Story last updated at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2002

Book maps trail to outdoor escapes
By Sean Pearson
Special to the Homer News

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Gary Thomas, Homer News
Annie Cooper paddles to shore Saturday in Halibut Cove to the head of the Saddle Trail, part of the Grewingk Glacier-area trail system in Kachemak Bay State Park. The system is one of many featured in the "55 Ways" guide book.  
If one of the things that always seems to linger on your never-ending list of summer "to dos" is hitting all the hiking trails in Southcentral Alaska, there's good news and bad news for you. The good news is the release of the newest edition of Helen Nienhueser and John Wolfe Jr.'s "55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska." The book offers you just about everything you could possibly need to get around Alaska's backcountry, covering everything from appropriate gear and safe drinking water to dealing with the various wildlife you might encounter in the middle of nowhere.

And for the bad news? Well, with "55 Ways to the Wilderness," and only about 65 days left in the summer, you've got some catching up to do!

To make things even more challenging, Wolfe claims there are so many combinations of trails and trips in the book, you may never get caught up.

"I believe if you do all of the trail combinations, there are something like 160 different things to do with this book," said Wolfe at a slide show and book signing at the Homer Public Library Saturday. "There are so many incredible routes down here. Many people are missing out on a lot of good trails by just heading straight for Denali."

Through each chapter of the book, Wolfe and Nienhueser take you on trails stretching from the Grewingk Glacier Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park to the Mentasta Mountain Trail just south of Tok. The authors lead you to interesting sights along the way, all the while suggesting possible campsites, indicating known trouble areas and offering suggestions on how to get through various problems. (Wolfe said he is still looking for other effective mosquito-repelling alternatives to Deet.)

Information is also provided on hypothermia, frostbite, avalanches and searches.

photo: outdoors
The newest edition of the backcountry Bible "55 ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska" is now available in book stores.  
The importance of this advice becomes convincing in the authors' dedication of the book to Hans van der Laan. Van der Laan completed the maps for the first edition of "55 Ways," but died in an avalanche near Eklutna Glacier in 1971 at the age of 33.

Equally as helpful as the wilderness tips and life-saving information, are the numerous maps and charts scattered throughout the book. The maps clearly mark trails, campsites and elevations for those aspiring to greater heights. Charts give detailed information as to when in the season trails are most likely to be cleared of snow, which trails are shorter and which require all day or overnights, and whether trails are suitable for children.

" I wrote all of my books with the family in mind," Wolfe said. "I want to get people out there, and get them attached to the land so they will want to keep it as natural as possible."

And with children of his own who have hiked a good many trails, Wolfe has learned a thing or two about hiking with children.

"Well, you have to stop and look around more," Wolfe said. "Sometimes kids need something to keep them interested. Little things like grasshoppers are great, because kids are much more motivated to climb when they have something to chase."

One of Wolfe's first picks for hiking with kids is the Palmer Creek Trail, near Hope.

"It's really just a good one for the whole family," he said. "It makes a great day trip and offers some spectacular views."

When asked about his personal favorite, Wolfe hesitated for a few moments.

"Well, I don't know if I really have any absolute favorites," he said. "But I did the Pioneer Ridge hike near Palmer in the summer of 2000, and for some reason that one stands out. It was a perfect early fall day, and I felt really good hiking up there. Everything was just right. That doesn't always happen on every trip."

Though Wolfe is happy about the success and popularity of his books, he is equally as aware of the ecological impact that success brings.

"We have never really had any trails that we have wanted to take out of the book because they have become so popular," Wolfe said. "However, there are a few we have never put in only because so many people use them already. One of the biggest problems that can arise from over-use of a trail is erosion. It is possible to love a place to death."

Accordingly, Nienhueser and Wolfe encourage the principles of "leave no trace," or "minimal-impact camping" in their book. Campers and hikers both are encouraged to, "Make it hard for others to see or hear you, and leave no trace of

your visit."