It seems apropos that around the same time that I have become obsessed with the Pacific Crest Trail, Mountaineers Books has released their two volume Pacific Crest Trailside Reader. Separated into a California volume and an Oregon & Washington volume, the readers are anthologies of writings about the trail. The selections range from personal journals, to historical accounts and trail poetry.
The selections across the two volumes follow the trail from the Mexican border to Canada. The editors, Rees Hughes and Corey Lee Lewis, are long-time trail veterans themselves with tens of years and thousands of miles of experience. Many of the contributors are people that they have known through the trail or historical figures that contributed to the founding of the trail itself. These aren’t guidebook writings, but serve instead to sketch the trail experience into the reader like a surrogate for actually hiking the trail.
I started with the California volume and reading the first selections about hiking north from the Mexican border had me at the first page. Each piece has a short introduction to set it into context with the rest of the work, so immediately I knew where I was in the journey. As the selections followed the trail north through southern California, I could taste the desert and share the changing terrain as the trail ascended into the Sierras.
My favorite selections in this volume included Walker Abel’s piece ‘Wilderness Boundary’ and ‘Winter on Donner Pass,’ a story about a young man snowed in, alone on the treacherous pass. As I flip through the table of contents now, I see so many other wonderful selections. Any hiker, or other lover of the wilderness for that matter, will find dozens of wonderful stories here.
Oregon & Washington
Thought the terrain isn’t as varied north of the California border, there are still stories to tell. This volume has a number of interesting historical accounts of early Americans looking for passes in the inhospitable mountains of the pacific northwest. Among the pieces that stand out is a selection by Ursula K. Le Guin about the eruption of St. Helens.
In many ways, this book didn’t resonate with me as strongly as the California volume, but in my eyes the two are inseparable. I can’t imagine reading one without the other any more than I would be happy reading only half of a novel before putting back on the shelf. By the end of these stories, we see the hard final stretch as through hikers complete their 2600 mile journey regardless of the hardships that they must overcome.
So, there it is, a wonderful collection of stories dedicated to one of the greatest long trails in the world. A fine companion to all those miles and honestly worthy of not only reading, but rereading, just as we come back to our favorite trails time and again. After reading them, I want to hike more than ever. Summer can’t come soon enough.