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Book Review-Grand book spotlights legendary canyon hiker

Discussion in 'Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group' started by adkramoo, Sep 6, 2007.

  1. adkramoo

    adkramoo Guest

    Another book review with more interesting tidbits on Mr. Butchart

    Grand book spotlights legendary canyon hiker By Lynn Arave Deseret Morning News

    "Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon," by Elias Butler and Tom Myers; Puma Press; 2007; 455 pages; $19.95.

    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) — a man whose love of the canyon meant he hiked, climbed, floated and bushwhacked some 12,000 pioneering miles below the rim during 42 years. Then, through accounts of his adventures, you may be able to at least temporarily clutch that vast landscape in your mind.

    This book required 15 years of research and is woven into a masterful work about the human side of the Grand Canyon, as well as some physical features.

    There's a lot written about the Colorado River exploration of the Grand Canyon, but this new book focuses on the hiking and climbing aspect of it. And who better to pinpoint than Butchart, who is believed to have hiked more in the canyon than any other known person.

    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.

    This is not a short work but is well footnoted and includes more than 150 photographs of Butchart and the Grand Canyon — plus some maps — making it a treasure. After reading it, you may appreciate and understand the Grand Canyon from a new angle.

    As a Northern Arizona University professor of mathematics, Butchart looked like a typical bookworm, but his endurance and intense energy about the Grand Canyon caused a friend of his to claim the man was made out of piano wire.

    He came across some magical Native American places, like an ancient salt mine; successfully climbed more than 80 canyon buttes/summits without today's modern gear (some of his climbing apparatus is preserved in a Grand Canyon museum); and loved the obscure paths much more than the standard Bright Angel or Kaibab trails.

    Eventually a painful heel injury meant he had to have a park ranger helicopter rescue him on one of his adventures, and inevitable old age also equaled the last canyon trip for this "demon hiker." In some of his later years, he would travel by boat upstream from Lake Mead and explore side canyons without having to hike extensively.

    From a Utah point, he also floated part of Glen Canyon, just before it disappeared under a new dam's backup of water.

    The book also touches on tragedy. A collision of two aircraft once closed the area Butchart wanted to explore for about one year. He also lost a friend, Boyd Moore, to drowning in the Colorado River when their stunt of trying to cross the water on flimsy air mattresses (without wearing life preservers and during high spring runoff season) turned deadly. His body was never found, and Butchart temporarily abandoned the canyon and air mattresses as a result. That story alone is worth the price of the book.

    Butchart's wife, Roma, and her many nights and days of being alone during her husband's long and frequent treks are also explored in detail. Anyone who has left a spouse behind for some intense hobby can relate to that aspect of this book.

    It was also somewhat amusing that Butchart would bury his empty soup cans in the canyon, though more environmentally aware friends would sometimes dig them up and properly dispose of them.

    Some of his and his wife's ashes were spread in the inner canyon. Others were buried atop Wotan's Throne, a mesa. Butchart Fault is one part of the Grand Canyon officially named in his honor.

    Having my own lesser grand obsession with the Grand Canyon, Butchart was a man I wish I could have met. By proxy, this book is the next best avenue to knowing him now.

    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.

    E-mail: lynn@desnews.com
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