Craig Copeland has a bone to pick with many of the hiking guidebooks out there.
“They don’t fully guide,” the Canmore, Alberta, resident told the Georgia Straight by phone from Utah. “By that, I mean they don’t offer you any significant amount of opinionated advice. They treat every trail as if it were the same in terms of its effort-reward ratio, and that’s just not reality. Some hikes are incredibly scenically rewarding for a relatively small investment of time and effort, and others are not.”
Copeland and his wife, Kathy, are well-known among outdoor enthusiasts as the authors of the opinionated hiking guidebooks in the popular Don’t Waste Your Time, Hiking From Here to Wow, Where Locals Hike, and Done in a Day series. Their latest colourfully written book is the seventh edition of Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies (hikingcamping.com), published this spring.
Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies features 145 trips in Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, and Kootenay and Yoho national parks and Mount Robson and Mount Assiniboine provincial parks in B.C. There’s 84 day hikes, 41 backpack trips, and 20 shoulder-season trips.
Expanded from a single volume to one “opinion book” and nine “fact booklets”, the new revision comes in a green zippered hard case. The Copelands are calling the seventh edition “ultralight gear”, and it’s a bold attempt to reinvent the hiking guidebook.
The idea is for hikers to use the opinion book—which introduces all of the hikes and rates them as “premier”, “outstanding”, “worthwhile”, or “don’t do”—to select their next trip. If a hiker settles on, say, Caldron Lake in Banff National Park, they’d just take the fact booklet for the premier day hikes—weighing 100 grams, and containing road and trail directions and maps—with them into the backcountry.
“Every time we reprinted the book, we just kept providing hikers with more of what they wanted—more of what they needed—and the book just kept growing and growing and growing,” Copeland said. “The sixth edition was already 540 pages, and that’s huge. Here we were expanding it yet again, so it was really just time. We were looking at a 677-page guidebook, so we got really serious about changing it from just a book into a piece of hiking gear.”
Copeland maintained that the redesign wasn’t done in response to the rise of the ebook, which he asserted isn’t an ideal medium for hiking guides. He noted, however, that there’s much trail information to be found on the Internet.
“The problem is it’s mostly unreliable,” Copeland said. “It’s certainly poorly written. It’s really fragmented. It’s hard to find and sort your way through it. It’s very time-consuming. But the most important thing about it is that you can’t trust it. These are people who aren’t writers. They’re ambiguous. They’re unclear. Their expertise or their perspectives are completely unknown. I’d say primarily they’re not staking their livelihood or their income on what they’ve posted. They have no responsibility, and you just can’t trust that.”
Ask to name a particularly memorable hike included in Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, Copeland picks Trip 103, which they call “Heart of the Skyline”. It’s an alternative to backpacking Jasper National Park’s popular Skyline Trail end to end. Copeland claimed this hike, which skips the forested ends and heads straight into the alpine midsection, isn’t described in any other book.
“You can practically day-hike this, although we don’t necessarily recommend that,” Copeland said. “With a one-night backpack trip...you can get up and, in a day, see all of the best of the Skyline and get back down. And you don’t need reservations. You don’t need a car shuttle. You can do it when you know the weather’s going to be great. To me, that’s a really interesting hike.”
Hikers have been known to disagree with the “don’t do” ratings in the Don’t Waste Your Time books. Copeland explained that they include these hikes because their opinions aren’t “necessarily the end all and be all”.
“You might want to do some ‘don’t dos’ and decide for yourself,” he said. “I also think the ‘don’t dos’ are some of the most interesting writing opportunities.”
What’s next for the Don’t Waste Your Time authors? Copeland said they’re already working on the second edition of Hiking From Here to Wow: Utah Canyon Country, and they’re also “chipping away” at a guide to Arizona.