Wandering Through the White Mountains—A Hiker's Perspective. By Steven D. Smith. Bondcliff Books. 2004. 338 pages, $19.95
Steve Smith, Appalachia's "News and Notes" editor and the proprietor of The Mountain Wanderer, a bookshop in Lincoln, NH, has spent more than a quarter-century wandering around the White Mountains, during which time he has, in his words, "… bagged peaks, pursued ponds, red-lined trails, and pushed off into little-visited nooks and crannies". In addition to several books he has written a weekly hiking column for Summer Week, a free local newspaper, as well as other publications. This book is a compilation of new and previously published articles, some of the latter in their original form and others significantly updated or expanded. In what follows I only mention a few of the 42 chapters in the book.
The book is divided into seven sections. The first, Tales from the Trails, consists of several short chapters ("The Walking Stick" and "The Many Paces of Hiking" are two of them), as well as a longer discussion of bears in our mountains, which includes an account of the depredations of Brutus, the notorious bear who terrorized campers in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the early 1990s.
The second section, the longest in the book, is A White Mountain Sampler. It includes two lengthy chapters on viewpoints, including many that are off the beaten path, as well as one on "Loops Below 4,000 Feet". The latter is a much-needed antidote to the 4,000 footer obsession of too many hikers! It also includes a chapter on statistics, many of which will probably be unfamiliar to even experienced hikers.
This is followed by a section on Looking Back, which includes a chapter on the history of logging in Lincoln Woods, and a "Hiking Hall of Fame" that appeared in the December 2000 issue of Appalachia. There is also a long review of Forest and Crag, an outstanding history of the mountains of the Northeast written by Laura and Guy Waterman.
The section on Stewardship starts off with a very helpful "Who's Who in the White Mountains", describing the many organizations behind the myriad acronyms that appear in the White Mountain Guide. There are two chapters on the Watermans, whose names are closely associated with the protection of the alpine flora on Franconia Ridge.
The section Exploring Farther Afield takes us with the author on his occasional trips away from the White Mountains, to Baxter State Park in Maine, along the Long Trail in Vermont, and to both the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York State.
The author is a member of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee, so it is not surprising that the book contains a good section on Bagging the Peaks. Notable is the chronology and collection of records in "The First and the Fastest", and the "Diary of a Winter Peakbagger". The latter describes most of the author's winter ascents; I highly recommend it to anyone about to embark on this wonderful insanity. Two other chapters deal with very long hikes; one to Owl's Head (which he has visited multiple times, both in summer and in winter), the other a traverse of the Bonds from Zealand Road to Lincoln Woods.
The final section is Adventures On and Off the Trails. For the romantically inclined there is "It Must Be Love if She Goes Bushwhacking with You on Valentine's Day", the story of his early hikes with his wife-to-be. Those who love the suffering of bushwhacking through thick growth will relish "Bushwhacking Carrigain", as well as his explorations in "East of Passaconaway" and "The Wild in Wild River". Two chapters deal with winter hiking: "A Moonlight Snowshoe Trek" and "But How do you Go to the Bathroom?".
Smith has tramped extensively on and off the beaten track, and he shares many of his discoveries with us in this informative and enjoyable collection. The variety of topics and Smith's smooth style will ensures that every reader will find favorites amongst these essays. My own favorite was the moonlight trip to Lonesome Lake in winter; I am planning to do that trip myself as soon as winter returns!
This is adapted from a review I wrote for the Winter/Spring 2005 issue of Appalachia. I thank the Editor for permission to use it here.