April 21, 2018
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A hiker’s guide to winter reading

Brad Viles | BDN
Brad Viles | BDN
A selection of titles that should make a long winter bearable for hikers and mountaineers.
By Brad Viles, Special to the BDN

My friends think I’m one dimensional because all I do is hike. That’s not true, I tell them, I’m active in another interest. I read books about hiking, adventuring and mountaineering. It’s one of the best mental activities I can think of, especially since winter’s the time for reading. I’ve never understood the concept of beach books. I don’t do much beach hiking in Maine.

Besides, there are a lot of long nights ahead. Reading under a light and having it dark outside seem to go together better, than reading on the beach, under the bright sun.

So when it comes to reading material, I have a few favorites that I pull off the shelf or borrow from the library, or find a bookstore to buy from a good mountaineering and hiking section to occupy my winter months.

Some are about mountains around the world, while others are about Maine’s mountains and trails. Some are classics, published a while ago, and one has a movie tie-in. All of them, at one point or another, will supply me with that mental exercise so I can make it through at least to cabin fever, sometime in February.

TO THE SUMMIT: FIFTY MOUNTAINS THAT LURE, INSPIRE AND CHALLENGE by Joseph Poindexter, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 1998, $44.79, 336 pages.

This book delivers the ultimate treat for the eyes if you love mountains. The subtitle tells what it’s about. It’s a coffee table book, at 14-by-10 inches, that portrays the most loved mountains in full-color plates, many that pull out to four-page spreads, on every continent. From Mount Washington in New Hampshire to Everest, the Eiger and the Matterhorn, the volume also contains descriptions of the routes used to first ascend them. It’s just a great book to look at as well as read.

DEEP SURVIVAL: WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, AND WHY by Laurence Gonzales, W. W. Norton and Company, 2003, $15.95, softcover, 295 pages.

I’ve read this book every winter since it came out. The author examines the events that lead up to survival situations in a variety of incidents. Starting with a climbing accident on Mount Hood and including stories of shipwrecks and people lost at sea and in the woods, the author explains how one’s mental state can make the difference between surviving and dying. Every time I pick this book up I learn something new.

TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson, HarperCollins Publishers, 2004, $12.95, softcover, 215 pages.

This is the story of two men, Simpson and his partner, Simon Yates, who, after summiting a 21,000-foot mountain, suffer a disaster that could have killed them both. On their way down from the top, Simpson breaks his leg. Yates proceeds to lower him off the mountain on a stormy night. In the process, Simpson is lowered off a cliff and because his dead weight threatens to pull Yates off the mountain, he cuts the rope. How Simpson survived the ordeal is gripping stuff. A documentary is on DVD under the same name.

MOUNTAINEERING: THE FREEDOM OF THE HILLS, 8th edition, The Mountaineers Books, 2010, $29.95, softcover, 509 pages.

This is the one textbook in the bunch. It includes chapters on everything from camping to technical mountaineering complete with diagrams. It has become the one reference book you need above all the others since it was first published in 1960. If this book can’t teach you a new skill then you already have all the skills you need. It’s filled with instruction.

THE MOUNTAINS OF MAINE: INTRIGUING STORIES BEHIND THEIR NAMES by Steve Pinkham, Down East Books, 2009, $16.95, softcover, 212 pages.

A comprehensive book that covers virtually every named knob, mountain and hill in the state. If you ever wondered how a mountain got a name like Picked Chicken Hill, this book has the answer. There’s no better single volume on the subject than this one. They’re all in there. Thoroughly researched and well written.

L.L. BEAN: THE MAN AND HIS COMPANY by James L. Witherell, Tilbury House Publishers, 2010, $20, Softcover, 533 pages.

This is without a doubt the most thorough history of L.L. Bean ever written. Witherell researched in every corner of the state uncovering the material he used in this book. If you thought you knew everything there was to know about how Bean got started, then you haven’t read this book. It’s more than just about L.L. Bean the individual. It’s also a history of Freeport, Maine, the employees themselves and, of course, the marketing genius that created the largest outdoor retailer in the world that at one time had its own zip code.

ALONG MAINE’S APPALACHIAN TRAIL by David Field, Arcadia Publishing, 2011, $21.99, softcover, 126 pages.

Arcadia is known for well-presented books full of black-and-white photos such as this one. Dave Field, a retired professor of forest resources has maintained a section of Maine’s AT for 54 years, qualifying him to write this book. It’s filled with early black-and-white photos of the early days of trail building in Maine. This is one of those books that will be yanked off the shelf more than once through the winter. Even if it’s just to look at. It’s thorough, well written and those pictures of early trail builders make you wonder how it ever got completed.

There you have it, my go-to list of titles that are sure to get me through until we hear the sound of running water again in the streams. If it’s not enough, well, I might have to think about turning on the television. Nah, I can make it with these.


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