Spending time in the wilderness is like spending time with someone you love: it’s the experience as much as the location that counts. That core belief repeatedly draws ski mountaineers John Baldwin and Linda Bily into B.C.’s Coast Mountains for weeks at a time to explore the Switzerland-sized snowfields layered between Vancouver and the Alaska Panhandle.
“It’s like the Alps but with no pastry shops,” quipped Bily in conversation with the Straight at a recent Vancouver meeting of the Alpine Club of Canada. She and her husband were there to debut their new book, Soul of Wilderness: Journeys in the Coast Mountains, a collection of photographs and essays amassed during decades of backcountry touring.
With three previous titles to his credit, including the seminal Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis, Baldwin enjoys a vaunted reputation in the fastest-growing snow-sport sector: alpine touring. Bily, credited with saving the lives of three North Shore Search and Rescue Team members during a ski-mountaineering trek on Mount Logan (Canada’s highest peak) in 2005, became enamoured of photography at an early age.
“My father was a geologist who lived in the Amazon for extended periods of time while I was growing up in Calgary,” she recalled. “I remember poring over his photographs and a National Geographic coffee-table book on the same topic. I always wanted to produce something similar myself, which is why I’m so pleased with what John and I have accomplished. There’s a side of me that wonders why I never became a professional photographer rather than an environmental engineer.”
Although photographs in the lavishly illustrated book are individually credited to either Baldwin or Bily, the authors chose to compose the accompanying text with one voice. As they passed the microphone back and forth for commentaries on their treks during the Alpine Club presentation, it was apparent that they view wilderness through the same lens, with a common goal to reintroduce the concept of wilderness as a place of refuge.
“Western culture that swept across North America 200 years ago put wilderness in the context of a place where we go to make money from resource extraction,” Baldwin said. “Issues like climate change are forcing us to rethink that notion.” Bily added: “Being in the wilderness is about moving your soul over the landscape and using your imagination to connect with it through your heart.”
As part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival’s fall series, Baldwin and Bily will give a presentation at the Snow Show at the Rio Theatre on November 12. For details, visit the VIMFF website.