Soul of Wilderness by Baldwin and Bily — Book Review

Post by blogger | October 27, 2015      
Mountain Journeys in Western BC and AK.

Mountain Journeys in Western BC and AK.

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…”

One of many double-page image spreads. You will smile.

One of many double-page image spreads — this one of their camp under Mount Waddington. You will smile.

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.


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11 Responses to “Soul of Wilderness by Baldwin and Bily — Book Review”

  1. Mike Traslin October 27th, 2015 2:11 pm

    Looks like a beauty. Beautiful British Columbia. and Alaska.

  2. Lisa Dawson October 27th, 2015 5:57 pm

    This stunning book will inspire you to move to Canada, or at least plan a ski trip there!

  3. Eric Steig October 27th, 2015 9:33 pm

    Here’s another holiday gift book recommendation.

    John Baldwin did a lot of trips with the great John Clarke (who couldn’t ski, but was the greatest mountaineer). A must-read book if you can find it is Lisa Baile’s “John Clarke: Explorer of the Coast Mountains”. John died at too young an age of a brain tumor (I think he was ~60). A great and too-little-known mountaineer, who may have done more first ascents on mountains than anyone on the planet.

    I only met him once, but I miss him.

  4. ptor October 28th, 2015 2:21 am

    Both Johns were huge inspiration!!!! Yes, very underappreciated pioneers. The book can only be awesome…that’s what I want for Christmas.

  5. Mark Worley October 28th, 2015 6:50 am

    Amazing. That spread of Waddington is stunning. It has always been a bit mythical to me. Yeah, this book is on the list.

  6. David "Zap" Czaplicki October 28th, 2015 10:28 am

    Your comments inspired me to get up and look at my second edition of “Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis”. I started using Baldwin’s book in 1992 and have earmarked some trips as ‘done’ and others as ‘want to do’. My 68 year old touring body relives some of his chapters of tours, and I have a grin on my face when I remember my tours. His new book, when it arrives in mid-November, will be a great look at what you see and do.

  7. Blair October 28th, 2015 12:38 pm

    Eric, John Clarke could in fact ski. A good, strong stem christie and kick turn got him where he wanted to go. This was the de rigour style of many of the explorers out in the Coast Mountains in the sixties and seventies!

  8. Lou Dawson 2 November 2nd, 2015 6:16 am

    Hey John Baldwin, you want to do a guest blog post about your clothing system for your Coast Range ski touring? I notice a very distinctive pair of yellow full-zip pants that seem to appear in many of Linda’s photos? Or perhaps a list as a comment?

  9. John Baldwin November 13th, 2015 10:42 am

    Yes those are home made lightweight Gore-tex pants. My favourite pant set up is a base layer and a shell. I wear this all the time. Its very versatile, light and you don’t have to carry extra pants for stormy weather. You can wear different base layers depending on the temperature. My winter pants are black but they are too hot in strong sun so I switch to yellow in the spring. Yellow or any lighter colour is better in strong sun and the full length zips are great for ventilation and make it easy to just take the shells off if it they get too hot. The pants weigh about 200g. The only problem is its very hard to find light coloured shell pants so that’s why I resort to making my own.

  10. Travis December 24th, 2015 8:36 pm

    Just found this under the tree. Phenomenal photography. I think this book is going to inspire some great adventures!!!

  11. Lou Dawson 2 December 24th, 2015 8:55 pm

    Nice! Merry Christmas!

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