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Proposed tramline. Photo courtesy Grand Canyon Trust

Proposed tramline. Photo courtesy Grand Canyon Trust

Dear Lamar Whitmer, Managing Partner of Confluence Partners LLC:

It looks like your plan to build a gondola to a restaurant at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is really coming together. I mean, I know lots of people-river runners, Navajo tribe members, and other people who enjoy the Grand Canyon’s preservation as a wild place-are quite incensed at the idea of hauling 10,000 visitors per day down to the bottom of an otherwise sacred place (you can’t even camp there right now!) and are fighting you tooth and nail. But it seems like you’re pushing ahead without getting discouraged. That’s great. Haters gonna hate, you know?

I know you’re focusing on the Grand Canyon thing, which I understand is a big task since it’s a full-day, off-trail hike to get down to the Confluence right now (at minimum) and maybe a couple dozen people per year actually make the trek. Have you been down there? I heard it’s pretty rugged, and isolated. The Bright Angel Trail, downstream, is a lot friendlier if you’re looking for a trail to the bottom and you haven’t hiked down there before. I hiked that with my mom on her 63rd birthday. She loved it. Anyway, I digress. The gondola project.

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Mr. Whitmer, you’ve said that one of the reasons for building a gondola to the bottom of the canyon is that Grand Canyon National Park only offers “a drive-by wilderness experience,” and that “the average person can’t ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon. We want them to feel the canyon from the bottom.” I assume you’re inferring that the average person also can’t walk to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. My mother, a grandmother and nurse practitioner from Iowa, would be flattered that she’s above average, but still, I hear you. Right now, people who don’t want to walk or ride a mule to the Grand Canyon only have the option of a $130-$400 helicopter tour of the canyon, which gets close to the bottom, but not close enough to, say, accidentally drop an empty water bottle off the viewing platform into the river from the observation deck of the proposed restaurant, or flick cigarette butts into the wild majestic Colorado at its intersection with the deep turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River.

The gondola will provide that opportunity, as well as the opportunity to eat a cheeseburger in one of the wildest preserved places in the Lower 48. I mean, for those who can’t (or don’t want to) ride a mule or walk the nine miles from the South Rim to eat the steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen. So, that’s pretty neat. Plus, they have to haul all that food down to Phantom Ranch on mules right now, and you’ll have a gondola to transport food down to the restaurant at the confluence (so, how about an ice cream machine down there?).

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Let me ask you this: Have you ever thought about a gondola project on Mt. Rainier? I realize that it might have a little more red tape, but seriously: the summit of Mt. Rainier is pretty hard to get to for the average person. I mean, I consider myself pretty fit, and something of a mountain climber, and the last time I tried it, we didn’t even get to the top because there were 70 mph winds blowing at Camp Muir on our summit day. Geez! And this was after paying the $20 park entrance fee and $45 for a climbing permit. Seriously. Ten thousand people try to climb Mt. Rainier every year, and only half of them summit. That’s a lot of work for a lot of failure. And that’s not “average people,” either: 1.2 million people visit Mt. Rainier every year-which means Mt. Rainier National Park only provides, in your words, a “drive-by wilderness experience” for 1.19 million people. That’s 99.99 percent of visitors. That means most Americans will go to their graves never having had the opportunity of a summit of one of America’s most iconic mountains.

So, how about it? How about a gondola to the top of Mt. Rainier? We could give people a free ride up to the summit crater, and they could step out of a warm gondola car and really feel what it’s like on the summit of Rainier (cold!), and maybe grab a slice of pizza or a hot dog at a restaurant inside the crater! And it would require almost no exercise. But it would give people an incredible opportunity. FYI, there are no helicopter tours of Mt. Rainier, or mule rides, or raft trips, like there are for people who want to see the Grand Canyon. Talk about a drive-by experience-the closest you can get to the summit in a car is Paradise, which is a full 9,000 feet below the summit.

Like I said, I know you guys are busy with the Develop the Grand Canyon project, but I think Mt. Rainier could be a great opportunity for your next gondola effort, assuming this canyon thing works out for you. And after that, you can eliminate the “drive-by experiences” by building gondolas to the tops of all of America’s most famous mountains-Mt. Whitney, Mt. Hood, Denali-and maybe even a moving walkway into the middle of Yellowstone National Park.

That would be great.


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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.

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