Appendix 4. Experience.

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Appendix 4. Experience.

Arthur Moffatt did not die due to lack of experience or poor leadership (a group of novices…an inexperienced party…indifferent leadership…poor leadership skills or poor planning) as asserted by James Murphy, Charlie Mahler and Bob Thum.
The cause of his death is documented in Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.

The opinion of James Murphy.

Grinnell and four other young men were led on a poorly planned and lackadaisically executed canoe trip by Arthur Moffatt… I…would recommend this one as an excellent example of how not to conduct a canoe trip. [Murphy’s review (1996) of Grinnell’s book].
Response. Murphy’s accusation is only peripherally related to the matter of experience and so I omit further discussion of it, here.

The opinions of Charlie Mahler and Bob Thum.

Source. The following articles (likely identical) of 2005.
Comment. I say that the accusations are opinions because neither Mahler nor Thum provided supporting evidence.
The opinion of Mahler.
…the Moffatt story unfolds as a tragedy just waiting to happen – indifferent leadership, an inexperienced party, bad chemistry, a plodding pace, and an apparent apathy to the season closing on them…
Thum, opinion 1.
Those guys had no business being up there. … They were a bunch of guys who didn’t know what they were doing and led by a guy with poor leadership skills. They fooled around and did a lot of crap and it finally came back to bite them. This was simply a group of novices led by someone more interested in film than travel, which squandered its time and resources and then made some tragic mistakes.
Thum 2, opinion 2.
Moffatt … had some experience, but not much.
Comment. One might have expected Thum, a lawyer, to provide evidence in support of these two assertions.

Item 1.

… a group of novices and Moffatt … had some experience, but not much.
…an inexperienced party…
Comment 1.
As in nearly all the accusatory literature, no supporting evidence was provided, no source was mentioned.
Comment 2.
As I document in Ancillary 1. Accusations, Thum and Pessl had corresponded prior to the former’s 1966 Dubawnt trip; perhaps then much of the evidence provided below was known to Thum at the time.
Response 1.
…Art Moffatt was already an accomplished adventurer when other boys were still tying their first Boy Scout knots. At 17, he embarked on a major expedition, 700 miles down the Albany River from Sioux Lookout in western Ontario to the lower part of Hudson Bay. Incredibly, he made the trip alone. …
From 1950 to 1954, he led yearly trips down the Albany, studying the region’s geology and wild life as he went.
[Sports Illustrated, p 71, left column].
Response 2.
As well, Moffatt had paddled the Allagash, Androscoggin and Penobscot Rivers in Maine.
I suggest that he must have known what he was doing to make such demanding trips.
Response 3.
Pessl had made two Albany trips with Moffatt and other trips as well. Franck had tripped with Moffatt on the Albany. Grinnell had paddled but not tripped. Lanouette and LeFavour were young outdoorsmen but with no canoeing experience. [Pessl, p XIV].
Response 4. The matter of Grinnell’s experience.
The literature is contradictory and so I provide the following clarification.
(a) On page 14 of a follow-up to Kesselheim’s C&K article of 2012, Grinnell asserted the following. I was not the least experienced canoeist, but the most experienced.
That claim was denied by Pessl, in a later follow-up to the same article.
(b) In his book, Grinnell comments as follows regarding his experience.
But Joe Lanouette and Bruce LeFavour, my fellow bowmen and novices like me… [p 6].
But we novices in the bows… [p 33].
We three bowmen had never been on a long-distance canoe trip. [p 53].
Conclusion. Grinnell’s statement that he was most experienced paddler in the Moffatt party is at variance with his own evidence. Perhaps he was baiting Pessl.
Summary. The Thum-Mahler assertions
… a group of novices, and
Moffatt … had some experience, but not much, and
an inexperienced party
have no basis in evidence.

Item 2.

… didn’t know what they were doing … [Thum]
Again, the accusation is an opinion only.
Early on 14 September (after 11 weeks on the water), the party had gotten through many rapids on the Dubawnt (some highly dangerous) without a wrap, without a dump, without serious damage to the boat.
Results of an incomplete search.
I heard the stem crack…I heard the ribs cracking… [Grinnell, p 75].
A hole in one canoe [Grinnell, p 126].
There was a small dent in the bow…the real damage as from the rock in the tail. The inner planking had a cracked place and the canvas was scraped. [Franck, in Pessl, 26 July, p 53.]
…struck a rock…a brief check showed no water… [Pessl, 6 September, p 122].
…splintered a plank…[Pessl, 6 September, p 122].
…cracked a rib pretty badly [Pessl, 6 September, p 123].
…a little piece of planking knocked in, but the ribs weren’t broken and the canvas wasn’t cut; no serious damage. [Franck, in Pessl, 6 September, p 124].
Summary of the damage. … we had some scrapes / and dings … but no serious damage nor significant mishaps. [Pessl, private correspondence].
There were two swamps, neither in rapids. [Grinnell, pp 79 & 80. Pessl, p 168, 26 August].
The only two dumps of the entire trip occurred in the rapids where Moffatt died.
Thum’s assertion … didn’t know what they were doing … has no basis in evidence.
I repeat that the Moffatt party descended a dangerous river without serious incident, even a single dump, until the afternoon of 14 September.
To put the matter gently, evidence that I provide elsewhere in this document demonstrates that the tragedy did not result from inexperience (as asserted by Thum); the cause was rather incorrect information from a source (J B Tyrrell) that had proved trustworthy for weeks previously.
Reference. Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
To put the matter bluntly, Thum was just mouthing off, building himself up in his own mind, at the expense of the reputation of a dead man.

Item 3.

…poor leadership skills…. [Thum]
1. The accusation of poor leadership is an assertion only, a gratuitous judgment, one made without supporting evidence.
2. The burden of proof would appear to lie with the defamer. Evidently, Thum considers an assertion by himself to be proof; others might disagree.
3. As every paddler knows (I had thought), there are several ways to lead a party. Indeed, some groups have no leader; they work by consensus (sometimes not achieved). Some paddlers demand to be the boss, others resent being bossed. And a guided party is very different from a group of friends. As I see matters, the Moffatt party lay somewhere in the middle. Perhaps Moffatt could have been more assertive, but perhaps the others would have objected had he been. Who is to say, especially someone, like Thum, who was not there? In short, there is no one answer regarding which leadership style is best. Thum should have known that.
4. To me, the key question is whether/how the leadership affected the tragedy.
In fairness, I record Pessl’s comment
…the tragic disregard for time, distance, and season of the Moffatt leadership (and I include myself in that category)… [Pessl book, p 173 (2014).]
Response. I believe that Pessl was being overly self-critical here, as he was in other comments on nearby pages.
5. My reading of the literature leads me to conclude that the leadership was not poor at any time.
6. The evidence of Appendices 8 and 9 is that the cause of the tragedy had nothing to do with leadership, or experience, or planning, or blah, or blah, or blah. The cause was rather incorrect information from a source (J B Tyrrell) that had proved trustworthy for the entire trip up to the afternoon of 14 September 1955.
Appendix 8. Other rapids and
Appendix 9. Fatal rapids.


Moffatt’s defamers Thum and Mahler asserted only that lack of experience was a cause of his death. But they provided no supporting evidence and so assertions are at best only opinions.
Certainly some participants were poorly experienced initially, but they acquired plenty of that in the 11 weeks on the river before Moffatt died. But, after 11 weeks in difficult conditions, likely all members of the party were sufficiently experienced by the afternoon of 14 September.
The challenge.
Let Thum and Mahler to explain why the only dumps of the entire trip on a dangerous river occurred in the fatal rapids. Let not hold our breaths waiting for either to respond.


The assertions of Thum and Mahler, namely that lack of experience and poor leadership played a role in Moffatt’s death, have no basis in any evidence known to me.
The cause of the tragedy is described in Appendix 9. Fatal rapids.

Internal URLs.

Foreword and Forum.
Main text.
Appendix 1. Reality.
Appendix 2. Holidays.
Appendix 3. Equipment.
Appendix 4. Experience.
Appendix 5. Pace and weather.
Appendix 6. Food.
Appendix 7. Schedule.
Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
Ancillary 1. Accusations.
Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Ancillary 4. Distances.
Ancillary 5. Loose ends and the future.
Ancillary 6. Addenda.
Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
Ancillary 8. Evidence regarding the tragedy.

With the exception of quoted material, copyright to the above belongs to Allan Jacobs.

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