Colin Fletcher, considered the father of modern backpacking for his lyrical and practical writings on hiking, including "The Complete Walker"...
Colin Fletcher, considered the father of modern backpacking for his lyrical and practical writings on hiking, including “The Complete Walker” and “The Man Who Walked Through Time,” died Tuesday at a Monterey, Calif., hospital. He was 85.
Mr. Fletcher died of complications related to old age and the injuries suffered in 2001 when he was hit by a car as he crossed a rural road, said Chris Cassidy, a business associate.
“He brought this idea that you didn’t have to be a nut case to take long, solitary walks in the wilderness at a time when a lot of people were really looking for ways to create holistic lives and escape from the craziness of Vietnam and the stresses of the ’60s,” said Jonathan Dorn, editor in chief of Backpacker magazine.
“The Complete Walker,” published in 1968, is an exhaustive guide to outdoor travel that is regarded as the backpacker’s bible. The book brims with advice on gear and frank observations, such as why someone should consider wilderness walking: It “remains a delectable madness, very good for sanity.”
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“He was to backpacking what Jack Kerouac had been to road trips,” Annette McGivney wrote in Backpacker magazine in 2002.
Romantic conflict inadvertently inspired Mr. Fletcher’s walking-writing career.
In 1958, he decided to hike the length of California from Mexico to Oregon so that he could engage in “contemplative walking” and decide whether to get married.
Six months and 1,000 miles later, he married his girlfriend and wrote his first book, “The Thousand-Mile Summer” (published in 1964), which detailed his route across the Mojave Desert and up the Sierra Nevada range.
The marriage ended within weeks, but the man some call “the J.D. Salinger of the high country” had discovered a way to communicate.
“He found he could touch people in a grand and far-reaching way and have friends without having them in his hair all the time,” said Chip Rawlins, who helped update “The Complete Walker IV” (2002) and considered Mr. Fletcher “one of the heroes of my youth.”
“Colin was cranky, opinionated, irascible, yet I found him quite wonderful, actually,” Rawlins said.
Outside Mr. Fletcher’s Carmel Valley, Calif., home hung a sign that said: “Beware of the Man!” Once he touched fame, Mr. Fletcher guarded his home’s location and scratched a decoy name on his mailbox.
In 1963, beckoned by the Grand Canyon’s beauty, he became one of the first humans to walk the length of the chasm. He wrote about the two-month trek in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” (1968). The feat rarely has been repeated.
The “artfully worded account” of the Grand Canyon adventure “introduced an increasingly nature-hungry public to the spiritual and physical rewards of backpacking,” McGivney wrote in 2002. The book remains in print.
Mr. Fletcher exited the canyon with new purpose. He devoted himself to walking and writing about it.
In all, he wrote seven books in a 35-year span.
At 67, he hiked and paddled solo 1,750 miles down the Green and Colorado rivers and recounted the experience in “River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea” (1997).
Of his works, Mr. Fletcher favored “The Man From the Cave” (1981), possibly because he related to the main character — a gold prospector who inhabited a cave in the Nevada desert, said Carl Brandt, Mr. Fletcher’s longtime agent.
Born March 14, 1922, in Cardiff, Wales, in the United Kingdom, Mr. Fletcher was an only child who traced his love of walking to his mother, who enjoyed venturing out in the rain.
He first backpacked as a commando for the Royal Marines in World War II and spent five years in Africa. Several odd jobs followed, including prospecting and laying out roads for a mining company in Canada and janitorial work at a San Francisco hospital.
Well into his 70s, Mr. Fletcher continued to hike and backpack. He was working on an autobiography when he was struck by a car while walking near his house. He suffered severe brain trauma, many broken bones and other injuries.
“He came back from the accident but never again was near the person he once was,” said John Sexton, a wilderness photographer who was his neighbor.
Mr. Fletcher has no survivors.