Canyon’s beauty lures aerospace exec on 30-year odyssey

Many TV travel shows and nature books insist the residents of Arizona are lucky because they have the Grand Canyon in their back yard.

And South Tempe resident Dave Elston isn’t letting the opportunity to enjoy this natural wonder slip through his hands.

Elston, a sales manager for a major aerospace defense and space corporation in the Valley, has been hiking the canyon since 1977.

“I started with a four-day (hike) to Thunder River and I actually passed out on the trail from heat exhaustion on the first day,” Elston said.

“In spite of that bad experience, I was hooked on the Grand Canyon. I learned to be better prepared in the future.”

The wonder and beauty of the Grand Canyon has kept Elston coming back for 30 years, hiking nearly every trail it has to offer.

“I have spent 359 days in the canyon and will hit the one-year mark on June 15 when my family and friends will join me on a hike,” Elston said.

“My favorite thing about hiking, especially when tackling some of the difficult and remote trails, is that my success is totally dependent upon me.”

Even though his passion for hiking started in Arizona and Elston prefers to hike here, he has traveled to the state of Washington to hike Mt. Rainier with his wife.

In his near year of canyon hiking, Elston has not only faced excruciating heat but blistering cold.

His best story involves a group of adults and Boy Scouts who faced an unpredicted three-foot snowfall. It took the group, led by Elston, an entire day to climb three and a half miles uphill into the snow pack.

Not only did Elston have the lives of several adults and young men riding on him but he took on the responsibility of others’ lives. He set up a rescue station in the snow for other hikers they came across that needed medical attention.

After leading his group to safety he returned and stayed with the injured until a helicopter rescued them from the canyon three days later.

“I don’t think the parents of our scouts have any idea what their sons went through,” Elston said. “Hiking through (the snow) during our long night and the next day was very difficult.”

Battling the snow with the scouts is not the only time Elston has found himself in tricky situations-situations that never let him forget that hiking can be an incredibly enjoyable but dangerous pastime.

“I have been cliffed-out more times than I care to mention and without water for more than a day at a time,” Elston said.

“I have also found a couple of bodies over the years, and they are always poignant reminders of the dangers involved.”



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