A grand accomplishment: Q & A with John Jepkema, official Guinness World Record holder | CraigDailyPress.com

A grand accomplishment: Q & A with John Jepkema, official Guinness World Record holder

Craig man confirmed as oldest person to hike Grand Canyon rim to rim

Andy Bockelman / For Craig Press
John Jepkema, far left, poses for a photo with his hiking group at the Right Angel Trailhead following the completion of his historic backpacking trip from rim-to-rim of the Grand Canyon.
Courtesy Photo

John Jepkema has had some exceptional walking experiences in the last nine decades, but only one comes with the status of being the most noteworthy of all time.

Jepkema, 92, recently received confirmation from Guinness World Records organization that he is officially the recipient of the record “Oldest Person to Cross the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim on Foot.”

The Craig nonagenarian — person in their 90s — achieved the feat from Nov. 3 to 7, 2019 as part of a group hike that included friends Ann Wagner, Craig Mortensen, Pete Bergmann, and John Whinery, all of whom have a long history in Northwest Colorado.

The Guinness website features Jepkema’s profile, noting that his age at the time of the record was 91 years and 152 days.

It also states that Jepkema is no stranger to the natural wonder, having hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on six other occasions.

Jepkema is a retiree from Moffat County High School who spent many years teaching and coaching for the school as well as an active part of the area’s competitive shooting scene.

While it was a long wait for certification, Jepkema was pleased with the news that he was officially part of the ages, prompting the Craig Press to learn more about the road to a record.

Craig Press: First of all, congratulations on your accomplishment! Does it feel different now that everything is official and cemented in history?

Jepkema: I feel about the same. I am glad that the record is official because the team worked hard on the record keeping and photography. 

CP: When did you receive the final paperwork? Was the wait longer or shorter than you expected?

Jepkema: I was told that we had the record by email on October 19. I had thought that we might get the word on the 18th. The virus and my lack of skill on the computer was the reason it took so long to verify the paperwork.

CP: Was a world record something you ever thought or hoped you’d achieve one day? At a certain point in your life, was there another field you believe you could have been the best or most noteworthy in the world?

Jepkema: Before I started hiking at the age of 79, my greatest achievements were state and regional championships with a pistol.

I would almost always win the “How old are you?” game that elderly hikers play. Five years ago, I asked Park Service how old was the oldest person to hike the canyon rim to rim. They said that they did not keep age records, but it was an interesting question. One of the team said, “you may already have it.” I checked with Guinness and it would cost me $5 to try.

CP: With your particular achievement, you’re forever linked with the Grand Canyon. Does that association with one of the world’s greatest natural wonders make it all the more special to you?

Jepkema: Hiking with a teammate in Switzerland was a high point shortly after I started hiking.  Hiking the Grand Canyon is special and setting a record is special beyond compare. The team deserves a lot of credit.

CP: Your group of fellow hikers were a big part of promoting your record. What does it mean to you that these people were involved in such a big thing in your life?

Jepkema: I am extremely grateful for the efforts that the team made. Their record keeping and photography met the Guinness standards for the record.

CP: Are there any other notable locations in the world you would like to tackle as a hiker?

Jepkema: I may continue to do day hikes and maybe short overnights, but I have no plans for a major effort.

CP: Besides your world record, you also received a local honor earlier this year as a faithful spectator of Moffat County High School’s basketball program, named the No. 1 Fan. How did that feel as someone with such a history with the school?

Jepkema: I was pleased and honored by the recognition given me at the end of basketball season a year ago. I taught here for 25 years and enjoy seeing the children and now grandchildren of my former students playing their sports.

CP: With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving many people housebound throughout 2020, have you felt it particularly hard after having such a big event last year?

Jepkema: The COVID pandemic has kept me from traveling to see family. Zoom and email are not the same.  I have a 6-, almost 7-month-old great-great-grandson who I have not seen yet.

CP: Anything else you would want to tell people about your life?

Jepkema: Craig has been good to me. We moved here because of my wife’s and older daughter’s health, and it worked out just fine.

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