Colin Fletcher, the Father of Present day Backpacking

Lieutenant Colin Fletcher looked up from the soggy grey paper luggage leaking ropy streams of yellow vomit into the bilge water swirling close to his boots when Landing Craft Infantry 517 slammed hard into the port facet of the landing craft on his ideal. It was 0730 hours, June 6 1944. D-Day. The Normandy beachhead. He was in the initial wave of the invasion.

The unexpected collision brought him to his feet.

Lots of of the adult males all around him had been heaving violently. “I was pretty seasick,” he recalled afterwards, “as were most of the others–everyone was really anxious.” German shells exploded in all places in the turbulent sea. Offended bullets tore by the air just earlier mentioned his head. A person slammed into a gunwale at the rear of his appropriate shoulder providing off a sharp pinging sound. Just as he produced it ashore a shell exploded so close that it ripped his still left boot off and despatched it flying into the maelstrom. Fletcher was a single of the fortunate survivors, for the casualties ended up incredibly significant that day.

He was 22 decades old but to appear at him then you would not have imagined that in 20 decades he’d be the most well known prolonged-length walker in the entire world and the father of present day backpacking.

Fletcher grew up in Wales, the son of a solitary mother who believed walking was fun. She took him to close by hilltops for weekend outings and used the outdoor as her classroom. When she died unexpectedly at the outset of WWII, Fletcher was so distraught he volunteered for the Royal Maritime Commandos and put in a lot of the war at the rear of enemy strains as a saboteur blowing bridges, dams, inserting spies, and so forth.

He’d commit the following decade after the war’s end fumbling towards achievement and exploring for self.


In 1958 he decided to stroll the length of California. This was a complete 10 years in advance of the Pacific Crest Path was officially designated and 33 a long time ahead of it was concluded. The time period via-hiker did not still exist, but if it experienced, Fletcher would have been a person of the initially. He logged a lot more than a thousand miles on this journey, which started at the Mexican border, took him north together the Colorado River, across the Mojave Desert, up the spine of the Sierra and into the Cascades, in which he walked on until eventually he attained the Oregon border. Really couple individuals had been executing this kind of matter at the time. There was no a person for him to emulate so he formulated what became prevalent backpacking tactics alongside the way. The journey generated his to start with published ebook, The Thousand-Mile Summertime, which is now a typical and nevertheless read through by major long-length walkers.

Five decades later–with help from Harvey Butchart–he grew to become the very first to wander the length of Grand Canyon Countrywide Park in just one arduous solo trek. (The boundaries of Grand Canyon Nationwide Park were expanded to incorporate the overall canyon in 1975. In 1963 the restrictions of the nationwide park went from Havasu Canyon on the west stop to Small Nankoweap Canyon on the east. Neither Harvey Butchart nor Fletcher were the to start with to wander the canyon’s whole duration. That honor went to Kenton Grua, who walked it in two segments, ending in 1976.)

Any one who has hiked in the canyon appreciates this is a badass, lifetime-threatening trek. For occasion, Fletcher’s initial 100 miles are chalk-dry–there are no dependable resources for drinking water, and in 1963 no escape routes had been recognized. The Canyon has claimed hundreds of lives. Even right now, only a couple have correctly finished the full length.

Fletcher returned to The canyon in 1967 and turned the initial person identified to walk from Havasu Creek to Bridge Canyon–a distance a great deal farther than his unique well-known hike. These journeys spawned his first renowned books, which had been launched in tandem. The Man Who Walked Via Time showed what wilderness immersion could do for one’s religious currently being and The Total Walker introduced backpacking procedures that manufactured backcountry travel significantly safer and a lot easier. All through the subsequent 20 years extra than a million people read them.

Fletcher’s timing was ideal, for both textbooks had been released in 1968–a time when younger persons have been rallying from the Vietnam War, racism, and gender inequity a time when they began questioning the ethics and morality of their elders and sought alternate life it was a time when environmental concerns started to floor. Spurred on by the occasions and Fletcher’s textbooks, alongside with many others by these authors as Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, Rachel Carson, Loren Eisley, and other individuals, lots of forsook the planet of funds-thrust and guy-crud and began backpacking into wild locations. His operate was a main reason for this back again-to-character movement. He was the just one who confirmed the way. The multitudes adopted his shadow. He was to backpacking what Walter Cronkite was to reporting or what Leonard Bernstein was to new music when Colin Fletcher had some thing to say, folks listened.

By the early 1970s, thanks in element to his fame, he withdrew from modern society and turned a recluse. He referred to himself as a “solitary son-of-a-bitch.” Some who realized him mentioned he was a guy whose persona ranged from Captain Bligh to Santa Claus. He continued to backpack, but wrote extremely small about the areas he visited. His fame diminished but his badassery ongoing.

He designed solo treks from Grand Canyon’s Bridge Canyon to Boulder Dam. From there he walked to Nelson’s Landing and then closed the extend concerning Nelson and Needles, California, earning him the initial person identified to stroll from Mexico to Nankoweap Canyon. He undertook all these treks on your own.

Fletcher was a man’s guy. With a number of compact exceptions, he by no means complained about agony or worry. He experienced the typical British rigid upper lip. But approximately all of his massive treks were being extremely difficult checks of physical and spiritual endurance–something he by no means pointed out, but that his emulators immediately discovered.

In 1977 he buried a treasure of gold, silver, and jewels worthy of about $100,000 currently. He did this because he imagined the American economy was about to collapse. Fletcher also cached enough equipment and materials someplace in the California Coast Variety to survive four years devoid of any help from the outside the house planet. This cache, alongside with at the very least two other treasures, have hardly ever been identified.


He wrote a few extra publications throughout the ’80s and in 1989, at the age of 69, determined to vacation the size of the Colorado River under his individual energy and correctly done the 1,700-mile journey to come to be the to start with human being to vacation the size of the river in a solitary craft. At the finish of the 6-thirty day period experience he was achieved on the seashore in Baja California by a band of armed Mexican Federales who considered he was main some form of invasion. Whilst they ended up selecting no matter if to shoot him on the place or simply just arrest him, Fletcher calmly defined that he arrived in peace, all the way from Wyoming, to visit the superior folks of El Golfo. He was so persuasive and relaxed that as a substitute of executing him, they designed him an honored guest of the village.

By 2001 Fletcher experienced prepared 15 books, of which ten have been posted. He acquired substantially from his quite a few yrs as an outdoorsman. With regards to one particular of the lessons, he stated, “Death is a flawlessly regular celebration. It’s as frequent as existence. It is not a large offer.” He was about to have his perception examined in the excessive, for early on the evening of August 13, 2001, when strolling together a state highway, 79-yr-old Fletcher was struck down by a Toyota 4Runner traveling 40 mph. He flew 60 toes down the highway and landed on his head.

His injuries provided various fractured ribs, a crushed patella, a punctured lung, and a ruptured diaphragm. 1 eye was blinded, and a serious situation of street rash lined most of his system. But these were ‘superficial injuries.’ For his cerebral cortex smashed against the within of his skull all but turning his mind to jelly. The end result was severe mind trauma. He shed considerably of his memory, bodily, and verbal talents. He could not treatment for his individual cleanliness nor feed himself.

The healthcare facility personnel patched him up as finest they could and sent him to a nursing facility. He fought so vehemently to return residence and get back his personalized lifestyle, he grew to become these types of a tough client that there was nothing at all to do but permit him return property beneath the treatment of a whole-time caregiver. But his affliction was untenable and forced him in and out of the medical center and care services for the subsequent six decades. He under no circumstances recovered. A couple of decades after the incident his legal professional frequented him and realized that Fletcher’s liver and gallbladder had migrated through his ruptured diaphragm, a condition the medical practitioners found only not too long ago. They hadn’t suspected nearly anything far more was wrong because he by no means the moment complained about the soreness.

After virtually six many years of suffering, he at last handed away in June 2007. But his final little bit of badassery came following his demise when his Final will and testomony was read through. His unique directions ended up: “Burn me, and flush me down the rest room.”

His stays ended up cremated but the ashes were not flushed they ended up scattered in the Ventana Wilderness alongside a path he significantly appreciated.

Without the need of Fletcher’s revolutionary work it is not likely that backpacking would have turn out to be what it is nowadays. Definitely, the key trails and the huge countrywide parks’ backcountry areas would be significantly considerably less populated. These days, even though most have by no means listened to of him, we can blame Colin Fletcher for luring the hordes out into America’s wild sites.

Pics courtesy of Robert Wehrman. Go through much more about Colin Fletcher in Wehrman’s biography Strolling Guy.


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Colin Fletcher, the Father of Present day Backpacking

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