Idahoans With Whitewater Running Through Their Veins
(page 8 of 8)
Hometown: Ketchum, ID
First Descent: Rio Huallaga, Peru
At 6’7” Ryan Casey was seemingly created by some higher force to be a river runner. With a long reach and incredible power through the torso, Casey has run some of the toughest whitewater
After passing through Wood River Junior High, Ryan and his twin brother Pat (both now 33), accepted scholarships to further develop their Nordic skiing talents at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. But paddling quickly replaced skiing. “It was a spring time deal and we had the choice to do a class in mountain biking, rock climbing or kayaking. I was afraid of heights and didn’t have a mountain bike,” Ryan explains. “We floated a section of the Colorado before I knew how to roll and I didn’t flip. As soon as I got my first ender, it was all over. I was hooked.”
Ryan continued paddling during high school, traveling home in the summers to enjoy Idaho’s river cache. Before long one of the leading companies in the sport, Pyranha Kayaks, had picked him up on its pro team. Casey began barnstorming the continent, running rivers from British Columbia to Mexico, and competing in races at river events. But the competitive realm never appealed to Ryan. He yearned to explore. “I love just relying on yourself, nobody else but you and your team in a river canyon,” he says. “It’s exciting knowing no one can get in there and save you.”
In 1999, Casey and fellow Wood River local, Adam Majors, traveled to Nepal to work with Gerry Moffat. “It’s really similar to Idaho over there,” says Casey, a freckled redhead who now ski patrols on Baldy in the winter. “The rivers are really continuous and steep. I just had the travel bug after that.” So he moved on to places like Norway, Ecuador and Russia and continued to scour the U.S. for new runs, even finishing a first descent of Cherry Bomb Gorge on California’s Upper Cherry Creek, a relentless, granite-lined canyon stacked with waterfalls and enormous slides–one of the country’s most respected steep creeks.
But it’s his recent first descent of Peru’s Rio Huallaga that he’s most proud of. Casey and his team dropped in for a three-day epic on one of the Amazon’s last unrun gorges. Carefully paddling eddy to eddy (safe spots on the river’s edge), they picked their way through the 2,000-foot gorge.
“We knew what was in the first half of the run because there was a group that had been that far,” he says. “But then it closes in and you go under a chalkstone wall that caps the river 30 feet above you. It was super-scenic. We brought food for 12 days but were drinking beer at the takeout by the end of the third. That kind of exploration is why I love paddling.”