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The First Rule Of A Hiking Book Should Be To Do No Harm

September 17, 2010 | Comments: 0 | Views: 168

This is not really about hiking. After keeping my mouth shut for 20 years, I must perform a public service announcement.

This is not a rogue opinion. I have seen very knowledgeable people quake when hearing this fellow's name. Michael Kelsey writes killer desert hiking guides. It's not a joke, I wonder how many people have died using them. If this guy hasn't killed anyone I would be amazed.

The biggest tragedy is that one can find this fellow's books on the shelves of National Park Service stores. That would infer that the guidebooks are appropriate for "family outing" hiking. The nicest thing that I can say is that the NPS is obscenely irresponsible.

Say something positive? M. K. discusses hikes that no one else knows about. That is small consolation if you ain't comin' back to tell. Oh, one more positive. When we got caught in a flash flood (see "Hiking and Exploring the Paria River") it wasn't his fault. Act of God was responsible.

Here are some general weaknesses with his books:

1) He walks at a speed of 4-5 miles an hour in all terrains (and doesn't tell you that). No one can do that. Everything is a freeway to this guy. His books are not very descriptive (in my humble opinion) because he is going too fast to see anything. So he is great, because allowing enough time and water for hikes as he describes them, gets you halfway. DOUBLE ALL TIMES ALLOTED IN HIS BOOKS!

2) He writes trail descriptions in kilometers. It's very difficult to convert linear measurements when you are out of your mind with dehydration and sunstroke, since he has underestimated difficulty of a hike. Let this sink in, he WRITES U.S.A. DESERT HIKES IN METRIC DISTANCES. Nice! So at best, he is just unconscionable.

Just an experience that my wife and I had using one of his hiking guides ("Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell"). (By the way we are very good hikers, but not Supermensch). One of his "hikes" was a swim and dive. We can't swim. Truly one of the miracles in our lives happened on the day in question. My wife and I should have died that day-100% certain.

At the beginning of the "hike" narrative in the book, Kelsey says to take a nearby river measurement to see if it's safe to hike in the canyon. The measurement was "safe". Oh by the way, he said "you might want to put inner tubes on the kids." Guess what. the kids would have been dead. No miracles could have saved them. So we figured we would play it safe and take inner tubes.

So, I'm floating down the lazy river on my stomach, my wife on her butt, in inner tubes. We are just waiting until, for sure, there will be plenty of bank for hiking. I guess we were thinking it wasn't really a hike yet, but it was mellow.

We had tried dozens of this fine fellow's hikes, had allowed double time and water for the hike, and made sure that the "measurement" was safe for hiking.

Keep in mind, the place we were at, is the type of place where you might run into no one for years. The population per square mile is zero. We often hiked in the Utah desert without seeing anything alive except for rattlers and bighorn sheep. If you're familiar with the San Rafael Swell you know what I mean.

THE MIRACLE: As we are floating la, la, la, I hear a little whoosh. Now we are going fast. All of a sudden two guys are standing above us on huge boulders with wings on their backs, yelling "Don't go that way!" It was a waterfall, we would have died, me going headfirst. I certainly believe that help materialized from our need.

Conscientious book writer didn't say a thing about navigating waterfalls on the hike. We wouldn't have tried it. We can't swim. The angels had a good book by another author. They had ski poles and an extra raft for their equipment. We had backpacks and inner tubes.

I'll make it short now. Well, they saved our lives by pulling us out with the ski poles just before we went over the falls. I still spent the rest of the "hike" under water hanging onto my inner tube, getting sucked into whirlpools, fun stuff like that. There were many more waterfalls, many torrential rapids.

My wife, who can't swim at all, went out of her mind having to do dives from boulders. She didn't know which method of death to choose.

Well we made it, and I only got hypothermia. Our guardian angels' river trip was ruined babysitting us. At least they had known what they were in for.

Oh by the way, there is a second part to the hike. We didn't try it. It was rated more difficult with some minor log obstacles. I can imagine. The part we did supposedly had no obstacles. I've had a number of the fine fellows books, all in the garbage now.

Steve Allen's guides are pretty realistic (the most important thing) for Utah hiking (University of Utah Press).

My sis gave me a good book which highlights hikes in the Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix, Arizona. It is by Jack Carlson & Elizabeth Stewart (Clear Creek Publishing).

If a person is interested in Oregon hiking I recommend William L. Sullivan's guides. He explores the state in 5 books, regionally. He is a good photographer too (Navillus Press).

Here is a website I enjoy: Just put in the state where it says "Select a State" and there you go! Some bicycling is discussed as well as hiking. There are all lengths of trails on the site, up to thousands of miles long. Well, you don't have to do the whole trail, or do it all at once. For long distance (multi-day, state, week) trails don't click a state.

Here's what I do: I go to and click "National Trails System Map" (there is also a "Visit the Trails" format there). Then there are 3 map formats available. I use "Adobe Acrobat PDF". Now you have the trail that you are interested in, and the American Trails site can direct you to some printed guidance by putting the trail name in their "Search Our Website" area and hitting GO.

Southwestern USA desert hiking blog=

Jim William, e-mail:, is an avid hiker.


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