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Reviews > Books > Trail Guides > Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

HIKING THE ABSAROKA–BEARTOOTH WILDERNESS

A FALCON GUIDE BY BILL SCHNEIDER

Owner Review by Richard Lyon
July 20, 2008

PERSONAL DETAILS AND BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 62 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I'm in my fifth decade of backpacking, and travel regularly to the Rockies for outdoor activities.  I do a week long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500-4000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too.  Recently I've actively sought ways to reduce my pack load, but often still choose a bit more weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect.

PRODUCT DETAILS

Publisher: Falcon, a division of Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut USA

Website: www.globepequot.com
First published:  July 1, 2003
Edition:  Second 
ISBN:  0-7627-2238-X 
Binding:  Paperback 
Page count:  312 (verified accurate)
Trim size (listed and measured):  6 x 9 in/15 x 23 cm
MSRP: $15.95 US
Weight (measured): 14.4 oz/408 g

Year of purchase: 2007

Publisher's summary (from the website): "Whether you are a day-tripper or long-distance hiker, old hand or novice, you'll find trails suited to every ability and interest throughout the vast Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness."

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK

Some background information on the author, Falcon Guides, and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness may help the reader appreciate this book.

Subject matter.  The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is named after and is dominated by two adjacent mountain massifs of the Northern Rockies.  At just under one million acres (400,000 hectares) in size, it is one of the largest federally-protected Wilderness Areas in the "lower 48" United States (i.e., excluding Alaska and Hawaii).  It is located in the states of Montana and Wyoming, just to the north and east of America's (and the world's) first officially-designated national park, Yellowstone. 

The author and Falcon Guides.  Bill Schneider co-founded Falcon Press in 1979, and at present its successor company lists more than 450 "Where-To" and "How-To" Falcon Guides for all sorts of outdoor activities, more than 200 of which feature hiking and backpacking.  This book is a Where-To Guide; a reader of this review interested in a How-To Guide might check my separate review of Allen & Mike's! Really Cool Backpackin' Book.

This book has four parts: an Introduction, descriptions of sixty-three backpacks and day hikes, an Afterword; and a Hiker's Checklist.

Introduction. The 32-page Introduction describes the Absaroka-Beartooth area generally, and then turns to describing terms and explaining the author's method of describing each of the hikes.  Mr. Schneider developed some of these, such as categorizing hill difficulty, for use in all Falcon Guides.  A "vacation planner" identifies the hikes in the book by type (day hike or backpack) and degree of difficulty, and then a section called "The Author's Favorites" lists his choices by category, either by difficulty or desired activity (for example, trail running, fishing, photography, wildlife viewing).  The author adds brief but useful sections on zero-impact camping and safety, the latter emphasizing precautions, some illustrated with simple drawings, for the area's two large predators, bears and mountain lions.  The Introduction includes a couple of tables, contact information for the United States Forest Service districts that govern the Wilderness Area, and (like the rest of the book) several enticing photographs.

Description of the hiking routes.  The hikes are organized according to the main road used to access the applicable trailhead, with the author furnishing a brief overview of each such discrete area.  Each hike has its own introductory section in which the author provides a table of information, such as this one, for the Three Passes hike in the Absaroka:

Sample route summary 

Next come a short description of the hike's highlights, a table of milestones and directions (e.g., 6.0 miles, "Junction with Silver Lake Trail 149, turn right"), a graph illustrating elevation gain and loss, and a simple map showing the entire route, usually with the milestones included.  Again for the Three Passes hike:

sample map

Mr. Schneider then describes the route in detail, noting junctions, fords, passes, hills, vista points, and similar data useful to the backpacker.  He often suggests preferred camping sites or an entire multi-day itinerary.  Each hike includes sections entitled Side Trips, Options (such as alternate routes, bail-out points, taking a loop or point-to-point hike in the opposite direction), and Fishing. 

In three or four places the author adds a page on a subject that applies to more than one hike, such as "Fishing the Lake Plateau."

Afterword. "The Value of Guidebooks," the book's two-page afterword, is Mr. Schneider's response to criticism leveled at him for writing a book that may bring more people to the wilderness and thus do more harm than good.  In my opinion the author is eloquent, properly unapologetic, and right on the mark.

Gear Lists.  This includes the author's suggested checklists for gear, clothing, food, first aid supplies, a survival kit for an emergency, and post-trip actions.

MY USE OF THE BOOK

Mr. Schneider and I share an opinion of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness as a "national treasure."  Together with Yellowstone this area is one of my favorite places on Earth.  Absarokas from Grouse Creek trailAs I must schedule and plan a journey to hike there, I tend to research even short hiking routes a bit more than those I can access readily from my home.  The Where-To Falcon Guides that I own are invariably my first reference anytime I plan a trip.  Because Mr. Schneider often writes about Montana and because I like his approach to guidebooks, Mr. Schneider's are among my favorites and most often-consulted volumes.  I find myself turning to this particular Guide more and more often, partly because of its many base camp backpacking opportunities and partly because I have begun to favor the Absaroka-Beartooth among my possible hiking destinations. 

I have taken all or a portion of perhaps ten of the hikes described in this book, many of them off the Boulder River Road, the unofficial dividing line between the two mountain ranges.  Based on that unfortunately limited exposure I can report that his description of each route has been accurate.  In fact, though I haven't measured with a pedometer, more than once my legs have suggested that his directions are often more accurate than mileage listed on the Forest Service trail signs on the routes themselves.  His grading of difficulty coincides with my own and his tips for side trips and campsites have always been helpful.  This really aids my trip planning, as I can get a good idea of a route that will suit my and my companions' abilities, experience, time frame, and desires.  My planning doesn't end with the Guide, of course, and I don't think the author intends that.  As shown above he lists the applicable topo maps, addresses and telephone numbers of the local Forest Service offices, and other sources for more detailed inquiries. 

Each trail description is an appetite-whetter.  Mr. Schneider writes in easy-to-read prose that is concise and informative, and his descriptions and the accompanying photographs beckon this reader at least to return to this magnificent backcountry area.  So entertaining is his style that I read the book cover to cover shortly after purchasing it, nominally to select my next routes but really to look over the full menu.  So informative are his descriptions that I have recommended this book even to those not immediately planning a trip to the area, as a definitive overview of one of America's great hiking venues.

This book seldom finds its way into my pack, but I do often copy the simple maps and the milestone tables as excellent shorthand supplements to the proper topo maps. 

WHAT I LIKE

Just about everything! Especially praiseworthy attributes are:

  • Clear and concise descriptions in plain English rather than technical jargon.
  • A simple, easy-to-read map for each route.
  • The author's recommendations based on his own first-hand experience.
  • The breadth of the hikes selected.  There are day hikes suitable for small children to first-time overnight trips to week-long off trail routes for experienced backpackers only.
  • A special section on fly-fishing for each hike.  I often plan backcountry trips around angling opportunities and especially appreciate this.

WHAT I DON'T

This book makes me worry that I may not be able to explore this wonderful area as widely and as often as the author.  Similarly it makes me wistful for the experience and the writing skills to have been able to write this book.



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