Sometimes smiles are in short supply when you’re running your own business, sitting at a desk, and the mountain rising above your town has a fresh coating of snow.
That’s my scene this morning at the WildSnow city desk. Saving grace, I can open John Baldwin and Linda Bily’s new book, Soul of Wilderness, and I’m immediately smiling with a lifted soul as high as that mountain above me.
Baldwin and his partner Linda are well known in the core world of ski touring. Their epic ski traverses in the Canadian Coast Mountains are stuff of legend. John recently authored a new edition of his guidebook, conveying the nearly incomprehensible infinite-ness of the North American west coastal mountains.
Soul of Wilderness is a larger format tome (9×11 inches, 176 pages) profusely illustrated with beautifully conceived and processed color photos. The images are frequently presented as double-page spreads barely doing justice to these great landscapes.
The content of “Soul” is mostly snow, for the ski traverse has been this pair’s main means of experiencing wilderness. But several chapters delve into summer, and wilderness philosophy. I especially liked 8, Touch the Wild, where the authors relate our experience of wilderness to human imagination. It perhaps begins with maps and visualization, then proceeds to “…the exploring…creates a spirit of discovery that gives you a sense of purpose that helps you to bound off enthusiastically into the mountains….each trip like spending time with someone you love…”
Readers of WildSnow know we like skiing history. In that sense, Soul of Wilderness also delivers. Baldwin is famous for Coast Mountains ski traverses he did thirty or more years ago. In chapter 6, Thirty Years on Ice, the authors describe recreating the Lillooet Icefield traverse, with John alluding to the style and gear of decades ago, as well as the landscapes. The matter-of-fact writing style touched me deeply as John describes how “a lot happens in three decades…but I was just as excited…as I felt thirty years ago.”
Due to the quality of the writing and the photos, in my view this is one of the best “ski touring” oriented books ever. If there is any flaw, it’s the pure torture of wishing you could jump into the photos and be there yourself. To put it more emphatically: This is a mandatory addition to any skier’s library. It’s a book you’ll probably find yourself leaving off the shelf, for a quick mood lift and smile any time that humdrum non-wilderness life gets you down.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.