The first rule of a hiking book should be do not harm

It’s not really about hiking. After keeping my mouth shut for 20 years, I have to make a public service announcement.

This is not a dishonest opinion. I’ve seen very knowledgeable people tremble upon hearing this guy’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’d be surprised.

The biggest tragedy is that one can find this companion’s books on National Park Service store shelves. That would infer that the guides are appropriate for “family outing” hikes. The best I can say is that the NPS is obscenely irresponsible.

Did I say something positive? MK talks about hikes that no one else knows about. It’s a little consolation if you don’t tell it again. Oh, a more positive one. When we got caught in a flash flood (see “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River”) it was not their fault. Act of God was responsible.

Here are some general weaknesses of his books:

1) Walk at a speed of 4-5 miles per hour on all terrains (and it doesn’t tell you that). Nobody can do that. Everything is a highway for this guy. His books are not very descriptive (in my humble opinion) because he goes too fast to see anything. So that’s great, because giving enough time and water for the hikes as he describes them takes you halfway. DOUBLE ALL THE ALLOCATED TIMES IN YOUR BOOKS!

2) Write trail descriptions in kilometers. It is very difficult to convert linear measurements when you are crazy from dehydration and heat stroke as you have underestimated the difficulty of a hike. Let this sink in, WRITE US DESERT WALKS IN METRIC DISTANCES. Nice! So at best, it’s just inconceivable.

Just an experience my wife and I had using one of their hiking guides (“Utah’s San Rafael Swell Hiking and Exploring”). (By the way we are very good hikers, but not Supermensch). One of his “walks” was swimming and snorkeling. We cannot swim. Truly, one of the miracles in our lives occurred on the day in question. My wife and I should have died that day, 100% for sure.

At the beginning of the “hike” narrative in the book, Kelsey says to take a measurement of a nearby river to see if it is safe to walk in the canyon. The measurement was “safe”. Oh by the way, he said “you may want to put inner tubes on the kids.” Guess what. the children would have been dead. No miracle could have saved them. So we thought we’d play it safe and bring inner tubes.

So I’m floating in the lazy river on my stomach, my wife on her butt, in inner tubes. We’re just waiting until, for sure, there is enough bench to hike. I guess we were thinking it wasn’t a hike yet, but it was smooth.

We had tried dozens of this good fellow’s hikes, allowed twice as much time and water for the hike, and made sure the “measure” was safe for the hike.

Keep in mind that the place we were in is the kind of place where you may not meet anyone for years. The population per square mile is zero. We often walked through the Utah desert without seeing anything alive except rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep. If you are familiar with the San Rafael Swell, you know what I mean.

THE MIRACLE: As we float la, la, la, I hear a small buzz. Now we go fast. Suddenly, two guys are standing over us on huge rocks 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 the help materialized out of our need.

The conscientious book writer said nothing about navigating the waterfalls on the hike. We would not have tried it. We cannot swim. The angels had a good book by another author. They had ski poles and an extra raft for their gear. 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 crossed the falls. I still spent the rest of the “walk” underwater hanging from my inner tube, being sucked in by eddies, fun things like that. There were many more waterfalls, many torrential rapids.

My wife, who can’t swim at all, went crazy for having to dive off rocks. He did not know which method of death to choose.

Well we made it and I’m just hypothermic. Our guardian angels’ journey down the river was ruined by taking care of us. At least they knew what awaited them.

Oh by the way, there is a second part of the hike. We did not test it. It was rated as more difficult with some minor logging hurdles. I can imagine. The part we did supposedly had no obstacles. I have had several books of good companions, all now in the trash.

Steve Allen’s guides are quite realistic (most important) for hiking in Utah (University of Utah Press).

My sister gave me a good book that highlights hiking in the Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix, Arizona. It’s from Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart (Clear Creek Publishing).

If someone is interested in hiking in Oregon, I highly recommend William L. Sullivan’s guides. Explore the state in 5 books, regionally. He is also a good photographer (Navillus Press).

Here is a website that I enjoy: Just enter the state where it says “Select a state” and you’re done. There is talk of some cycling and hiking. There are trails of all lengths on the site, up to thousands of miles long. Well, you don’t have to do the whole tour or do it all at once. For long distance trails (multi-day, state, weekly), do not click on a state.

Here’s what I do: I go to and click on “National Trails System Map” (there is also a “Visit the Trails” format there). So there are 3 map formats available. I use “Adobe Acrobat PDF”. You now have the trail you are interested in and the American Trails site can direct you to a printed guide by placing the trail name in the “Search our website” area and pressing GO.

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