Biography of Dick Griffith Chronicles Journeys of Alaskan Legend

Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith chronicles the journeys of Alaskan legend Dick Griffith. Even before he trekked more than 6,000 mile across Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, he was one of the pioneers of river rafting on the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 1952, he and his late wife, Isabelle, were the first to descend the dangerous Barrance del Cobre in Mexico, a feat no one had achieved until then. The following is from a talk author Kaylene Johnson gave at the book launch last month at the Eagle River Nature Center.

Dick Griffith (photo by Bob Kaufman)

Mark Twain wrote, “Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.”

These were the words I leaned on in the hours and days that I poured over Dick Griffith’s journals wondering which stories out of hundreds should wind up in the pages of his biography. How can an entire lifetime of adventure be captured in less than 300 pages of text and photos? How can the complexities of the human spirit – one as notable as Griffith’s – be expressed within the limitations of paper and ink?

The answer, simply, is that it cannot. And so I set about penning the story of a man whose “aw shucks” personality would have you believing that he is just some ordinary guy who has taken a few trips in the wilderness.  No big deal.

In spite of his reluctance to receive accolades or recognition, Dick is far from ordinary. Dick’s aspirations have been a quiet quest to explore not only his beloved wilderness but, across thousands of miles of canyons and ice, to test the possibilities of human endurance.

The voices of history echo triumph and regret, jubilation and despair. And nowhere are those extremes as disparate as in the extremes of the North or the canyons in which Dick traveled. It took no small amount of audacity and courage to undertake the treks that Dick set out for himself. We all have ideas about what we’d like to achieve in our lifetime. Yet so-called common sense often discourages us from even trying – there is always that one obstacle that seems too big to overcome. There is always tomorrow that keeps us from taking that first step – today. Dick knew that courage is not the idea of a thing, but rather, the doing of it. It lies in the daily decisions, big and small, that determine the course of a person’s life.  And in Dick’s case, that determine the course of a journey across an entire continent.

We can learn from Dick’s wisdom and persistence in just putting one foot in front of the other. A good friend of his who was going through a difficult time asked him, how one was supposed to get through these things? He replied, “You just keep walking.”

After 6,000 miles and 8.5 million steps, he should know.

Dick has spent a lifetime avoiding fame, but alas to him and happily for us, it has finally found him.

It has been my privilege to write the coat and buttons of the man, Dick Griffith.  A true legend of the North.


  1. Russell J. Ray on August 9, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Dick was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of his bio., written quite well by you. I played no role in Dick’s life except to perhaps offer encouragement regarding his latent desire to let the world know of his awesome efforts. Barranca del Cobre binds Dick and I, and I will promote your book best I can.

    • kaylene on August 30, 2012 at 11:59 pm

      Thanks Rusty!! Just now saw your two posts. In any case, thanks for the kind words. I’ll let you know if we do a Spanish translation of the book. All the best, Kaylene

  2. Russell J. Ray on August 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Seems the book is being well received, and if there is any interest in a Spanish version, I know of an official translator for the Spanish government who would be interested in the job.

  3. Joseph Dydzak on September 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Hello, I met you at your book signing with Dick Griffith last August during our stay in Anchorage. Just a quick note to let you both know that I thoroughly enjoyed your book. I too enjoy “taking a walk”, and considered myself a bit of an adventurer until I read Canyons & Ice. Best regards from Montreal. Joseph

  4. Jodi Herte on October 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I am curious where I might find this book. I was hoping to buy it for my husband for Christmas, but when I inquired at Barnes and Noble I was told it is not due to be published until February of 2013.

    Thank you,
    Jodi, also of Eagle River

    • kaylene on October 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Hi Jodi,

      They are available at the Anchorage Museum, Fireside Books in Palmer and the Eagle River Nature Center. You can also find them at Fred Meyers and Safeway. Sorry they weren’t at B&N but glad to hear they’ll be carrying the book starting next year! Please let me know if you don’t find it and I’ll make sure you get a copy. Many thanks for your interest. — Kaylene

  5. mike stafford on December 6, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    My brother Bruce Stafford used to hang out with Dick before his untimely death in the 1990s in a small plane crash just outside Anchorage. I would like to know where I could get about 10 more books on Dick as my brother was mentioned on several of his treks. You, my dear, have put stories into meaningful and almost poetic lines for posterity.

    • Kaylene on June 24, 2020 at 10:28 pm

      Dear Mike – Thank you for your nice note. My apologies for not seeing your response before now. Were you able to find the books you were looking for? I’m happy to get you some copies autographed by Dick if you like. Just let me know!

  6. Maggie Galaszewski on December 27, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    I just found the sites for Dick Griffith. He is my uncle. I am so very excited to see these collections of an outstanding and kind man.

    • Kaylene on June 24, 2020 at 10:26 pm

      Hi Maggie – apologies for not seeing your note before now! That’s amazing. Did you know he has also been featured on a PBS documentary? It is playing this summer in 39 cities around the U.S. It is called Canyons & Ice: The Last Run of Dick Griffith.

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