A Field Guide to Guidebooks

Story by Joe Breskin Photo by Paul Boyer
Once the Olympic wilderness was free of the sounds and signs of man. As recently as twenty years ago you could hike for days from shelter to shelter, drink the water straight from the streams and seldom meet another human being. Things have changed. Today the microorganism giardia renders water in much of the forest undrinkable; most of the shelters have been removed and dozens of roads snake high and deep into the mountains.

But hiking the trails and ridge tops is still an invitation to the unpredictable. Up there we realize that we are outsiders, that the secret patterns of the wilderness remain closed to us. The signs posted at the trailbeads give little indication of the wonders and hazards that await us, leaving us with funda- mental questions: where to go, what to carry and what to expect once we get there. We can find answers to most of these questions in books.

As our experience in the mountains grows we begin to ask different kinds of questions: Why was this creek named Mineral Creek? Why are these huge boulders sitting in the middle of the Graywolf River? What is this little yellow flower called? How old is this forest? These are deeper questions whose answers are found in different kinds of books. The list below includes books to answer both kinds of questions.

A guidebook has to be small, lightweight, durable and concise if you are going to carry it along on your hike. Rather than pack your whole library, you may want to photocopy relevant pages and carry them in a zip-lock bag with your compass, pencil arid altimeter. These pages can be your field notebook.

Most of the books described below can be purchased at the Olympic National Park Visitor Centers or outdoor equipment and quality book stores on and off the Peninsula.

Olympic Mountain TraM Guide: National Park and National Forest, by Robert L. Wood. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1984, $10.95. 304 pp. ISBN 0-89886-087-3.

This book-intended for backpackers and day hikers-provides the most detailed and complete coverage available of the many hiking trails in the national park and national forest, Wood writes with considerable authority: over the past forty years, he has hiked thousands Of miles on these trails and claims he does not describe trails he has not hiked. He clearly explains where the trail leads and why to hike it. His maps are not adequate in themselves for use on the roads or the trails, giving only a general overview. But he assumes you know enough about venturing into the wilderness to carry a real map and a compass.

Wood is generous. He tells you where to set up camp away from the insects. He tells you about the seasons and trails to hike by moonlight and he talks about the early explorers, and how some of the places he leads you to got their names. It's a great little book, but it has its limits. Although Wood names many plants you will meet along any given trail, he does not help you identify them, not does he help you figure out how to read the history of a landscape in the plants or rock outcrops you find on its surface.

As you become familiar with this book, you may find minor problems. There are some small errors in mileage and such. You will also discover that it is written in a sort of understated code. If Wood even mentions insects, be forewarned: the bugs are likely to be formidable.

Climber's Guide to the Olymptic Mountains, by Olympic Mountain Rescue. 3d edition. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1988, $12.95. 260 pp. ISBN 0-89886-154-3

The Climber's Guide is discussed here in the spirit in which it was published: mountain safety education. In the words of Olympic Mountain Rescue chairman Roger Beckett, 'Guidebooks by their very nature make climbing safer by providing knowledge difficult to obtain elsewhere.' This book gives very accurate route-finding information and attempts to provide realistic difficulty ratings, but its authors rely on the reader to furnish the context for these ratings. The book also contains hiking climbing times for each approach or pitch. This is important planning in- formation that becomes essential as the days grow short in the fall.

Because the rock from which these mountains were built is so unusual, climbing here is quite different from climbing in other areas of the country. Anyone intending to climb in the Olympics, even casually, really needs to study the Climber's Guide.

28 SPRING '91