Walt changed the face of kayaking in the 1970s from a conservative slalom philosophy in the U.S. to a “go get it” whitewater attitude. Not only did he develop a U.S. style and technique for big whitewater, but he created the hype and popularity becoming the basis for today’s whitewater stars.
In 1971, Walt soloed Turnback Canyon on the Alsek (at the time was considered by some as whitewater’s Everest), among the biggest accomplishments of its time. His solo descent was ahead of its time and became significant in terms of its solo, self-supported extreme of exploration. His article chronicling his solo descent, featured in Sports Illustrated, propelled him to almost a cult hero overnight making him the legend that became the face for the public epitomizing big water river running. ABC’s American Sportsman produced short films of the paddling doctor (he was a surgeon) running the Colorado (1975) and the Susitna (1977). He was also featured in The Edge, a feature length film about adventure sports (1976). Walt died on the South Fork of the Payette in Idaho in 1978, pinned on a submerged log.
• First (and solo) descent, Turnback Canyon on the Alsek, British Columbia (1971)
• First descent, Devils Canyon on the Susitna, Alaska (1972) following later with two other descents
• Numerous early and big water descents including the Middle Fork of the Flathead (Montana), and the South Fork of the Salmon and the Bruneau (Idaho).
• Rafter (1950s-1960s) and all-around outdoor sportsman
• Lead organizer and guide of numerous trips including a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon for 22 paddlers (1968) and the Grand Canyon (1970) for 40 people including 27 paddlers.