First Kayak Descent of the Niagara River Gorge

"Many have come to pitt their strength and cunning against the churning waters of the Great Niagara Gorge. Some made it. Some didn't." -Niagara Daredevil Museum Placard.

Thirty shirtless river guides were packed into the sweltering dormitory room; the machismo was almost as overpowering as the stench. Chris Spelius (known as ‘Spe’ to almost everyone) was excitedly narrating a ridiculously poor quality 8 mm film . Shot from a bridge high above the rapids, the grainy often out of focus footage gave it the look of an expedition documentary from the turn of the century. The two kayakers – Spe and another western boater, Ken Lagergren – were barely discernible in the maw of whitewater. Their runs had the appearance of small skiffs battling through a typhoon. Spe would occasionally point to a section of fuzzy turbulence and tell us, “That’s the section we’ve named the Himalayas. Twenty-five-foot waves. Tricky if one collapses on you.” The year was 1978. The footage was the duo’s descent of the Whirlpool Rapids in Niagara Gorge, which, of course, is most famous for its Falls two miles upstream.

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