As 2020 comes to a close, we wanted to acknowledge several people special to OARS who have passed on this year. Longtime fixtures of the river community—Ray “Cosmic Ray” Brutti, Herm Hoops and Sven Jarnlof—touched the lives of many of us at OARS, and will be sorely missed. Below are a few words from the folks who knew them well.
Ray “Cosmic Ray” Brutti
A Life of Lasting Sustainability
The first time I ever met Ray was about 12 years ago when we were rigging the last dory trip of the season in late October. It was freezing cold and raining sideways at the Grand Canyon Dories warehouse in Flagstaff. I remember it because it was my first dory slot and the first time I met Ray. There was nothing that could have curbed my excitement for this trip. In the middle of this mayhem, here came this guy all decked out and riding his bicycle right into the middle of the building. In near freezing temps, he had ridden across town just to check on how the rig was going and about the shuttle in the morning. With a large endearing smile, he introduced himself to me simply as “Ray.” I had already heard stories of the guy called “Cosmic Ray.”
He wasn’t one of these longtime, heralded river guides with an enormous pedigree. No, he was just a shuttle driver who brought our clients to Lees Ferry and out at Diamond Creek. For over 20 years he rode his bicycle or one of his vintage BMW motorcycles to the warehouse with this big consuming smile, followed by his lanky athletic build. He was a shuttle driver extraordinaire. Van rides with him to Lees Ferry were part interpretative discussion, part engagement with each client, and a thorough explanation of the incredible experience that was about to unfold for them. Van rides with Ray were a cultural integration to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon.
The life and times of Cosmic Ray were based on friendships that spanned as wide a spectrum as anyone could imagine. He couldn’t care less what you were, but more so, who you were. A bonded smile and inquiring mind were all he deemed necessary; nothing else mattered. Morning coffee at Macy’s with him turned into an elevation of our social consciousness. He was a true connector of people and places.
He was a great lover of adventure and exploration. Solo multi-day bicycle trips all over the Southwest and across our country turned into social events for him, making lifelong friends from strangers he met along the way. He even managed each summer for 40 years to pedal all over Europe!
In the river world and maybe in every subculture, there are those who touch more lives than most can even imagine meeting, let alone befriending. They become these enigmas. They become these transformative characters whose personalities are carried far and wide to other peoples and places. Most will never actually meet this person, but will still pass some of their stories onto others. Some are known by just a first name, or maybe just their last. Then there are the ever so few that have an everlasting moniker that is so befitting of their larger than life personalities. Somehow and somewhere it has been crafted and intermeshed with this person’s psyche: some intrinsic and inherent description of the core of their personality – their being.
Cosmic Ray is, and will forever be, one the most special personas in Flagstaff and Grand Canyon lore. His moniker expresses such an accurate description of the intangible ether in which this man orbited. I often wondered where he was in his internal world, while still being so present in our conversation during our times together.
The Brutti family’s quote of their celebration of him is so poignant: “We like to think that he just exploded out into the universe in the end, becoming the Cosmic Ray he was always meant to be.”
He was known worldwide and so caringly in our community of Flagstaff as Cosmic Ray. A total original.
OARS Grand Canyon guide
Herman “Herm” Hoops
A True River Warrior
Herm Hoops was a true river warrior. When it came to the conservation of rivers and the health of the river community as a whole, no one could argue his passion and determination for protecting our rivers and the people whose livelihoods depended on them. Herm had a lot of strength in his voice (and fingers typing away), and he was a constant beacon guiding everyone in the river community to do what we can, where we can. He was a leader for river protection.
Herm was also a friend. He never officially worked for OARS, but he did boat repairs for us throughout the last decade-plus. Herm even trained a majority of our Dino crew (from 2008 – 2019) on how to patch boats. Whenever he was working at our Vernal warehouse, we would tell whoever was around to go learn from him, just be there to help him if needed, and look over his shoulder. Herm loved it, and so did the guides.
Herm shared so much local history with our Dino crew, and taught us things that we never would have known about local Native American sites, river history, rancher history…he shared all of his research (free of charge!). He wanted us to be our best.
Herm helped OARS, especially our Dinosaur operation, in so many ways, and without any of us asking. It seemed like Herm was always in the right spots when we needed help, and he was always the voice of truth.
Herm meant a lot to OARS, and he will be very missed.
Risk Management Officer & Dinosaur Manager
OARS Dinosaur Manager
An Example to Better Ourselves
My friend Sven Jarnlof has reached the end of the trail. He was truly the nicest person I have ever known, and I found him through OARS.
I met Sven at the Nankoweap camp decades ago. He had hiked into the canyon solo. Tony Anderson was the trip leader (TL) when Sven showed up and asked if he could also camp there. Tony said yes, and that night Sven dined with us. Later that summer, Tony asked me if I could keep my eyes open and try to spot Sven around Boucher Canyon. I found him there and took him across the river. Sven was hiking the difficult route between Schist and Phantom Ranch solo at 58-years-old.
The next summer Sven and his daughter Marie did an OARS trip from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. Our TL, Ian Alexander asked me to do a tent demo on the first night of that trip. I had never set up this style of tent, but said I was sure I could figure it out. Sven had his video camera, and after I made multiple attempts, I asked him to stop filming. We immediately became friends, and on our trip I found out Sven was unbelievably knowledgeable about the canyon. This was going to be a one-time experience for Sven, who was a self-employed masseuse. At the end of the trip I introduced him to the Grand Canyon manager at the time, Regan Dale. I told Regan I’d like to have Sven as an assistant on a gear boat. Regan was polite and respectful, however, back at the warehouse he told me Sven had no future as a boatman as he was already 59-years-old. (I believe Regan is now boating late into his sixties!)
The following season OARS needed a masseuse for a special charter, and Sven unexpectedly became part of the OARS crew. It wasn’t until put-in that he asked the other person who would be on the gear boat how long he’d been rowing, and found out he didn’t know how. He thought Sven knew how to row, so Sven learned starting at Lees Ferry. Later that summer Sven returned to row another gear boat. The flows were 5,000-32,000 CFS, and Sven had not yet fully mastered a ‘ferry angle’. Down in the land of 1,000 eddies it took Sven 45 minutes to bust out of one of the biggest eddies on the river. We were rowing solid ash oars without grips and Sven got blisters on both hands, but continued rowing. No one worked as hard in camp as Sven did, except maybe his daughter Marie.
Few people hiked the canyon as much as Sven. He loved the place. Sven would hike to Phantom Ranch every year for Thanksgiving, generally bringing friends. He also rowed a boat every summer after that first trip, well into his seventies. Sven was never a total natural on the oars, but Marie always joined him when she was available, and when Sven was no longer able to row they exchanged jobs.
I was lucky to have Sven as a friend. I’ll miss him, but I believe he is in a better place. This is a good time to remember him, remember what a special person Sven was, and use him as an example to better ourselves.
Former OARS guide
Photos: Cosmic Ray – courtesy of Dawn Kish; Sven Jarnoff – courtesy of Marie Buck