I won't ever forget the day I found out that Jeff passed away on the Stikine river. The text messages starting coming in early in the morning. By the afternoon BoaterTalk servers were overloaded as the paddling world searched for answers that would never come, and remembered a paddling legend that had passed on the river.
When I learned that Jeff passed while attempting to complete the first solo day run of the Stikine, I was left with an empty feeling... we would never fully know what happened to Jeff. To many, Jeff was unstoppable, undefeatable, if anyone could do it... Jeff could do it. Was the Stikine solo in a day a challenge simply too big for even Jeff to accomplish?
I just read Doug Ammon's words on Jeff's passing, and he noted that Jeff paddled the Stikine from Pass Fail to the takeout in a day solo after Doug got airlifted out by a chopper. I also recall word from a creature craft crew that they saw Jeff portaging at Site Zed during his next run when he was attempting his solo in a day.
After reading accounts of the river, it occured to me that Site Zed is further downstream than Pass Fail, and that Jeff would have paddled the entire length of the Stikine solo (last 70% after Doug evac, first 30%+ on his solo attempt) during his two runs, and that the linked timing together would have been less than 24 hrs. When this thought hit me... it brought a smile to my face. In my mind... Jeff did it. He paddled the Stikine solo in under 24 hours with the asterisk that the attempt was over 2 days.
The Stikine is widely regarded as the Everest of Kayaking... the pinnacle of V+ expedition kayaking, one of the hardest runs out there. To solo it requires the highest level of committment in paddling, and to do it in a day (normally done it 3), requires the highest level of strength, skill, and courage. One could argue that doing the one day solo Stikine run was the next big step in a long and neverending series of paddling accomplishments that push the sport ever forward, ever raising the bar.
When I first heard about Jeff's passing, my initial thoughts were around how tragic is was that Jeff died in a failed
attempt to solo the stikine in a day. After thinking more about it... I still struggle with Jeff's tragic passing, but now I like to think that Jeff died while accomplishing
one of the most audacious and bold attempts to date in the sport of kayaking. Jeff accomplished the solo stikine in under 24 hrs total, but he died before he could get to the takeout safely. Like a mountaineer who reached the summit, but died on the way back down... Jeff reached his peak, and was overcome on the way back. I my mind I guess it brings me some solace knowing that even in death, Jeff pushed the bar in kayaking one notch higher, like he always did in life.
Jeff West... first to paddle the Stikine solo in under 24 hours total. His last great accomplishment.
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