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Colin Fletcher Dies

Backpacking icon dies:

Colin Fletcher, a backpacking guru who wrote the book on the art of a good walk, died Tuesday at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. He was 85.

I think it is fair to say that Colin Fletcher‘s writings had the earliest and biggest effect on my developing interest in backpacking when I was much younger. My first recollection of Fletcher comes from high school, probably before my first real pack trip. A friend, with whom I eventually took my first pack trip, came from an outdoor family and either he or his father loaned me a copy of The Thousand Mile Summer, Fletcher’s great recounting of his epic walk from one end of California to the other. At the time of his walk there was no Pacific Crest Trail and I’m not even certain that the Muir Trail was a fully evolved thing – so Fletcher made his own route. In typical idiosyncratic Fletcher Form he managed to include the peak of White Mountain in his journey. He wrote a similar book about his journey though the Grand Canyon, The Man Who Walked Through Time.

Fletcher’s best known book was his seminal equipment and technique guide, The Complete Walker. This volume came out in multiple versions and influenced a generation (or two) of backpackers. Fletcher’s books were not the typical dry “equipment guides” that we often see – they were full of his unique and humorous (but, when necessary, profound) characterizations and opinions. To this day, I still use a number of them:

“When in doubt, doubt.”

(I wonder how many readers recall others? “Noah’s cape” and “Noah scape” anyone? ;-)

Ultimately, The Complete Walker was not really about what gear you should buy or what techniques to employ in a given situation – though you certainly could get that information from the book if you wanted. His books were – and are – a grand lesson about how and why to enter the wild world and how to be open to and, in so many different ways, prepared for that experience.

From the preface to the original edition of The Complete Walker – my copy of which sits on my lap as I type this:

“I was gently accused of escapism during a TV interview about a book I had written on my length-of-California walk. Frankly, I fail to see how going for a six-month, thousand-mile walk through deserts and mountains can be judged less real than spending six months working eight hours a day, five days a week, in order to earn enough money to be able to come back home to a comfortable home in the evening and sit in front of a TV screen and watch the two-dimensional image of some guy talking about a book he has written on a six-month, thousand-mile walk through deserts and mountains.”

Exactly. ;-)


June 14, 2007 - Posted by | People

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