As if having the Grand in your backyard wasn’t good enough, Arizona paddler Tyler Williams has stepped up his penchant for stroking by embarking on a Source to Sea expedition, exploring western North America’s four major rivers from headwater to salt water. This year’s mission: The Columbia.
Williams’ quest is to run the continent’s principal Pacific-draining waterways–the Fraser, Columbia, Yukon, and Colorado–from source to sea. “A source to sea trip provides unique insight to a region, its people, and the interdependence of man and environment,” he says, citing Prijon and Werner Paddles among his sponsors. “These trips will link wild mountains with rural communities, while riding the lifeblood of the continent.”
From the seat of his boat, Tyler has already gained a first hand view of dams that produce energy but kill salmon, reservoirs that are revered by some and reviled by others, agricultural diversions that help grow food but pollute our environment. “I’ve come face to face with issues that we as a culture must confront,” he says.
In 2006, Williams became the first to descend the entire length of the 800-mile-long Fraser River. That trip descended 6,500 vertical feet, required three boats, and traveled from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It would be the first in his source to sea odyssey. This year, he’s in the midst of his second source-to-sea trip, this one down the Columbia.
He started buy hiking into Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, where located the Salmon’s highest source before launching in a portable pack raft. Near Stanley, Idaho, he switched to a whitewater kayak to ride springtime’s melt for 425 miles to the Snake River.
He’s now somewhere below that, continuing by motorized canoe. He plans to cross 145 miles of the lower Snake reservoirs, where many young salmon perish in their race to reach the sea, and after joining the Columbia he hopes to pass through the Cascade Range by mid-July. At Bonneville Dam, the last of the Columbia’s 11 mainstem dams, he’ll switch to a sea kayak for the remaining 146 miles to the ocean.
His final challenge lies in negotiating a treacherous ocean break at the mouth of the Columbia—one that has sunk countless ships far bigger than his sea kayak. Should he reach mother ocean, Tyler will have completed leg number two in his odyssey of headwaters to salt waters. “It’ll two down, two to go,” he says.