I’VE just caught up with the two BBC History programmes of Dan Snow and his friends ‘boating’ down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon.
I thought they were fantastic shows. Snow was attempting to re-create the first exploration of the Colorado River when a band of wild west river runners, under the leadership of a one-armed war veteran by the name of Major John Wesley Powell, descended the mighty river in 1869.
It’s not unusual today for groups of intrepid whitewater enthusiasts to raft down the river in huge inflatables but Snow and his team were keen to use replicas of the open boats Powell would have used – antique-style wooden rowing boats more fit for a museum than some of the wildest white water on the planet.
While I was hugely impressed by the whole operation, and in particular by the impressive skill of the three professional river guides, it all rather paled to insignificance when I recalled the adventures of one of my own great heroes, Colin Fletcher.
Colin Fletcher is a Welshman who lived in California for most of his life. He was, until his death a few years ago, America’s backpacking guru. It was undoubtedly his writings that transformed my own thinking about backpacking and the outdoors and I know that he was also a huge influence in the work of my good friend Chris Townsend.
Fletcher was the first man to walk through the Grand Canyon, from end to end, in the days before the great dams were built. That walk resulted in one of the finest outdoor books ever written – The Man Who Waked Through Time. His other great books include The Thousand Mile Summer and the The Secret World of Colin Fletcher. Read them, they are life-changing!
Not content to just walk through the Grand Canyon, at the ripe old age of 67 Fletcher decided he was going to descend the Colorado River from its source in Wyoming, right down to the mouth of the river in the Sea of Cortez, in the Gulf of California. He completed the route in a one-man inflatable raft, including all the sections of the Grand Canyon, although he did get some help in the wildest whitewater sections.
The book of the descent, simply called River – One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado. Source to Sea (published by Knopf in the US) is a fabulous book that is not only an account of am amazing journey by a pensioner but is also partly autobiographical. This latter aspect is important for Fletcher fans as the man himself was secretive to the point of obsession and this book contains many nuggets of information that cast some more light on this amazing man’s life.
I don’t know whether you can buy Colin Fletcher’s books in the UK but they are well worth checking out and chasing down, for anyone interested in adventure in the outdoors.
And thanks to the BBC for bringing those fabulous programmes with Dan Snow. I hope there are many more in the pipeline.