Jun 15, 2007 at 6:31 am #1223701
Backpacking icon Fletcher dies
Peninsula: Health deteriorated after accident in 2001
By LAITH AGHA and DANIA AKKAD
Herald Staff Writers
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.
"He is sort of a cult icon in the backpacking world," said Annette McGivney, the Southwest field editor for Backpacker Magazine. "He was like the Jerry Garcia of backpacking."
Fletcher lived in Carmel Valley for many years. He was struck by a vehicle in 2001 while walking to a town hall meeting about the proposed incorporation of Carmel Valley, but survived major injuries. He lived in Flanders Court, an assisted living facility, for about three years before being admitted to the hospital earlier this week after a period of declining health, according to his bookkeeper, Chris Cassidy.
"He was terrific until he got hit by the car, and then he just went downhill," Cassidy said. "He had so many stories."
Fletcher's early storytelling is contained in his first book, "The Thousand-Mile Summer," which was based on his hike along the length of California. A later book, "The Complete Walker," published in 1968, is more of an encyclopedia of backpacking knowledge, though each edition — it is in its fourth — is packed with backpacking wit and a strider's philosophy.
Fletcher was born in Wales on March 14, 1922, and reportedly served in the Royal Marines during World War II. He spent time in Kenya and Zimbabwe, farmed in South Africa and was a prospector in Canada before moving to the United States in 1956.
Jonathan Dorn, editor in chief of Backpacker Magazine, credited Fletcher's books for igniting the "huge boom that took place in the mid-'60s through the '70s."
"A lot of our readers, if they didn't come to backpacking through 'The Complete Walker,' have (since) read and consider it the bible of backpacking," Dorn said. "Certainly a lot of people think of him as the father of modern-day backpacking and someone who inspired thousands … to get out on the trails."
McGivney said Fletcher "lived most of his life as a single man, a bachelor."
She said Fletcher once paddled and walked the Colorado River from Wyoming to the Sea of Cortez, a 1,200-mile trek. He packed the length of California before the creation of the Pacific Crest Trail.
His methodical approach to backpacking rang throughout his writings, McGivney said.
"He would pontificate about life in the wilderness (and) a lot of people viewed him as this person with this wisdom that everyone respected. He was like a sage. He has this crusty exterior where people would view him as unfriendly, but once you got through that exterior he was the nicest person in the world and very caring."
Mary Ann "Corky" Matthews, a Carmel Valley resident and friend of Fletcher, said he believed backpacking is "a communion between the individual and nature."
Matthews said she and Fletcher met when he came to Los Padres National Forest in 1977 to do some volunteer restoration work. They remained close over the years, she said.
Fletcher used to come to the Matthews house and watch 49ers games with her husband.
"He'd jump up and down," she said. "He was quite an enthusiast."
He had several lifetimes worth of experiences all over the world, but didn't like to talk about himself, she said.
"It took a lot of work to pry things out of him," Matthews said.
McGivney said Fletcher became somewhat reclusive after the popularity of "The Complete Walker," which sold more than 400,000 copies in its first three editions.
"When he was such a cult figure, everyone tried to seek him out to bow at his feet," she said. "He created this whole fortress around himself." Few people knew exactly where he lived, and he guarded his telephone number jealously.
Injured severely after the accident in 2001, recovery wasn't easy for Fletcher, having to adjust to a life in which other people had to help him around.
"He was a fiercely independent and physical man who had to deal with basically being an invalid," McGivney said. "He probably would have wanted to go out while physically fit and have a heart attack. Instead it was this six years of gradual physical decline."
In addition to "The Complete Walker" and "The Thousand-Mile Summer," Fletcher wrote "The Man Who Walked Through Time," "River" and "The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher."
In "The Complete Walker IV," which he co-wrote with Chip Rawlins, Fletcher said that walking "can in the end become an addiction, and that it is then as deadly in its fashion as heroin or television or the stock exchange. But even in this final stage it remains a delectable madness, very good for sanity, and I recommend it with passion."
Fletcher left no known survivors, and plans for memorial services are pending.
Laith Agha can be reached at 646-4358 or email@example.com.Jun 15, 2007 at 6:40 am #1392392
@christownsendLocale: Cairngorms National Park
Thanks for posting that. I am one of those inspired by Colin Fletcher back in the 70s. Reading The Thousand-Mile Summer was a revelation – I'd never hiked outside Britain at that time – and inspired me to hike the Pacific Crest Trail back in 1982. I shall reread it now in his memory and give thanks for his life.Jun 15, 2007 at 7:24 am #1392394
@kdesignLocale: Mythical State of Jefferson
One of the truly great walkers. The first man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon—that story is another great read. A great inspirer of ambitions to walk far and to walk lightly.
Adieu.Jun 15, 2007 at 9:28 am #1392402
@halfturboLocale: Northernish California
How many backpackers got the bug because of Colin's inspiring, entertaining books? More than anybody could reasonably count.
Rest in peace, sir.Jun 15, 2007 at 9:47 am #1392405
So sad. I skimmed through IV last year without knowing what a legend he was. For a man like that to die a slow death due to chronic injuries is a darn shame. 'Walking' is great, but keep perspective. To walk the trail of life and end with no family or surviving heirs, biological or otherwise, is ultimately a failed journey.Jun 15, 2007 at 10:19 am #1392408
God blessed Colin Fletcher with 85 years of life and enabled him to inspire many thousands with his books. That doesn't make for a "failed journey" in my book. And neither can I label one's life as failed just because they never married or had children.
To walk the trail of life and end with no family or surviving heirs, biological or otherwise, is ultimately a failed journey.Jun 15, 2007 at 10:22 am #1392409
>To walk the trail of life and end with no family or surviving
>heirs, biological or otherwise, is ultimately a failed
I really don't understand that comment at all. Alone doesn't mean failed, especially if one values the house of solitude.Jun 15, 2007 at 10:56 am #1392415
@mitchellkeilLocale: Deep in the OC
I date my love of backpacking to the day someone gave me a copy of "The Man Who Walked Through Time". I thought it was a science fiction novel — what a revelation! I have reread it many times and each time it has moved me in ways hard to explain but deeply moving. I will miss his spirit but know that he walks with us still. A momment of silence…Jun 15, 2007 at 11:05 am #1392416
@cbertLocale: N. California
he just didn't physically produce them – if i manage to fail 1/10th as well as he did, i'll consider my life a great accomplishmentJun 15, 2007 at 12:27 pm #1392424
The Complete Walker was an eye opener for me when I first read it in the early '70s.
The gear information is a little outdated, but the crusty wit is well worth the read.
Two (non-gearhead bon mots I remember:
"The first rule of thermodynamic walking: Give your b**ls some air"
Also, he wrote about coming up with a mnemonic device to remember the categories of biological taxonomy:
"King Philip Come Out For God's Sake"…Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
I'll pack some scotch and take a nip is Colin's honor on my next trip to the woods.Jun 15, 2007 at 12:47 pm #1392426
@aroth87Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Off topic but I always found it funny. My biology teacher in high school taught us this little mnemonic for it: Keep Putting Condoms on for God's Sake. You should have heard the snickering in the room…
Anyway, I never read the Complete Walker (I know, what kind of hiker am I?) but I've never been much into reading about adventures (or really anything). I would much rather go out and experience things for myself. Though after all the rave reviews I've read in this topic I may consider picking up a book or two of Mr. Fletcher's. I might enjoy them.
AdamJun 15, 2007 at 2:14 pm #1392439
I have always believed that the more lives one touches the longer one stays alive through memories. Colin will live on for many more years in the hearts of all whom he inspired.
Colin you will be missed.Jun 15, 2007 at 6:20 pm #1392457
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
As far as I'm concerned, Colin Fletcher was THE MAN in the world of wilderness walking. I remember as a teenager repeatedly taking the first edition of "The Complete Walker" out of the library and just being totally engrossed in the book and wanting to get out there on my own. The legacy of Colin Fletcher is in the inspiration he gave to me and to countless others like me to take that pumpkin off the shelf and go for a walk.Jun 15, 2007 at 10:21 pm #1392468
@marti124Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
It was due to The Complete Walker, version I, that I got into backpacking. That was the only thing I read before doing a 2 week hike in Yosemite back in the 70s. That book took the fear out of the wilderness. I owe my lifelong love of hiking to his book. He did not die alone. He left this world with perhaps over another 50 years at least a million souls blessed by his presence. May any of us be so blessed.Jun 15, 2007 at 11:26 pm #1392471
@wunderLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Colin Fletcher doesn't have biological heirs, but he brought us all into his solo hikes. We are all his heirs. Before his books, solo hiking was dangerous, even crazy. He made it a choice.
I read his books with my dad before our hikes and I'm about to read them with my son before we hike Skyline to the Sea.
I said this in my blog a couple of days ago, too.Jun 16, 2007 at 12:57 am #1392473
A quote from: The Complete Walker
“I find the three truly great times for thinking thoughts are when I’m standing in the shower, sitting on the john, or walking. And the greatest of these, by far is walking.”
1922 – 2007Jun 16, 2007 at 6:26 am #1392480
A poster states: "'Walking' is great, but keep perspective. To walk the trail of life and end with no family or surviving heirs, biological or otherwise, is ultimately a failed journey."
Failed journey??? I would consider a person's life to be an overwhelming success if it packed in (no pun intended) enough living to fill several lifetimes while along the way sharing experiences and knowledge with many thousands of others, and also inspiring them (and through them, many thousands of others) to more fully enrich their own lives in similar pursuits.
Colin Fletcher has far more heirs to his legacy than most folks can ever hope to have. He deserves appreciation and respect for all that he did — and all that he continues to do through those who follow in his footsteps. He has been an inspiration and teacher for many, and through them for many more who may never even know his name.
Colin Fletcer only appears to be gone from the trails on this earth. His influence will carry on for as long as there's someone packing a pack and hiking a trail with even a little input & inspiration from others following, wittingly or not, Colin's message about the joys of hiking.
Seeds for immortality can surely be sown in many different ways with success. Colin Fletcher did it his way, for which I will be grateful for as long as I live. As others noted for themselves, I also recall his books as opening my eyes to paths that I might not have traveled otherwise.
JRSJun 16, 2007 at 7:50 am #1392486
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Sad. Colin led a life that most of us wish to have done.Jun 18, 2007 at 3:19 am #1392596
Colin Fletcher's books, especially the Thousand Mile Summer, inspired me to cross the pond and hike in Yosemite and later to thru' hike the PCT.
I don't think his books will ever be surpassed. I'm grateful to Chris Townsend and Cameron McNeish for turning me on to him, and to Colin Fletcher for capturing the joy that is wilderness backpacking.Jun 19, 2007 at 5:25 pm #1392760
@p-kLocale: San Diego
I really felt this loss right in the gut. I've been reading "The Man Who Walked Through Time," after completing "Complete Walker IV" and "Thousand-Mile Summer," and every time I picked up one of his books I wanted to send him a fan letter. What an inspiration he was! Hopefully his words will continue to influence many generations beyond ours.Jun 20, 2007 at 4:19 am #1392798
This morning I opened the paper and was stunned by the announcement that Colin Fletcher had died. I have followed him for the past 40 years, followed his advice and read every book he wrote.
Although I had not heard much about him in past few years due to his accident I thought he was still around and would be forever. Another part of our life gone. He will be missed.
As a closing thought in all the write ups and obituaries I have read there is no mention of his book "The Man From The Cave". This is an absolute spellbinding book about his research and investigation over a 10 year period of a man that had occupied a cave in the Rockies that he had stumbled on during one of his hikes. A must read.Jun 21, 2007 at 9:12 am #1392933
I disagree with the poster who said: "'Walking' is great, but keep perspective. To walk the trail of life and end with no family or surviving heirs, biological or otherwise, is ultimately a failed journey."
He lived a life of adventure and influence that most of us only hope of living. He may not have any biological heirs, but I am just one of thousands that through reading his books, inherited his love of walking.Jun 21, 2007 at 6:49 pm #1393004
"Every walk of life falls under the sway of the Testicular Imperative: Either you have the world by them, or it has you." Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker IVJun 21, 2007 at 6:59 pm #1393005
I can't resist another quote:
"The important thing about running your tight little outdoor economy is that it must not run you. You must learn to deal with the practical details so efficiently that they become second nature. Then, after the unavoidable shakedown period, you leave yourself free to get on with the important things — watching cloud shadows race across a mountainside or passing the time of day with a humming bird or discovering that a grasshopper eats grass like spaghetti or sitting on a peak and thinking of nothing at all except perhaps that it's a wonderful thing to sit on a peak and think of nothing at all."Jun 21, 2007 at 7:52 pm #1393010
A good friend of mine bought me "The Thousand Mile Summer" last Christmas; a hard book to find. He mentioned Colin's quotes here and there throughout our friendship, but I never knew what he was talking about, fully. I read my book, twice. Although I love my life, looking at life through Colin's text, allows me to mentally journey into a place where I would not have the courage to go otherwise. Collin was a true pioneer, one that will be missed greatly by me.
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