David Harmer old photoWhat years did you spend guiding?


What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and has been valuable to life beyond the river?

“Go with the flow.” (In almost any endeavor, there’s an optimal path, where the channel is deepest, the current is strongest, and the obstacles are fewest. Observe until you discern that path. Row there.)

“If in doubt, square it out.” (If you can’t avoid a challenge, problem, or threat, then confront it directly, head-on.)

Be all in. I had a lot more fun once I decided not to try to stay dry.

What is your favorite stretch of river that you have been on?

Yampa, Lodore, Split Mountain, Deso, Labyrinth, Stillwater, Westwater, Fisher Towers, Cat, San Juan—love ’em all. But returning to Cataract Canyon after 30+ years away was a revelation. When I was guiding, Lake Powell was full; the rapids ended at Big Drop Three. Now, the reservoir has dropped so far that you can enjoy another dozen great big rolling rapids after that, and Glen Canyon is re-emerging. Just in case climate patterns change and the reservoir rises again, go see it while you can.

Do you still do river trips?David Harmer rowing

Yes—now as a Holiday guest rather than a guide!

What do you miss most from guiding?

The river, the rocks, and the dark sky at night. Immersion in the fabulous natural environment of the Colorado Plateau.

Minimalism: spending the entire summer in the same trunks and sneakers, with all my belongings in an ammo can and a waterproof bag, and not lacking a thing.

The acceptance and esteem of my fellow guides. I respected them immensely. To be accepted as one of them was as gratifying as any subsequent professional honor.

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

Law school. When I confessed to my buddy Bret Jameson that I was leaving Holiday, he looked stricken . . . wounded . . . personally betrayed. I still feel guilty about it.

David harmer and daughterWhat advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?

I wouldn’t presume to offer them any advice at all. They’re fantastic. I’ve brought my family and friends on multiple Holiday trips, and everyone has been favorably impressed by the maturity, proficiency, and friendliness of the guides.

What are you up to these days? (career, passions, hobbies, artistic endeavors, etc…)

Mainly wondering how my kids got so old so fast. Madison’s in medical school at the U, Jonas married an Olympic gymnast, Ariel loves all living things, and Ben’s a dang good barber. They all love river trips.

Career: I’m CEO of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, a nationwide civic-education organization.

I’ve been working on my downhill skiing speed. Last season I hit a personal best of 84.1 mph.

Where do you call home?

Bountiful, Utah. I commute to Pennsylvania. Long flight, but there’s no place I’d rather come home to.