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Celebration, exhibit marks 40th anniversary of trail guide

In the summer of 1970, Brian Patton and Bart Robinson set out to create the first hiking guide to the Canadian Rockies.

In the summer of 1970, Brian Patton and Bart Robinson set out to create the first hiking guide to the Canadian Rockies.

Forty years later, the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, first released in 1971, has sold more than 250,000 copies, making it the longest running and most popular guidebook available and one which has also set the standard for accuracy and detail.

And this weekend the authors, along with long-time publisher Summerthought, are launching the 40th anniversary edition – also the ninth edition – at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Saturday, April 30 from 7-9 p.m.

This celebration also coincides with the official opening of the exhibit A Retrospective of Canadian Rockies’ Trail Guides.

Chic Scott, a climber and author of Pushing the Limits: the Story of Canadian Mountaineering, said the quality of the information Patton and Robinson gathered and presented in their first and subsequent editions is the reason the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide has endured for 40 years.

“Nobody knows more about the trails,” he said.

“It is the quality of the information. There have been books created since then that are flashier and maybe more artistic in their interpretation, but there’s nothing more accurate or has better information.”

Another advantage of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide is the fact it highlights all of the trails in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, along with Waterton, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, Peter Lougheed, Elk Lakes and Akamina-Kishinena Parks, essentially saying every trail has its own merits and is worth doing as a result.

“All the trails are worth doing in the Rockies and all of them have something special and it is nice that Bart and Brian have included all of the major trails,” said Scott.

Scott was working at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park during the summer of 1970 when Patton and Robinson arrived with the wheel they used to measure trail distances. They were the first to do that and, as a result, the first to accurately measure trails throughout the mountain parks, creating data other guidebooks would come to use and rely on, Scott said.

“It looked pretty weird, these guys pushing a bicycle wheel. I was into climbing heavily in those days and I wasn’t thinking much about hiking and I wasn’t thinking much about books, but those guys were visionaries,” he said, adding they saw the need and the opportunity for a book of this nature and were able to take advantage of that.

And in those days, no publishers existed to take on their project. Other smaller guidebooks in the Rocky Mountain region were self-published, so Barbara and Peter Steiner, who owned the Book & Art Den, founded Summerthought, along with bookstore manager Jon Whyte, to publish the book.

On Wednesday, Andrew Hempstead, current owner of Summerthought, said the ninth edition has modernized the book’s appearance, including a new cover, GPS data for trailheads and completely updated trails, which saw the authors going from one end of the Rockies to the other re-checking trails.

Meanwhile, A Retrospective of Canadian Rockies’ Trail Guides, which will be on display at the Whyte until May 30, is designed to celebrate the guidebook genre and the role it has played in the Rockies.

Whyte Museum Curator Michale Lang said the exhibit features about 25 books, including different editions of books by Tony and Gillean Daffern, Vicky Spring, Don Beers, Kathy and Craig Copeland and Graeme Pole mounted in shadow boxes.

“Are they books? Artifacts? We put them into shadow boxes and they are amazingly beautiful. It is really, really pretty,” Lang said.

The Whyte has also chosen artwork that relates to the areas featured on the covers or in the books.

“To me, obviously there is a real thirst for this kind of knowledge and I also think that everybody has their favourite guidebooks,” Lang said, adding every hiker has their own preferences for difference reasons.

“As a hiker, it’s fun to have different people’s look at the same place. It’s like art. You can have endless art. Assiniboine has been painted a thousand times and everybody has painted it differently.”

The books also represent discovery, planning, reflection and accomplishment and are a distinct and important part of mountain culture, even as the books change to include GPS data or have other digital aspects, which, Lang said, in her mind don’t replace the pleasure of a guidebook.

“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but there is something about those books,” she said.


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