Who Kenton Was

In Memory of Kenton “Factor” Grua

by Michelle Grua

Kenton2Mere words cannot convey the sweeping extent of our loss at the untimely death of one of our own, Kenton Grua. Kenton, a.k.a. “the Factor”, was a brief, blazing comet of a man whose trailing colors have seared their way into the collective conscience of our souls, forever changing the lives of those who loved the canyon as he did. Some years ago, he was given the nickname “Factor” because that’s what he was—that intangible, undeniable, intensely dynamic factor that you always had to take into account whenever you were with him, be it down river, up a trail—wherever—he was always a factor.

Kenton got hooked on rivers at age twelve on a birthday present trip with his dad down the Yampa through Dinosaur with Shorty Burton as his guide. He knew from that first trip that he wanted to be a boatman, and with an early demonstration of the intensity and conviction with which he lived his entire life, he never wavered from that goal. He started with Hatch River Expeditions in ’69, and then began with Grand Canyon Dories, where he worked most of his commercial seasons.

Always somewhat of a restless spirit, he embarked on grandiose adventures too numerous to count, but with which many of us are familiar—his hike through the canyon in ’76, the speed run on the high water of ’83, founding Grand Canyon River Guides, jumping the chasm at Deer Creek narrows, climbing to the Anasazi footbridge—and on and on—any one of which, taken by itself, is a remarkable feat, but when viewed together, are daunting and awe-inspiring. Yet, it was never the notoriety that he was after—rather, it was the love of the challenge to himself and the desire to endeavor to do it right. In fact, he’d rarely mention any of these accomplishments to you unsolicited. You could know him for years and never hear him recount his exploits. And that is what I think I’ll remember most about him—his quiet, confident humility.

It would warm his heart to know that what people recall the most is his gentle, loving support that he gave as he worked and learned alongside them, mentored them and championed the river and her needs. But I’m not trying to deify him—nor would he want that—he was a complex, improbable combination of qualities—most endearing, others maddening—all of them forthright and earnest.

I will always chuckle at his incessant “Factorizing”—deciding to rearrange his hatches just as you’re pulling away from shore, gear scattered all over his decks, with his head below deck, buried waist deep, aware of your departure, but engrossed nonetheless; discussing, impassioned, his theory on the formation of columnar basalt or the origins of the canyon and the now extinct course of the river in her earlier days; his gentle way of encouraging the most apprehensive of passengers up and over a ledge, so that they might behold the splendor of the canyon that he loved so well; regaling passengers with the history of the canyon and its geology, always ignoble in his delivery, never pretentious; waking up at three a.m. and looking over to see his headlamp on—still on; him rattling around his boat, playing guitar or flossing his teeth or rethinking some project for the thousandth time; his resolute commitment to the mission of gcrg and his unflinching pursuit of what was right for the canyon—not what was right for the outfitters or the privates or the Park Service, but what was right for the canyon and for the guides, the stewards of that wonderful place.

Selfishly, though I relish my memories of him on the river, my most treasured memories will always be those of Kenton as he was in more recent times. He had scaled back his trips downstream, in pursuit of the one adventure that had, until recently, eluded him—parenthood. Like a duck to water or a boatman to a rapid, he hit it straight on, with his heart wide open, never happier or more content than when he was playing with his three children. As he did with the canyon, he had the courage to follow his heart and change course in midstream, against all odds, in pursuit of the nourishment that his soul so sorely craved. He had finally done it all, and his peace was obvious to those who knew him.

Kenton&ErinHow fitting that a man who lived life so fully would die in such a perfect way, on a beautiful day, riding down a rolling mountain trail under fading summer skies, and without the slightest hint, slip peacefully from the bonds that hold us here, moving on to that next great adventure. I know I’m not the only one who will miss the sight of that hard, hairy body rowing his dory downstream or maneuvering his motor rig through the Big Ditch. I will remember him as he always was—smiling, intense, and oh, so in the moment.