By Tim Sattelmeier
Haldane “Buzz” Holmstrom was a humble gas station attendant from Idaho and instantly a legend when he ran alone from Green River, Wyoming down the Green River to the Colorado River and on through Grand Canyon, rowing across the Lake Mead impoundment, bumping the boat he made with his own hands against Hoover Dam in 1937. River guides sitting around campfires anywhere along that eleven hundred miles of river still debate whether they find the solo nature of his trip the most impressive aspect or that he rowed almost every rapid and every rapid on a second trip the next year; both feats were firsts at the time and now are no-longer repeatable. I, like many guides, have stood quietly at the inscription just above Harp Falls in Lodore Canyon and told his story, read the following quote and reflected on how his simple eloquence illuminates an essence of this thing that we do and his connection to this place that I love.
Buzz Holmstrom: Log of 1937 “A Final Thought”
The River & Canyons have been kind to me – I think my greatest danger is ahead – that I might get swellheaded over this thing – I am going to try to keep my mouth shut about it – go back to work in the old way & have it only for a memory for myself – I have done no one any good & caused a few people great worry & suffering I know.
I think this river is not treacherous as has been said – every rapid speaks plainly just what it is and what it will do to a person and a boat in its currents waves, boils, whirlpools, and rocks – if only one will read and listen carefully. It demands respect and will punish those who do not treat it properly. Some places it says “go here safely if you do it just this way” and in others it says “do not go here at all with the type of boat you have.” …but many people will not believe what it says.
Some people have said “I conquered the Colorado River” – I don’t say so. It has never been conquered and never will I think. Anyone who it allows to go through its canyons and see its wonders should feel thankful and privileged…
I know I have gotten more out of this trip by being alone than if a party was along as I have more time, especially at night, to listen and look and think and wonder about the natural wonders, rather than listen to talk of war politics and football scores. The River probably thought – he is such a lonesome ignorant unimportant and insignificant pitiful little creature – with such a short time to live that I will let him go this time and try to teach him something. It has not been so kind to many prouder people than I…
For the full story on Buzz Holmstrom read “The Doing of The Thing” The Brief Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom by Vince Welch, Cort Conley & Brad Dimock from Fretwater Press.
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