Shortly before I left for my second Appalachian Trail thru-hike in mid-March 2015, I was exchanging posts with friends on Facebook about books that had inspired me early on, authors that had sparked my lifelong love of the outdoors.
A handful of those books are shared here with the hope they might inspire you to hike trails and climb peaks – or at least provide some entertainment during the long Maine winter.
“Appalachian Hiker: Adventure of a Lifetime” is Edward Garvey’s account of his 1970 Appalachian Trail thru-hike from Georgia to Maine, which placed him among just a handful of hardy hikers who had walked the entire trail up to that time. Garvey’s book popularized the epic journey, and thru-hiking the AT has grown in big numbers ever since.
Garvey’s book ignited my thru-hiking fire. All through high school I carried it like a bible before departing late in my senior year of 1977 (with permission, of course) on my first AT adventure. That memorable summer I met the man who had so informed my hike, camping with him in Virginia’s Shenandoah.
A cabin in the woods was always a dream of mine, partly explaining why I was so drawn to Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” early on. Years later I can still recite from memory most of the fabulous first chapter, “Economy.” It wasn’t until 2010, though, that I finally made a pilgrimage to Thoreau’s tiny cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts – a deeply moving experience.
In May 1963, while Jim Whittaker was attempting to become the first American to summit Mt. Everest via the South Col, a splinter group from the same expedition was pioneering a new route up the mountain’s West Ridge. With little support but tremendous drive, Tom Hornbein and Willie Unsoeld successfully climbed the 29,028-foot peak, bivouacked in the open below the south summit at 28,000 feet, and went on to complete the first and only Everest traverse. Hornbein’s book, “Everest: The West Ridge,” is a gripping account of this amazing Himalayan feat.
On the cover of an early paperback edition of “Annapurna” by Maurice Herzog, a climber is depicted dangling by a rope over the abyss while trying desperately to retain his grip on an impossibly icy slope. Herzog was part of a French team in the heyday of Himalayan mountaineering in the 1950s, when many of the world’s highest peaks remained unclimbed. Fingers, toes and very often lives were the high price of those early successes, as was the case in Herzog’s Annapurna ascent.
A thick volume of sage advice, Colin Fletcher’s 1968 book “The Complete Walker,” helped usher in the modern age of backpacking and paved the way for countless hiking enthusiasts. Fletcher earned his reputation with a 1,000-mile walk the length of California in 1958 and the first end-to-end trek through the Grand Canyon in 1963, both solo journeys. “The Thousand-Mile Summer” and “The Man Who Walked Through Time” recount these two pioneering adventures.
Like many Maine kids, I was influenced by the incredible tale of Donn Fendler surviving nine days lost in the wilds of Baxter State Park in 1938. “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” by Joseph Egan is Fendler’s tale and a Maine classic. Fendler died in late 2016, but over the years he regaled many kids and adults with a story that never grew old. I was fortunate to meet this humble gentleman at one of his lectures in 2014.
My list is long but space is short. Ed Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire,” Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance,” “As Far as the Eye Can See” by David Brill, “Coming into the Country” by John McPhee, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “A Walk Through Europe” by John Hillaby, Charles Seib’s “The Woods” and Peter Jenkins’ “A Walk Across America” are among my many other cherished reads. Let me know if you can’t find a copy and I’ll lend you one of mine.