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20 Years of Classic Hikes: Graeme Pole

May 27, 2015

20 YEARS OF CLASSIC HIKES:
GRAEME POLE

By Meghan J. Ward

Few guidebooks truly stand the test of time. Even fewer call the industry to new models of guidebook publishing. Yet, Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, by Graeme Pole, has done both of these things. Celebrating more than two decades in print, this guidebook does more than just point eager hikers in the right direction. In this review we tell you why we think it deserves a spot on your bookshelf. 

Hiking Cory Pass in Banff National Park, one of the classic hikes included in Graeme Pole's guide. Photo by Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography.

Hiking Cory Pass in Banff National Park, one of the classic hikes included in Graeme Pole’s guide. Photo by Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography.

Graeme Pole’s Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies became a classic on its own when it was first published by Altitude Publishing in 1994. That year the book won the award for best guidebook at the inaugural Banff Mountain Book Festival. In the years to follow, it was reprinted, revised, and completely overhauled to reflect changes in the landscape, in policies and infrastructure. In 2011, Pole self-published a new edition through his own publishing house, Mountain Vision, which sold out. And now, here we are in 2015 with another edition of the book, which this time is celebrating over 20 years of guiding hikers to classic experiences in the Canadian Rockies.

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Like its predecessors, the 20th anniversary edition of Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, gives us more than a play-by-play of hiking trails. It reads more like a magazine, giving hikers and readers sidebars of information that enhance their experience on the trail.

Pole_Book Mock UpWhen I first received it, I sat on my couch, engrossed for a full 45 minutes before I lifted my head. I was captivated by the supplementary information on the geology, human history, flora, and fauna of this fascinating region of Western Canada. I appreciated the usefulness of the “Trail Thumbnails”, which break down each hike into smaller milestones, as well as the “Variations”, which give additional route options to even the most seasoned Rockies hikers. I enjoyed the book’s Preface about the role a guidebook plays in the impact of human traffic in the wilderness, and Pole’s efforts to mitigate unnecessary impacts. And, as an experienced outdoors-woman, I appreciated the value of the Nuts and Bolts section, which informs readers about other important aspects of hiking, such as bear safety, proper equipment and the ethics of backcountry cleanliness.

Why not treat the reader as an intelligent human being? As it turns out, this was exactly Pole’s intention, and it works. Beyond being a guide, Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies reads as well as any book you’d pick off the shelf and peruse from the comfort of home. Sitting won’t last long, though. I guarantee the subject matter will prompt you to lace up your hikers and hit the trail!

There are many guides for hiking in the Canadian Rockies, but even if you’ve lived in the region for a decade or more, I highly recommend you pick up the latest edition of Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Your experience with old trails will be refreshed and, no doubt, you’ll discover some new adventures to put on your bucket list this summer.

Q&A WITH GRAEME POLE

MW/ How do you keep tabs on the various changes to the trails in the Canadian Rockies?

GP/ Some of the changes are headline-grabbing, such as a landslide, flood or forest fire. If I don’t actually visit a trail myself, I have a network of people who have supplied information in the past that I can check in with. I have a physical copy of the book that I write in as I get information. When we’re heading for a reprint of any of my books, I contact this network and ask about changes to specific trails. Most years, we get to the Rockies to knock off 12-15 trails, and see the changes for ourselves.

MW/ How do you define “Classics”?

GP/ A classic hike involves a defined and maintained trail, and is representative of the landscape. Some of the hikes I have chosen to include are no-brainers. But, in places like Kananaskis Country, where there are a gazillion hikes, I chose some of the great places where you can combine a superb limestone environment with meadows, forest, or canyons. Or in a smaller region like Waterton National Park, you can include almost every hike. In some cases, a hike will involve a lot of trail time, but I have chosen it because of the destination, such as the Mt. Assiniboine region.

When it comes to choosing classics from a publishing standpoint, I have to keep things manageable in terms of production and size. Some people take this book with them on the trail. If it went from 63 hikes to 75, you’d have a much bigger book to deal with.

MW/ Can you tell me more about your thoughts on the impacts that guidebooks have on the landscape?

GP/ I consider it a privilege to be able to gather this information. But, I’m very aware of what a guidebook can do, in that there are possible negative consequences in presenting this information. It is something I take with careful consideration. There are some hikes I could include, but I choose not to because of the impact that night have. If I describe a couple of trails in lots of detail, what’s going to happen to them? This is why I highlight hikes that follow an already established route.

My hope is that the guidebooks open up the eyes of trail users, and inspire them to look at the landscape differently, wherever they are. How you are in the backcountry is something you can take into the rest of the world. I try to treat the landscape with integrity.

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Writer, adventurer, outdoorsy mama and summit cartwheeler. Meghan J. Ward is the editor and co-founder at Crowfoot Media and lives for backcountry getaways.