Michael Kelsey . . .

When by twin sons were growing up in the late ’80s, we enjoyed Michael Kelsey guidebooks.  They were a great source of information about hiking on the Colorado River Plateau, particularly in the region’s celestial slots.

We learned early that Kelsey was in much better shape than we were and to disregard his hiking-time estimates.  On top of one of the peaks in the Henry Mountains, we discovered a mailbox with a note that read, “Kelsey be damned, I’m taking my time.”

I would come home from work on Fridays and my sons would be ready to leave on a hiking/camping expedition.  They would have our weekend adventure all planned.  On one of our early forays–a camping trip into Robber’s Roost Canyon–we made two mistakes.  The first, we didn’t take enough food.  A mistake we never repeated.  And second, we didn’t take a backpacker stove.  We ended up burning too much wood.

Kelsey’s guidebooks made for wonderful family fun.  I can’t remember how many weekends of exploring we had, but it was a lot.  I have at least five of his books that still sit proudly on a bookshelf, all are well worn.  My sons still borrow them for time to time.  And as their children (my grandchildren) get a little older, I’m sure they will be used a lot more.  Thank you Michael Kelsey.

Cover of One of Kelsey's Guidebooks

I always enjoyed the news stories about Kelsey and his guidebooks.  The interviewees and reporters always sanctimoniously complained about the optimistic hiking-time estimates and the reporting of untested routes.  The on-air talent always seemed to enjoy reporting on the latest bookstore or gift shop to ban Kelsey’s self-published guidebooks, as if they had done the world a great public service.

A recent High Country News (11 Oct 2010) provides some wonderful background information on the now 67-year-old, Utah County rogue (“Once More Unto the Breach” by Jeremy Miller):

Later that evening, we speak about the 40 years of travel and monastic penny-pinching that have made Kelsey’s lifestyle possible:  buying used clothes at thrift stores, subsisting mostly on rice and vegetables, driving 45 mph on desert highways in un-air-conditioned vehicles to save gas, working out of the basement of his parents’ home in Provo and–most of all–carefully avoiding marriage.  “I’m married to this,” he says, sweeping a hand across a vertical panorama of sandstone walls.

He describes his childhood in the Uinta Basin.  Kelsey’s father lived well into his 90s and scratched out a living as an itinerant lumberjack and gilsonite miner.  The family moved to Provo in the mid-’50s, and Kelsey has remained there ever since.  He severed his ties with the Mormon Church at the age of 17 after a class discussion about the lack of divine intervention during the group’s expulsion from Missouri, the prophesied Garden of Eden.  “I walked over to the seminary the next day and turned in my card.  They call that apostacy,” he says.

Jeremy tells one very interesting Kelsey story:

The Blue John complex is perhaps best known as the place where Colorado hiker Aron Ralston was trapped for five grueling days in May 2003.  To escape, Ralston had to amputate his lower right arm, which had been pinned under an 800-pound boulder.  Kelsey says he was contacted recently by Hollywood filmmakers working on a movie about Ralston’s ordeal.  I’n not surprised when Kelsey tells me that the filmmakers said that Ralston was toting a copy of his canyon guide.

For more information see:  www.kelseyguidebooks.com

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One Response to Michael Kelsey . . .

  1. Bret Berger says:

    Kelsey’s book makes a brief appearance in the movie.

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