"Harvey Butchart, the man who has walked over more of the Grand Canyon than any other alive or dead..." --Edward AbbeyFrom The Deseret Morning News
You could read every book out there on the one and only Grand Canyon and you are still likely to come away empty and unable to humanly grasp the immensity or the character of that incredible and vast work of nature. One exception. Read this newest book on the Grand Canyon and Harvey Butchart (1907-2002).
This book required 15 years of research and is woven into a masterful work about the human side of the Grand Canyon. Many famous places have their characters. For example, Yosemite had the legendary John Muir. The Grand Canyon has Butchart, and this book canonizes him as a larger-than-life character.
By no means sedentary authors, the book's two writers (both Flagstaff residents) also personally trekked into the Grand Canyon and used some of Butchart's guide books to relive some of his adventures. They wove some of that into their book. Their firsthand knowledge of Butchart's roaming grounds adds insight and flavor to the book. Of all the Grand Canyon books out there, this one stands alone as a classic work showcasing man and nature at their best. By Lynn Arave of The Deseret Morning News --Lynn Arave
From the Denver Post
Nobody knew the Grand Canyon better than Harvey Butchart did. Now comes our chance to better know Butchart, the enigmatic hiker-explorer who is regarded as the father of American desert canyoneering. "Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon," by Elias Butler and Tom Myers, tells the story of this mild-mannered math professor who turned tenacious below the canyon's rims - logging 12,000 miles on foot, blazing dozens of new routes from rim to river and notching 28 first recorded ascents of buttes and other formidable formations in the canyon's torrid interior. He wrote three famously cryptic backcountry guidebooks that helped cement his status among canyon aficionados as part Superman, part Yoda.
Not bad for a fellow who didn't even lay eyes on the Arizona gorge until he was 38 years old in August 1945.
Solo excursions suited Butchart, for few could keep up with this 5-foot-7, 135-pound strider who seemed to be "made out of piano wire," as one friend put it. Steely nerves also were part of the package: He was drawn off trail to remote and forbidding places that had been virtually untouched by humans since the Indians left centuries ago. On treacherous descents, Butchart tended to rely only on fingers and boots, not ropes and carabiners. When he needed to navigate a stretch of the dangerous Colorado River, he would simply flop aboard his inflatable sleeping mattress.
His no-frills equipment might either amuse or humble today's must-have-the-latest-gear crowd. He wore ordinary work boots. Clothesline served as a hip belt on his smallish Boy Scout-style external-frame pack. A plastic sheet served as his shelter. Sardines were a mealtime staple. Butchart's risk-taking sometimes backfired. ("I guess I was just always cocky about playing it safe enough," he once said.) In 1955, a good friend drowned while joining him on a trek that involved river-riding on air mattresses - a tragedy that haunted Butchart the rest of his years. In 1969, Butchart was lucky to get out alive after a mishap with ropes left him stuck, dangling by his feet, alone and upside down, near the base of a cliff in a remote side canyon. Those are two of the book's most memorable stories, told in riveting detail.
"Grand Obsession," though, is much more than a tale of outdoors adventure. The authors dig deep to explore why Butchart did what he did - and whether it was worth the personal price. He found satisfaction in the fame that came with his feats. And a competitive streak - intense but rarely voiced - drove him to outdo his fellow explorers. Nowhere was that more evident than in his strained relationship with the writer Colin Fletcher, who pumped Butchart for advice before making a first-ever border-to-border hike through the national park in 1963 that threatened to turn Butchart into a mere canyon footnote. As it turned out, Fletcher's subsequent 1968 best-seller, "The Man Who Walked Through Time," only brought Butchart wider fame.
Before long, strangers looking for canyon pointers were writing Butchart letters, calling him on the phone and even showing up at his doorstep. The man who had never found time to attend any of his son's ballgames or ski races was always more than happy to oblige - and Roma's contempt deepened. She let it all out in a 1984 essay, "Confessions of a 'Hiking Widow."' Three years later, Butchart's canyon days were through. But at age 80, it was his bad hip and flagging stamina, not his conscience, that forced his hand. The couple settled into a more normal life, but even as they lived into their 90s, the emotional chasm between them remained. Could Butchart bridge this one last canyon before time ran out? That is the final cliffhanger in "Grand Obsession." By Joe Hudson of The Denver Post --Joe Hudson
Elias Butler is a writer and photographer living in Flagstaff, Arizona. Butler has written for Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, The Fretboard Journal, the Las Vegas-Review Journal and the Arizona Daily Sun
. Butler's photography has been published in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Arizona Highways, Backpacker
. This is his first book.
At age 19, Tom Myers began celebrating the dawning of each new year by hiking in the Grand Canyon. It is a tradition he and his wife continue to share with their three children. He has co-authored two previous Canyon books, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (with Michael Ghiglieri) and Fateful Journey (with Larry Stevens and Chris Becker).