New outdoor guidebooks keep wanderers on the right track

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      Well-written guidebooks are worth their weight in time—as in, time well spent consulting one in advance of an adventure. That’s particularly true here in B.C., where, from one year to the next, roads are washed out by monsoon rains and new trails appear under the aegis of local stewardship groups.

      At the same time, new parks mushroom in urban regions and, on a larger scale, within the vast wilderness that lies beyond sidewalk’s end. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon bike ride or a weeklong backcountry traverse, two recently published outdoor guides make ideal companions for summer exploration.

      Gordon White originally published Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook in 1991. In 1995, a 107,191-hectare provincial park was created, during the waning months of Mike Harcourt’s NDP government. The Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, west of Lytton, came about after two decades of hard-fought lobbying by a coalition of conservation groups and First Nations. Interviewed at his North Vancouver home, White spoke with the Georgia Straight about the significance of that achievement.

      “In terms of First Nations’ rights and wilderness protection on a grassroots level, the Stein is one of the great success stories in Canadian history,” White affirmed. “The park’s creation came from a kaleidoscope of groups working together.”

      Indeed, one of the major themes that echo through the freshly updated edition is that the Stein Valley would not have received official protection without massive public support. White devotes an entire chapter in his exhaustively researched Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook (Selcouth Publishing, $24.95) to the larger topic of the politics of wilderness protection in this decade, as focused through that lens. Suffice it to say that what was achieved in the Stein has come to serve as a template for future successes.

      “In part, I used the first edition as a soapbox to make the case for preserving the entire Stein watershed,” he said. “The new edition addresses the threat of underfunding. Between the Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell governments, funding to B.C. provincial parks has been reduced by 40 percent over the past decade.”

      During the same time, White observed that public apathy replaced activism. “There’s more cynicism about the political process now than in the 1980s and ’90s. People have to get reconnected.” How is that going to happen? “By getting out and experiencing wilderness paradises like the Stein, and more especially in northern B.C. in places like the Chilcotin, the Taku, the Skeena, and the Stikine headwaters. There are some big wilderness issues up there.”

      White noted that, to B.C. Parks’ credit, since the establishment of the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, river crossings have been improved in the protected area, bear-proof food lockers have been installed from the lower valley to the alpine, and much of the trail network damaged or obliterated by forest fires in the upper canyon in 1996 has recently been brushed out.

      Despite washouts in 2003 on the Lizzie Lake Forest Service Road, which once allowed trekkers to drive to the park’s western approach near Mount Currie, a new 12-kilometre trail now leads around the worst-affected areas. “Sure it adds an extra day to a visit, but I’m trying to let people know how very pleasant the new trail is,” White said with obvious delight.

      The same enthusiasm for exploring new routes infuses Whistler Mountain Bike Guide, by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder (Quickdraw Publications, $23.25). Finestone spoke with the Georgia Straight from the cab of his truck while inspecting trails in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, which he manages.

      “Despite the fact that there are several detailed maps to bike trails around the valley, we saw a void in the self-guided–book market,” he explained. Finestone and Hodder previously identified a similar need among skiers and snowboarders: their two-volume trail guide to Whistler and Blackcomb grew out of experiences gained when the two worked as patrollers on the twin mountains during winter.

      The latest project came when Finestone took up mountain biking after a hiatus of several years. “I had so many bikes stolen that I stopped riding for a while,” he said. “When I decided to get back into the saddle, I found it hard to find the trails I was hearing about. There’s been a meteoric rise in trail construction, but for many of them it’s sort of like lore. You have to find the right guy at the right bike shop, then follow his cryptic directions.”

      In that respect alone, Whistler Mountain Bike Guide’s detailed descriptions, including photos and an easily understood profile of the rise and fall of each trail, represent a welcome change. “From die-hard to family trails, we covered 131 of the best bike routes on offer in Whistler, plus dirt jumps, and trials and skateboard parks. We even suggest linkups of various trails for those looking for ultra-savage, epic rides,” Finestone said.

      The Whistler Valley has an interlacing network of municipal, commercial, and rogue bike trails that run the gamut from paved greenways to rocks-and-roots single track, but Finestone and Hodder’s guide achieves the feat of turning the mysterious into the familiar at a glance. Icons indicate things like sections of slippery rock and man-made stunts, which proves enormously helpful when you’re planning a ride, as does the inclusion of GPS data.

      With Whistler Mountain Bike Guide at hand, there’s no excuse for getting lost in the woods or hung out to dry on Comfortably Numb, Finestone’s favourite new trail. Now if he can just keep light-fingered thieves away from his bike, all that research will have been worthwhile.