Just in time for the start of another hiking season, the third edition of the venerable guidebook "Hiking Alaska" has hit the shelves.
Published by the Falcon Guides series, it's easily the most comprehensive statewide resource for residents and visitors who are looking for the best places to put their feet to the ground.
Author Mollie Foster has greatly expanded the book from previous editions. The new version is nearly 100 pages longer than the last, which came out in 2006, and includes significant changes.
Foster said in an email that the new version "received an overhaul of all elements of the book: text, photographs, maps, layout, and design." She also added 12 trails not previously included.
The book has 100 entries, although there are actually more hikes than that since some of the routes offer two or more options at the trailhead. Each entry has a rundown of basic information such as distance, elevation gain, difficulty and the best time to visit. There are also directions for getting to the trail, a brief description of conditions and scenic features, as well as a map and an elevation profile for each route.
The trail descriptions are not as extensive as those found in some of Alaska's regional hiking guides, some of which offer mile-by-mile accounts of what to expect along the way. However, adding more detail would make what is already a pretty weighty volume even more cumbersome.
The weight of the book is its biggest drawback, but Foster said she views this more as a reference book for planning adventures than as a trail guide to stow in a backpack. She suggested photocopying or taking smart-phone photos of relevant pages rather than taking the whole book along.
One of the things adding the extra weight is also one of the new edition's most visually appealing features.
"This new version of the book is in full color," Foster said, "from the photographs to the topographic maps, whereas the two previous editions were entirely black and white. A significant change is the number of photographs. The third edition has more than 175 full-color photos, while the previous edition included about 40 black and white images."
The photos, taken along the trails, convey some of the diversity of Alaska's backcountry and serve as enticing advertisements for various routes. Owing to the geographic immensity of Alaska and the deadlines she was under to produce to book, Foster enlisted help in this department.
"I hired friends who happened to be traveling to a location I knew I wouldn't have time to travel to, and had them shoot photos, or check on conditions of a certain trail for me," she said. "In that regard, this revision came together with the help of many hands and feet."
Littlepage laid groundwork
Foster, who divides her time between Denali National Park and Anchorage, teaches field-based photography courses in Denali and has worked as a contributing editor for Alaska Magazine, a licensing agent for Alaska Stock Photos and an outdoor guide at the Denali Education Center.
This is her first book, but she acknowledges on the first page that it is built on the work of Dean Littlepage, who authored the first two editions. "He is the reason this guidebook exists," she writes. "This is simply a revision of his groundwork."
An avid outdoorswoman who prefers to travel under her own power, Foster said "prior to the book project, most of my expertise was around the Denali National Park and Chugach State Park regions. This project gave me reasons to extend my Alaska hiking experience extensively."
A quick perusal of the book will encourage others to follow her footsteps and see what the Alaska outback has to offer.
David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer and a regular book critic for We Alaskans magazine.