You may know of Harvey Butchart, the legendary Grand Canyon explorer who covered thousands of miles in the Canyon from the ‘40s to the ‘90s, but did you also know he used an air mattress to run parts of the river?
The new book, Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon by Dr. Tom Myers (Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon) and Elias Butler chronicles the fascinating life of Harvey Butchart and is now offered in the River Runners for Wilderness store at Grand Obsession at the RRFW Store.
The low key and seemingly timid Butchart, a math professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for some thirty years, was obsessed with Canyon discovery and was responsible for filling in the previously unknown backcountry map on countless hikes covering 12,000 backcountry miles and 116 rim-to-river hikes.
Which is where the air mattress floats came in-he realized that the ease and efficiency of river travel would contribute enormously to his exploration of the backcountry. Keenly aware of extra weight in his old-fashioned canvas backpack, he chose to forego lifejacket, helmet and paddle and used the same lightweight dime store air mattress he slept on as a skimpy raft. He flaunted park regulations, skipped permits and paid a high price as a terrified young hiking companion died in one of these ill-advised attempts.
The book also recounts several of Butchart's many dicey, protection-free solo first ascents which often resulted in agony for his wife and family waiting for his belated return. Explored in depth in the 460 page book, through personal interviews and family research, is Butchart's relationship with his wife Roma. Anyone with a partner who is obsessed with Grand Canyon will be able to relate to an exasperated Roma awaiting her often-missing spouse.
The authors further illustrate Butchart's accomplishments by replicating several of his hikes and describing their own trials and trepidations, taking the reader along to better understand Butchart's obsession and his risks. Butchart continued to hike well into his eighties and died in 2002 at the age of 95.
Butchart's extensive documentation of his journeys filled in giant blank portions of the 1923 Mathis-Evans map, the best available at the time, and have become the foundation for all subsequent maps, including the excellent Martin-Whitis river guide (available in our store at this link: Guide to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.) Butchart's hikes are shown on his own detailed map, reproduced on the front and back inside covers of the new book.
Grand Obsession spins a fascinating tale, beginning with Harvey's unusual and adventurous childhood after his birth in 1907 in the mountains of China, the untimely death of his father and the struggle of his mother to raise the family. The book, part biography and part modern-day adventure, contains over 180 illuminating photographs.
The price is $24 (includes US shipping). To order your copy for immediate delivery, visit Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of the Grand Canyon. Your purchase helps River Runners for Wilderness in our efforts to win ultimate protection for the glorious river and backcountry Harvey loved so much.