Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Reads: The Man Who Walked Through Time, by Colin Fletcher

Serious hikers will probably recognize Colin Fletcher’s name because of his Complete Walker, first published in 1968 and revised three times since. It is one of the most influential books ever written for serious backpackers, and it is often referred to as “the hiker’s Bible”.

In The Man Who Walked Through Time, Fletcher hiked the Grand Canyon from the western boundary of the national park to the eastern boundary. Most people who hike the Grand Canyon normally do so from rim to river and back up to rim, either the rim where they started or the opposite one. But Fletcher chose to hike the entire length of the park below the rim.

Such a hike presented numerous challenges, the foremost being finding a route. When he set out on his walk, he was not even sure that such a hike was possible, for at places the canyon forms solid walls down to the river. Would he be able to find ledges, skirts, and other walkways where he could traverse the canyon entirely below the rim? Another large challenge was being re-supplied during his 2 month trip. He would have to cache supplies at strategic points, and he even relied on air drops on 3 occasions. And would he be able to find water along the route, especially in the western areas where water sources are less reliable and depend largely on basins that catch rain and snow.

As he recorded his actual hike, Fletcher provided his impressions on the geology and anthropology of the Grand Canyon. For those interested in these topics, you will probably enjoy his insights and his attempts to become part of the canyon experience. For those interested primarily in the act of backpacking, these numerous digressions might be a distraction. But, the purpose of the book is, after all, to “walk through time”, and to do so, Fletcher tried to fully immerse himself in the canyon.

But Fletcher also provided great insight into the art of backpacking. For example, in the second chapter, he went into great detail about his first night on the trail: how he “pitched” his camp, the equipment he used, the food he cooked, the application of rubbing alcohol to help his feet after a long day of hiking, and so forth. As a hiker, I appreciate these details. At the end of the book, he also provided a list of his equipment as well as the supplies he carried and received at each cache and air drop.

I admire people like Colin Fletcher who seem so comfortable with themselves and so confident that they can spend weeks, even months, alone in the wilderness with only the barest of supplies and equipment. Fletcher was quite an interesting person. He was born in Wales in 1922 and was a commando in WWII. Following the war, he lived in Kenya for several years before moving to western Canada and then to California, where we spent the remainder of his life before passing away in 2007.

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