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Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon Hardcover – August 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 457 pages
  • Publisher: Puma Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970097352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970097354
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,660,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Harvey Butchart, the man who has walked over more of the Grand Canyon than any other alive or dead..." --Edward Abbey

From 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

About the Author

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).

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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I bought a copy, read it in 2 days in campgrounds, hotels, etc.
richard laubly
An author himself, many hikers are familiar with Harvey Butchart's series of "guide books", Grand Canyon Treks.
Matthew Hoffman
The writing is superb, the photographs enriching, and the flow and structure of the book are excellent.
Thomas W. Swetnam

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pete Winn on September 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Grand Obsessions is page turner for anyone who's hiked the Grand Canyon or plans to hike it. Not only do the authors bring Butchart back to life, they do a great job of descibing the influnce of other Grand Canyon backcountry explorers on him, and in return, his influence on them, including other authors such as Colin Fletcher (The Man Who Walked Through Time). I highly recommend sharing this book with your hiking friends.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joe Bartels on September 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Grand Obsession explores the full life of Harvey Butchart. Assessments on the whole seem prudent. A riveting, yet educational masterpiece presented well by Butler and Myers. Given a soul the reader will experience all emotions. I found myself laughing out loud, crying inside and obsessed to read the next chapter.

Lucky you, the authors are the exact opposite of the subject at hand. Virtually any question you may have about Harvey is answered. It's everything you need to know presenting intense facts along the way. Symbolic childhood moments decipher the psyche. Fun adventures to those that turned sour are interweaved with mini profiles of those that affected his life most. Personal and sometimes appalling tidbits make it real. Never before nor will I ever likely read another book this size, I just wish this one was bigger!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Harvey Butchart was a mathematics professor. His doctoral thesis was "Helices in Euclidean N-Space", and at one point he had to get twenty feet of wrapping paper to do his massive calculations for it. He looked the part, for he was scrawny at five foot seven inches and 135 pounds, and he had thick bifocals. He was socially awkward and shy. He was a good mathematician, with further papers and competence within the Northern Arizona University Mathematics Department. He had a perfectly respectable professional life. So far so dull. You would not have known it if you had seen him in his professor role, but he was a tenacious adventurer who made the Grand Canyon his realm of expertise. He logged 12,000 hiking miles in over forty years of canyoneering, he found new routes of access from the canyon rim to river, and he climbed 83 of the buttes in the canyon, often climbing by himself, and 28 of those climbs were the first recorded conquests. Everyone who knew him knew of his obsession with the canyon, and he is a hero to the many who have followed the trails he described. No one appreciates Butchart's life's work more than hikers Elias Butler and Tom Myers, who have written an admiring biography of the man who knew the Grand Canyon better than anyone, _Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon_ (Puma Press). Not only is this big, well-illustrated book an account of Butchart's life and work, it chronicles much of the history of the canyon, especially after the boom in camping and nature appreciation that has occurred in the past decades. It is also an account of an obsession that was dangerous at times, and even tragic. The obsession was also hazardous to Butchart's family life, but he did put it to practical use for the benefit of others.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Swetnam on February 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a tremendously interesting and enjoyable biography. The writing is superb, the photographs enriching, and the flow and structure of the book are excellent. Most importantly, the authors have beautifully and humanely illuminated the life of an extraordinary -- and until now for me and many others -- a somewhat mysterious man.

I met Dr. Butchart 35 years ago when I took his Algebra course at Northern Arizona University. He was a challenging professor (the best kind!), and as a young hiker and beginning Canyoneer, I was in awe of his Canyon reputation. I didn't get to know him beyond class. In subsequent years and after many off-trail and below-the-rim miles attempting to follow his terse guides, I was mystified as to who he really was. Thanks to Butler and Meyers, I have finally come to know him. And what a great arm-chair adventure getting to "know him" has been!

"Grand Obsession" is not only a fine addition to the ever enlarging literature of the Grand Canyon, it is a fittingly great biography of a little known but great western explorer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Timecheck on July 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Harvey Butchart was the first person to thoroughly explore the Grand Canyon on foot since Native American times. Obsessive by nature, he took detailed trip notes, and incorporated his notes in a trail guide that is still unrivaled. Butchart was the first person to walk the length of the park below the rim, and his tips were what enabled Colin Fletcher to become the first person to walk through the canyon in one season. Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon made Fletcher, and later Butchart, famous.

Elias Butler and Tom Myers have produced an engrossing book on many levels. Most of the book is about events from the 1950s into the 80s. The hiker climber authors followed several of Harvey Butchart's routes while researching the book. Their personal stories lend a feeling of suspense to what would otherwise be a historical account. The book is a biography of a man, an exploration of a hiker's obsession and its effect on his family. Other books cover Colorado River exploration, but this is the first one I have seen that documents Grand Canyon exploration by foot. Researching the book was a fifteen year effort, and it is well documented with footnotes, photos and supplemental notes.

As a long distance hiker myself, I was caught up with the multiple aspects of the book. The authors managed to impart the addictive nature of endurance sports, and the ramifications of a sport that consumes many hours. While Harvey hiked, his family grew up and moved on, seeing little of him.

Hikers and Grand Canyon enthusiasts are certainly going to enjoy this book, but I strongly recommend it to anyone getting into a sport that consumes immense time away from family.
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