I learned of his passing from a friend on facebook. He was airlifted out of Grand Canyon last October with acute abdominal pain, and died last Friday night (3/13/09) of pancreatic cancer. Lars was a California boater, a formidable athlete, and a down-to-earth nice guy. Handsome, too. I met him only in passing, but among river runners he is a Legend. He is the only person I know of that has run he Grand Canyon of the Toulumne in Yosemite National Park, and also I believe he paddled the gnarly drops where the Merced River exits Yosemite valley and cascades through a morraine. Lars Holbeck took paddling to a level that few others could imagine, much less accomplish.
When I travelled in Chile in 1992, one of the few pieces of information we had about the rivers there was a set of notes handed down from Lars Holbeck. That was when I learned his name. He later wrote a book about the paddling in Chile, and then with Chuck Stanley he wrote The Best Whitewater in California. It was the first book of its kind, and one of the finest river guidebooks ever. I used an early edition to explore California in the summer of 1998. Lars lived not far from where I worked as a BLM ranger, on the forks of the American river. It was a high water summer and I paddled 2-3 days/week around the state (not counting work). I got my ass kicked and handed to me time after time. By the end of the summer I had retired from EVER attempting anything that Lars called class V, and would only attempt runs he called class IV at optimal flows with plans to portage regularly.
Here's a tribute to him, complete with Native American flute music and Grand Canyon scenery: