Fletcher, Colin

Fletcher, Colin – writer and hiker

I’m including a post about Colin Fletcher, yes, because his last name begins with F, but also because he was somewhat famous for hiking. In spite of being interested in hiking for quite some time, I had never heard of Mr. Fletcher, so I was surprised and intrigued to find out that he’s considered the grandfather of backpacking. He was one of the first persons who thought long and hard about where he was hiking, how to get there and what to take along. His book “The Complete Walker”, a sort of hiker’s bible, has sold over 500,000 copies and is still in print. So, as a result of studying up on him, I now have a new reading list that I can’t wait to get into! See it at the end of this post.

Fletcher was born in Wales, educated in England and did time in the military in World War II. He also spent time teaching in a Mountain Warfare Training Camp and living in Africa, surveying and helping to build roads. He did some prospecting in Canada, which led to a move to San Francisco in 1956. He hiked the nearby mountains. By this time, exploring and getting out alone into the wilderness was in his blood.

This is funny. His first extended backpacking trip in 1963 was from Mexico to Oregon, all along the eastern coast of California. He did what he called “contemplative walking”.  According to the NYT obituary, he took this hike to think over whether or not to marry his girlfriend. He did end up marrying her but it only lasted a few weeks. He probably should have taken a longer hike and contemplated more.

Daughter Julia and I are out for a “contemplative walk”.

He wrote his first book about this experience and called it “The Thousand Mile Summer”.

His second book, “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was written about his hike from one end of the Grand Canyon National Park to the other. He was the first to do the complete length in one hike.  The park at that time didn’t include the entire canyon but it was 200 miles in length. Apparently, with all the zigzags and explorations, he walked closer to 400 miles.

Not many have done this hike even today. It is incredibly difficult to cross the many deep tributary canyons. In an interview with NPR, Chip Rawlins, who co-authored the latest edition of Fletcher’s book “The Complete Walker”, said that Fletcher had devised a sort of life vest that would float him across some of the rivers he had to cross.  One of Rawlins friends, a river guide, said Fletcher must have been “nuts”. Here is a quote from “The Man Who Walked Through Time”:

“I saw that by going down into that huge fissure in the face of the earth deep into the space and the silence and the solitude, I might come as close as we can at present to moving back and down through the smooth and apparently impenetrable face of time.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, by Colin Fletcher

Colin Fletcher also traveled the complete length of the Colorado River, from source to sea, when he was 69 years old. His book “The River” is said to have his reflections on growing older.  It sounds like all of his books, in addition to having detailed guidelines on wilderness backpacking (solo), have a lot of philosophical musings. A bonus, all of the reviews say his writing is witty and enjoyable as well. I can’t wait to read these books!

The Thousand Mile Summer (1964)

The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968)

The Complete Walker (2002 edition)

River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea (1997)

7 thoughts on “Fletcher, Colin

  1. I have been wanting to read Colin Fletcher – I will add it to my list. I just finished reading ‘Old Lady On The Trail: Triple Crown at 76’ , by Mary E Davison. She walked the three long distance trails over a number of years, and tells the tale. I heard an interview with her recently, and was able to get the book from my library. I don’t aspire to do what she did, but her travels keep me inspired!

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