Saturday, September 13, 2003
There are some excellent guides to hiking the mountain surrounding Steamboat Springs already on bookshelves. However, author Raymond Ave has brought new precision to the genre.
During the summers of 2001 and 2002, Ave, a chemical engineer who resides on the Front Range, hiked 500 miles through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, all of them with a measuring wheel in his hand.
Ave's new book is "Backcountry Adventure Guide to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness."
Ave produced precise measurements of every hike he took. When he writes that the total length of the Lost Ranger Trail is 5.8 miles, you can count on it.
Ave shows an astute feeling for wilderness in his preface.
"If there's one thing this experience has taught me, it may be something about control, or more accurately, the illusion of control. We live in a world largely created by man, and much of the work of man involves the struggle to control our environment," Ave writes.
"We dam rivers for flood control. We spend our lives in a risk-reduced environment where it's easy to believe that we are in 'control.' But after all, control is an illusion. ... In wilderness, we have the opportunity to surrender much of the control we take for granted in our day-to-day lives."
He could not have summarized the wilderness experience any better.
The book is organized around hikes on specific trails, and Ave is meticulous in his attention to detail. Just don't expect poetic descriptions of grand views in this book. The trail descriptions are packed with detail but relatively dry in tone.
Ave saves his best prose for a series of introductory chapters that tackle everything from the safest way to ford streams swollen by snowmelt to historical fish-stocking information.
The book put the wilderness area in context by discussing the history of the region, including the lifestyle of the Ute Indians, and the miners and tie hacks who worked in the area. A survey of the geology of the wilderness is specific right down to the peaks surrounding specific lakes.
Anglers will celebrate Appendix C, a chart that lists more than 30 lakes, their depth, the species of trout they contain and the last time they were stocked. Ave's sources were local fisheries biologists, and this is the most concise guide to fishing lakes in Zirkel that readers are ever likely to come across.
The author would like readers to stuff this 200-page book into their packs and take it with them into the wilderness. Hikers who are obsessive about trimming ounces will find the book a bit heavy for human transport.
Having said that, Ave designed the volume to withstand punishment; it has a waterproof cover and nicely rounded corners meant to ward off the dog ears that are inevitable as a book is pulled out of a rucksack.
Sturdy backpackers won't want to leave the trailhead without it, and day hikers don't have any excuse for leaving it behind.