How did you find yourself at Holiday? 

A mutual friend of ours, Dr. Roderick Nash – opened the HRE door for me.  He’d introduced me to rafting in the late 60s and at the time, ran a number of trips for Holiday.

My introductory first river trip could not have been any less auspicious.  The first rapid worth scouting on the Stanislaus/in CA is Footbridge. While scouting, Rod proceeded to tell us the percentage of rafts that had flipped here on his previous trip.  Statistically, our percentages were not good.  Before that moment I wasn’t afraid; after it, I was, and for the rest of the trip.  One and done was my mantra from that point on.

A month later Rod called me.  He was going back to the Stanislaus and asked if I’d like to go, asked me if I’d like to learn to row.  

As a surprise guest at his 80th birthday party, I told him – and in tears – that it was the most significant “Yes” of my life.

Scott hartman on rear oar in Cataract CanyonWhat years did you spend guiding?

I guided from ’73 to ’75

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

I started guiding at 18.  There aren’t many insights from those years that I’ve truly carried into my adult life and self.

But something began at Holiday with the repetition.  In those days the same day we took off a Cat trip, we unloaded, reloaded, and were putting in on Westwater that same night.  The day we took off Westwater we were back at Potash that night . . . in my two-plus years at Holiday I had two days off.

With that immersion, I began to realize that I am most Me when on a river; that I Am the River; that nature can heal.

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

With close to 10,000 river miles, naming or identifying a favorite stretch of river is an intimidating and daunting ask.  Three sections come to mind: from two miles above Vasey’s Paradise to Redwall Cavern on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon.  The White Mile on the Chilko River in British Columbia.  Our put-in camp on the Pampas River in Peru, as a member of Rod Nash’s first descent attempt.  No one had attempted it.  It was literally a blank spot, a white spot on the map.  To push off from that beach, with all that in mind . . . that moment has no equal before or since.

And as to the Pampas, to my knowledge, it remains unrun.

Do you still do river trips?

I went on my 14th Grand Canyon trip in June of ’21.  Although snow and I are incompatible, it is still the original white water and this winter I am praying for enough of it here to allow a pack raft trip down the Escalante River next spring.  Still runnin’ rivers? . . . Oh Yeah!

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

I was twenty years old when I “retired” from guiding. I heard, above the roar and beyond the whisper of the river, other Muses, a larger world calling.  And for the next thirty-five years, I answered.

What advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?  

In Life or on a river, when the goin’ gets tough, square-up and push.  Go with the flow.

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim? Frogg?

My first trip with Holiday was an overnight Westwater with Dee leading. He and I had pulled our rafts up side by side.  The next morning after topping off our boats – mine, a WWII vintage ten-man – Dee and I were standing on our frames in the boat, loading up.  All at once I heard a POP!, like a shotgun blast.  And then, very slowly, my boat deflated beneath me.  I was horrified.  Until I turned to Dee who was bent over double, laughing.  Only then did he tell me that my raft had pressure relief valves, and maybe not to top it off so much next time.

What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

In early January of 1990, I was in Pakistan, in the middle of a six-month trip through Pakistan and India.  My Visa was to expire the next day and my hosts – friends from California now teaching school in Pakistan – and I were enjoying a last day together.  That afternoon the phone rang.  It was for me.  It was my mother saying that my father had died.  That it was an accidental death.  That he had died on his boat on a river in France.

My friend’s house was the only place on my entire trip where I knew for certain that I would be, though the exact dates were unknown.  This is a pre-computer and pre-cellphone world.  Had I not gotten the call it would have been another four months before I would have known.

Three days later – still well short of comprehension and with little to no time for grief, I walked into my father’s house.  I was greeted initially not by family, which I desperately needed, but by a table full of bankers and lawyers; the business of death.  I spent the next nine months at his house, trying to sort out the life of someone who left it midstream.  I found documents.  Answered the phone from friends who didn’t know, and credit agencies, wondering where their money was.  A French death certificate didn’t wash with creditors, banks, or anyone else wanting their money.  And I took an eleven-day journey to Paris to tie up some loose ends.  I stayed on my father’s boat.

The little C- Scott HartmanThree months into my stay, Rod Nash called asking if I’d like to row my boat through the Grand.

A month later I was at Lee’s Ferry, pumping up our family boat that I’d first rowed on the Stanislaus twenty-three years earlier.

We stopped for lunch on the first day.  While the rest of the group was eating lunch in the shade I was standing knee-deep in the river, crying.  Wiping both eyes I looked across the river and knew that I was seeing with my father’s eyes.  I wasn’t startled.  There was no internal discussion to be had.  It was simply, So.

After lunch the three of us – me, the vintner and celebrated author Danuta Pfeiffer and my father got back in the boat and continued downstream.

All was well until the third morning.  “The Little C”, our boat, named and painted for its namesake the Little Colorado River, lay in a lifeless lump on the beach.  We resuscitated her and set out.  I patched her that night.  But to no avail.  Rod tried the next day.  Same result.  Others tried but the leak seemed terminal.  We began to top her off five times a day, ten times a day until Lava day.  Danuta and I took turns on Lava day.  While one rowed, the other worked the pump.  Every fifteen minutes for twelve miles.  Once again before scouting, and one more time before pushing off.

Our run was immaculate.  Never before that day or since have I had such a miraculous run in Lava.  The river lay down for us.

Three days later we were packing up at Diamond Creek.  The end of the trip I thought.  But the trip isn’t over until you unload your boat back home.

I’d joked below Lava about filling The Little C with white gas, setting her on fire, and pushing her off into the river below Diamond; a Viking funeral of sorts.  But I didn’t.  And once home I didn’t unload The Little C.

I drove around with the boat, frame, and oars in the back of my truck for more than a month.  I couldn’t let go, couldn’t let go of my father.

Then one day I drove to a landfill in the foothills outside of town, rolled The Little C from the truck then drove away.

Not more than a week later I saw on the news that a wildfire had broken out in the foothills outside of town.  No one was hurt.  No structures had been damaged.  But the entire landfill had been consumed.  There was nothing left but ashes.

This, however, was not the last river trip for my father and me.  For that please see High Desert Journal, Issue 33/Winter 2022, for my essay “Resurrection.”

Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest? 

Day one of Cat trip.  A woman was straddling the rear tube of our triple rig.  A giant boil came up on the river near her.  She quickly pulled her leg inside the raft.  “What?” she asked, “was that!”

Without a pause and as straight-faced as a World Series of Poker Champion I said, “A Cataract cat.”  I told her there are catfish here, anywhere from six to ten feet long that liked to feed in the shallows.  I told her that she had no worries.  They were vegetarian.

At her feet were two gallon-sized juice containers.  I’d been eyeing them for some time.  Rigging had gone on well into the night.   Between rigging and slapping mosquitoes, I’d had little time to rehydrate.  “Orange juice?” she asked, lifting the jug toward me.

I unscrewed the top, tilted the jug to my mouth, and was a little over a pint in when she said, “Oh . . . and vodka.”  From what I can remember it was a good trip.  They all are.

Are you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday? Evan, Scott, & Jim scouting '21

On that first Stanislaus trip of mine, there was another young buck – two years behind me in school – named Jim McKittrick.  We continued to run rivers with Rod, and on our own, in IK’s.  Jim came to work for Holiday at the start of my second year.  We have continued to run rivers together in Utah, Washington, Oregon, and California.  He is my best friend.

Sometime in the waning days of the last millennium his son, Evan started running rivers, and I was on his first trip on the Rogue River with him, and many others since then.  He too is a Holiday alumnus.

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

These days I live and work in Escalante, Utah.  I first came here in 2008 to finish a book that I was writing.  I did.  And am hoping to do the same this time.

Where do you call home? 

I defer to Basho, a 17th-century Japanese wanderer and perhaps the preeminent haiku poet: “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself, home.”

Do you think you will ever be a river guide again? 

As a photo of me/in the bow of the pomegranate colored boat/Grand Canyon last year with Jim and Evan McKittrick attests . . . I am now a gray beard, an elder . . . hoping to share my knowledge from the second best seat in a raft.