Aug. 31, 2011 - Issue #828: Hollerado
Milking the mountains
Two guidebooks show how to get the most out of hiking the Rockies
By Graeme Pole
Mountain Vision Press
The Aspiring Hiker's Guide 1:
Mountain Treks in Alberta
By Gerry Shea
Rocky Mountain Books
When it comes to hiking guidebooks, usually the more reliable and detailed information it contains, the better. However, what you leave out is as important as what you put in, argues Graeme Pole, author of Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, arguably one of the most influential and durable hiking titles in Canada.
In three editions spanning 30 years, Classic Hikes has endured a lot of changes in Canada's Rockies. Pole accepts that a guidebook encourages exploration but when confronted with the decision whether to include a trail passing through highly sensitive habitat, he prefers to err on the side of preservation.
"I left out a few trails that were in the second edition because either they were burned over or scoured by pine beetle," says Pole. "I didn't want the book to come out and then two years later for it not to be accurate anymore."
"In the second edition of the book I put in Mount Indefatigable in Kananaskis Country. Then in 2006, because the pocket of forest on the east side of Mount Indefatigable is used by grizzly bears from time to time—and I actually had a bear encounter there myself—they closed it with no public consultation," Pole recounts. "Some guidebooks said, 'To heck with you, I'm leaving it in.'
"I talked to the people in K-Country and asked, 'What's your intention here?' and they explained that they really wanted a little pocket of bear habitat that was good for seasonal use to be left intact ... So I said, 'OK, I'll leave it out.'"
In his approach to outdoor ethics, Pole reveals the hard-earned bias of a true outdoorsman who loves his craft but recognizes the risks. He himself has spent a lifetime in the backcountry. The first edition of Classic Hikes took 10 years of exploration and multiple visits to each and every trail (totalling 48 in the first edition). That number has since expanded to 63 in the later editions, spanning Banff, Kananaskis, Jasper, Robson, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton and Akamina-Kishinena parks.
Such familiarity has bred a keen instinct for wilderness preservation. As he writes in the foreword to the latest edition, "Let us not run roughshod in the cathedral."
Of the 63 treks in Classic Hikes, sadly I know only a handful. But for the hiker wishing to delve more deeply into the rich natural resource of the Canadian Rockies stretching from Mount Robson Park to the Waterton Lakes National Park—on both sides of the BC/Alberta border—this could be the one resource you'll need.
If you want more to back your travels and inspire additional forays, in particular of the scrambling variety, the first volume in Rocky Mountain Books' new Aspiring Hiker's Guide series may also be worth adding to the catalogue.
The Aspiring Hiker's Guide 1: Mountain Treks in Alberta shares some overlap with Classic Hikes, but also contains some departures. There are far fewer hikes in total (16) but the inclusion of another 16 scrambling routes sets it apart.
The actual trail descriptions have a utilitarian feel, with topographic maps of each route and GPS coordinates. There are fewer sidebars illuminating less obvious aspects of the trails, such as flora and fauna profiles. However, for those with a penchant for navigation over exploration, the Aspiring Hiker's Guide cuts straight to the chase without any unwanted distraction.
As painstaking as these guidebooks may be, however, nothing can supplant first-hand knowledge. Every trail is different, each new day. That's the beauty of it. Whatever guides you choose, let it open doors to your own new experiences, beyond the confines of any book.
For an extended conversation between Graeme Pole and Jeremy Derksen, including Pole's views on 30 years of change in the Rockies, trail practices and other matters, visit the Outdoors Insider blog at outdoorsinsider.wordpress.com vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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