written by New York Times bestselling author and fellow Alaskan, Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan).
In addition to being the first person to float through turbulent sections in canyon country, he is also credited by many current explorers as being the pioneer of the modern sport of pack rafting. Is spite of his accomplishments, Dick never sought recognition and scoffs at the idea of being referred to as any sort of legend, though it tough to deny that there are few people with his courage and adventurous spirit. Happy 90th birthday to you, sir. I believe it is safe to say that you have disproven any notion that you were not physically fit to serve in the military. For no matter where in the world my own far-flung adventures may take me, I will never hold a candle to you.
You can learn more about Dick Griffith and order a copy of Canyons and Ice here: https://www.facebook.com/canyonsandice/