Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Confessions of a Bibliophilic Hiker

By Andy Zahn  

      When I was twelve years old, I found a book while digging through the spider infested boxes in our garage. It was called 100 hikes in the South Cascades and Olympics by Harvey Manning and Ira Spring. Ten years later, my collection has expanded to over 70 books covering trails in every corner of the mountains of the West Coast. One of my projects during the long dreary months of this winter was to move all my books from a sagging, overburdened shelf to a new set of shelves. In the process, I realized that just as these books shaped the shelf, they have shaped many aspects of my life.

     I was drawn into 100 Hikes, at first, by Ira Spring’s incredible photography. The photos brought to mind scenes from The Lord of the Rings: a photo of High Rock Lookout perched atop precipitous cliffs, Flapjack Lakes, placid beneath the menacing crags of Sawtooth Ridge. Peaks and lakes, alpine tundra and ancient forests – all reminded me of the fantastic lands where heroes trod. I would read Harvey Manning’s descriptions and stare at the marvelous places recorded there, imagining my own epic journeys into the wilderness.

     I read voraciously, poring over every hiking book I could get my hands on, memorizing each hike until I could recite word for word the descriptions of every trail in the South Cascade Mountains. My family was less than appreciative of my constant hiking babble. They would complain yet more when the only way to get me to be quiet was to be dragged out into the wilderness with nothing but a guide book to lead us. Not all of our trips were great successes. On one trip, we hiked into Bluff Lake and spent the night bailing water out of our tents! After a number of similarly “memorable” trips, the rest of my family have become fair weather hikers, but my attitudes seem to have more in common with another of my favorite outdoor writers, Patrick McManus, who wrote: "Half the fun of camping in those days was looking forward to getting back home. When you did get back home you prolonged the enjoyment of the trip by telling all your friends how miserable you had been. The more you talked about the miseries of life in the woods the more you wanted to get back out there and start suffering again. Camping was a fine and pleasant misery"[i]

    Hiking books have not only guided my feet, but have also shaped some of my ideas and opinions. Harvey Manning’s writing imparted in me a desire to explore and protect the wild backcountry of the world. Manning wrote about hiking trails in order to get people to go there, so that they, too, would want to protect the trails and the lands they passed through. According to Manning, "Your feet have information, direct boot-on-trail knowledge of the earth"[ii], and "Your Feet bones are connected to the leg bones, leg bones to the hip bones, hip bones to the backbones, backbones to the head bones, head bones to the letter-writing finger bones.”[iii] These ideas have driven my desire to emulate him and write about the wilderness in order to help save it. He and Patrick McManus have further influenced me to make abundant use of exaggeration in order to make a point. One of my favorite descriptions by Manning was written when he was especially annoyed by horse traffic on hiking trails: "The cavalry rides through this region in numbers approaching the squadrons of Phil Sheridan, Jeb Stuart, and the Cossacks, and where trails are wet, horses churn the soil to mud and a hiker may simply sink out of sight in black muck and nevermore be seen"[iv]  

    As I put the last of my hiking books onto their new shelves, one tumbles to the floor. It happens to fall open to a page featuring a panorama of the Alpine Lakes Peaks: Summit Chief, Mt. Daniel, Mt.Hinman, their craggy heights rising over a small lake glittering in a verdant forest valley.  It strikes me that summer isn’t very far away, and maybe it’s time to start planning this year’s hikes. Soon the shelves are empty once again and books are strewn around me in a haphazard circle; my portal to the mountain kingdoms, currently still locked in the icy grip of winter. In my mind the flowers are already pushing their way up through the snow drifts, their scent already welling up from beneath the deep powder blanketing the meadows. I fancy I can hear the snow melting from here…….

GI Joe scales a mountain of literature!

[i] McManus P, (1978). A fine and pleasant misery. New York: Henry Holt & company. PG. 2.
[ii] Manning H. (1998). 100 Classic Hikes in Washington. Seattle WA: The Mountaineers. PG. 11.
[iii] Manning H. (1998). 100 Classic Hikes in Washington. Seattle WA: The Mountaineers. PG. 11.
[iv] Manning H. (1985). 100 Hikes in the South Cascades and Olympics. Seattle WA: The Mountaineers. PG. 79.

1 comment:

  1. Andy, your blogs continue to amaze me! This one is great, too...good topic.