The Very Hard Way
Bert Loper 
and the 
Colorado River

by Brad Dimock

472 pages
2 maps, index
Over 180 photographs
Trade paperback

Limited to 700 copies
Five Quail Books
Back of Beyond Books
Ken Sanders Rare Books

Bert Loper was born in 1869 the very day that Major John Wesley Powell discovered the confluence of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers. Loper spent much of his life devoted to those two streams. But it was never easy. Orphaned and abused, Loper worked most of his life at the very bottom, the nameless grunt in hard rock mines, the sore-backed shoveler on a placer bar, the subsistence rancher on a lonely gravel delta in Glen Canyon. Whatever Loper got, he got the very hard way.

But on the muddy whitewater streams of the Southwest, Loper found a joy, a thrill, and a peace. By the time he died at his oars in a Grand Canyon rapid at eighty, he had covered more river, run more boats, and known more rivermen than anyone. Two weeks before he vanished in the Colorado, the very first motorboat had run Grand Canyon--bookending Loper's incredible career.

Bert Loper's is the tale of river running in the West, and his life encapsulates the spirit of the Colorado. The Very Hard Way is a tour de force of the history of western whitewater.


The river was found, rowed and loved by working people, the kind of folks who get scant notice in the books and bluster of the official expedition chroniclers. At last Brad Dimock has brought their hard world to the page. Meet Bert Loper, the man who knew the river and never left it.

Charles Bowden

Tough as boot leather, stubborn and indomitable, Bert Loper was a drifting, uneducated, hard-rock miner, laborer and boatman who came to know and love the rivers of the Southwest like no-one else before or since.
This splendid biography, which also tells the definitive history of river-running in the Southwest, takes us down into the canyons and whitewater and shows how they brought grace and meaning to the very hard life of a very hard man.

Richard Grant
God's Middle Finger
American Nomads

Dimock has done a truly wonderful job of conveying that toughness in relationship to Loper's life and the land that he called home. Its 456 pages never once bog down; fast-paced whitewater reading all the way through.
The way Dimock formatted the telling of the story was brilliant in that between Loper's life and legend, history, exploits, and deeds and how others perceived him, there is never a dull moment. Very impressive.

Brad Dimock has done a beautiful job of making this legend accessible and human and immediate that I feel as if I knew Loper myself and mourn his passing while at the same time marveling in the fact that he was who he was and did what he did.

Joe Foster

Durango Herald

Brad Dimock tackled this book like a tough rapid where success is uncertain. Not only did he come through intact as an author, but he produced a marvelous work, certainly registering among the most creative of outdoor biographies. The subject of the book is Bert Loper, a legendary Colorado River boatman who died on the river at 80-years old while oaring his own boat. Loper, however, wasn't the easiest subject to write about. He was an ordinary person, not particularly educated, never quite successful at anything, even at building a proper river boat. Yet Dimock artfully combines his own exhaustive research with interviews, first-person stories, letters, and Loper's own writing to fashion an absorbing portrait of his life.

Ron Watters

National Outdoor Book Awards

What's so special about Bert Loper? He wasn't the smartest person to run the river, nor the most educated. He wasn't the best boat-builder, or even the slickest boatman. But he might have been the first person to fall in love with the idea of going down the Grand Canyon on a river trip.

The Very Hard Way is not just the great story of a great boatman. It's the story of how an ordinary person led an extraordinary life, on his own terms, right up to the very end.

John O'Brien

Boatman's Quarterly Review

Brad Dimock was born in Ithaca, New York and received a Bachelor of Arts from Prescott College in 1971. He spent much of the next three and a half decades as a boatman in Grand Canyon and rivers throughout the world.

Fearful of real work, he began writing in the mid-1990s. His work his appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and he has authored, co-authored, edited, or foreworded nearly a dozen books. He is the only three-time winner of the National Outdoor Book Award.

He still works as a river guide in Grand Canyon for Arizona Raft Adventures. He lives, writes, and builds whitewater boats in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Dave Edwards photo