Sunday, 3 June 2018

105 Hikes released! Do I need to change the name of my blog?

Never before have I felt so qualified to review a book.
I own every edition of 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia series dating back to 1973, I've hiked at least 1 edition in entirety, and called my multi-use blog,.. well,...

This month Stephen Hui released the near cousin of that series with 105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern
The "stack" dating back to 1973
British Columbia
(I'll touch on the "In and Around" part later). Stephen is involved with a hike club that I started and someone I've hiked with so I was very eager to finally get a copy (my post about it here).

The press reception locally has been amazing so far but I find the depth of analysis by standard press outlets to be be lacking with this sort of thing.  The content and history of this book is the stuff of almost religious debate amongst my community, so in this post I aim to go deep, and give it the look it truly deserves.

I will say this, at first look, Jack Bryceland is running the risk of being the George Lazenby of 103 Hikes. George Lazenby is an actor played James Bond in one semi-forgettable film.  The Macarees are Connery and Moore, Hui would be Daniel Craig.  (Don't get me wrong I loved and hiked the 5th edition!).

I made a mental note to not to forget what my first impressions of the book are (as a super-fan). Hui had already released the Table of Contents on social media, which to me is the biggest mystery revealed for someone like me, so that part I knew but still have not had time to synthesize. These were my first 5 thoughts touching the physical book:

  • > the colour. never before has 103/105 felt less like a text book.  I find not just do photos resonate more with a reader in colour, but the tables and maps also are far more effective visually.
  • > the maps: although I loved the old cartoon maps,.. these ones look usable, not 2 colours, and have more points of interest.  Steve Chapman was clearly not afraid to break the pattern that had become the most criticized aspect the last several editions.
  • > the layout of the Introduction section looks less like that obligatory section in all hike books and something worth reading
  • > Ratings! Early editions never even took a stab at difficulty levels but eventually did (4th edition). Hui adds a "quality" rating which I'm sure will be equally controversial. 
  • >the list of hikes.  To me, the lists in these books always lent themselves to more of a table.  Now they have it, but with more data than ever, and colour plus a handy place to put your checkmark! Key new additions, and long overdue, are indicators for "best for backpacking" and "best for rainy day", plus a kid friendly column.
I'll elaborate on all of these and more and try not to make the review longer than the book.

The Intros
I won't lie, I typically skim through the intros of most hike books that I buy, especially if they are pages and pages of huge blocks of text.  I assume, and maybe incorrectly, that they contain something about safety, something about the author, and something about conservation.

This book's intro did not make me flip forward to the first hike.  The intro contains many of those regular elements but broken down into smaller pieces (1-3 pages each), and written by multiple authors.  That, and a few colourful photos or tables and I was drawn in to make sure I didn't miss anything and I was able to make a quick read of it.  Did I mention I enjoy the colour scheme of this book? I'm reminded of both glacier lakes and heather meadows.

Each intro section deserves its place in this book and I think really helps set the tone.

Foreword - Coast Salish ethno-biologist T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss was the perfect choice to ease the reader from their living room into the forest.  I feel it reads almost more like a blessing of the book (which I guess it is) but also like a gateway "you are stepping into more than a forest, but also a place steeped in history and worthy of your respect".  Do not read this book without reading this section first (if not just to enhance your experience), and do not hike these areas without acknowledging the people that have, and often still do, care for it.

Tribute to the Macarees - I'm a 103 Hike nerd so I just plain like this part.  It was appropriate and needed for Greystone to include these few paragraphs as an act of passing of the baton.  I was surprised that Jack Bryceland's contribution was not acknowledged though.

The actual "Introduction" - (and I'll include the "How to use this guide") Both sections are written by Hui and are the standard operating procedures for using the book. He touches lightly on back-country ethics and safety and how the rating systems work, but lets other authors go into a bit more depth.  I suppose if you have a short attention span this section could suffice on its own.  I like the fact there is a dedicated page with a coloured box to key links such as Adventuresmart, and the Washington Trails association (I hope people actually use them).

Being Prepared - I really like SAR volunteer Micheal Coyle's 2 page section on safety. From the outset he reminds us of the division between what we take and what we know. He walks the tightrope of making you keep reading while still waking you up to real life realities we all want to believe won't happen to us.

Ethical Hiking - Jamie Adams is an acquaintance of mine that I've always had alot of respect for.  She started and runs Forest and the Femme (look it up) which is an amazing program and I'm sure comes at great sacrifice to her personal and emotional life. When I read this section I can almost hear her familiar kind, caring tone in the words. I also hear a hint of her frustration with the growing trend of new clueless hikers that are not respecting the trails and the experience that others seek on them.  I share her frustration with this on a deep level despite knowing it was a learning curve for me too (remember I started Wanderung and at times in the past, we have had like a dozen or more people tromping along in a single trip).  Spoiler alert: She does manage to end on a hopeful note but asks us all to do our part to reverse the trend.
I'm going to repeat, I really, really like the sections by Coyle and Adams.  These days people are getting into hiking by the droves but are taking insufficient gear and abusing the trails.  Unfortunately, those that probably need most to read these sections, and the foreword, are exactly the people that never will.

The Maps
Steve Chapman, to me, will always be the guy that woke up in a bivvy encased in frost at Wigeon Peak.  That and someone, that as far as I was aware, transformed himself in a very short span of time from a guy like me with a few extra pounds and getting older,  into a multi-sport athlete and Coquitlam SAR powerhouse seen on the news all the time touting safety and navigation.

I'll have to rethink that, because his real talent is maps.  He actually went on Dragon's Den (I'm not joking) with a mapping product so for 105 Hikes, he was the perfect match to re-think one of the most criticized aspects of the series.

In the past the 103 maps were inspired cartoons, but known to have a bit too much artistic license and
Steve Chapman and one of his creations
only in the 5th and 6th edition did they even have a single 2nd colour.  As a navigation aid, they were hardly usable.

Chapman abandons that. The maps now have a modern topo map underlay, proper scale, and much more clear icons plus notable rivers and other terrain features that probably could get you out of a jam (though I suspect Steve would discourage you from depending solely on them especially at this scale).   The maps are oriented well too.. kind of hard to explain but I find them usable.  They also are more useful for planning camp trips and bathroom stops - finally those things are marked.

I just noticed now as I write this they also do a far better job of noting side lookouts etc... I mean after all, you did all that work getting there.. shouldn't you be made aware of all there is to see?

Well done Mr. Chapman.

...and the Hikes.
All one needs to do to see the changing landscape of Lower Mainland hiking is overlay the hike selections from 1973 edition onward into google maps.  - I know because I've done it -

All of the editions have the core 20 or so unchanged "Mt.Strachans", "Elk-Thurstons",  and "Rainbow Lakes". Editions one and two originally spanned further West to include Strathcona Provincial Park classics and a few others on Vancouver Island but those eventually dropped off and editions 3-5 hardly varied. They covered a bit of the Sunshine Coast, some Gulf Islands, and only a smattering of Coquihalla area on the Eastern end before doing the standard symphony of Manning Park hikes (and of course everything in between).

The 5th edition, the one I've hiked, was unique in that at that time (2001) there were a number of Wilderness Committee projects that emerged as short-lived hikes and never surfaced again due to disrepair.  The 6th edition had a notable burst of Coquihalla hikes, re-added a few Sunshine Coast trails, but otherwise was less than a 20% change from the 5th.

In 105, Hui doesn't just risk venturing into 1 new area with more than a few new hikes,.. but attempts 5 (1 being in a different country!).
  1. More extensive exploration of the Sunshine Coast (many are part of the Sunshine Coast Trail)
  2. More to the North on the Fraser Canyon
  3. More in Whistler area (not Pemberton but Whistler specifically).
  4. Victoria area hikes (never done before)
  5. US based hikes (also never done before).
When you write a book with over 100 hikes (or even 77 such as Dawn Hanna's classic), there are practical limitations as to how many you can "audition" for the book. Basically, I've often felt many hike books with the possible exception of the "Don't Waste Your Time"  authors kind of just explored areas and essentially journaled the ones they have most recently done in their next book (good or bad).  Hui's book feels a bit like this with the SS Coast and maybe Victoria but the past classic "ignoring of the US hikes that are closer than Pemberton or even Chilliwack" had to stop, and by letting the scope of the book grow in all directions (including adding some easier and kid friendly hikes), I feel the book is more well rounded than ever before.  It makes it easier to recommend it as the "one must have" book, because in the old days you had to mention a Washington book and probably one of the 3 Vancouver Island series books.  I also noted what I wonder may be part of Hui's next book,.. a foray into the Chilcotin (this is more of a request than an observation!).

The "7th" edition (if you can call it that), also does a great job of positioning itself as having value.  No one needed a 10th book with the Lions in it. You could just follow the trail of angry home-made, self-entitled, parking signs in Lions Bay and then take a left at the line of Lululemon pants for that..  With modern online resources, other hikes also probably no longer required a book but Hui ensures there are enough of the "I've never heard of that" cutting edge, or "Ya, that old one was due for a refresh" hikes are included. He also makes sure the names are up to date and appropriate (no more "Squaw" to be confused with 4 other "Squaws" around the province).

To clear room for these new areas, I did encounter some surprising omissions: The Lions, The Needles, Wedgemount, Outram, Russet Lake, nothing on Gambier Island, and more.  It needed to be done, the referesh is,.. refreshing, but those are some classics that should not be missed but can easily be found elsewhere.

Another major departure is the increase in  hikes under 4 hours (and easier ones too).  Triangle Lake, and Mt Daniel, for example, were staples of the Macaree's other series 109 Walks, which is more of a rainy day / dog walk book.  I "bagged" the 5th edition of this one also. This range shift actually positions the book to also cover more of what was the original Wanderung bible: Dawn Hanna's now aging Safeway purchasable classic Best Hikes in SouthWestern BC.

I estimate over 35% of the book is completely "fresh" in the 103 timeline.  To me, this makes it worth far more than just getting "updates" from the previous versions (as was the case for the last 40 years).  For me personally, a peak bagger that has religiously hiked the series, I have almost 40 that I have yet to tackle which suggests to me the amount of new content is nothing to write off.

Content and Style
As you might expect when a different person writes a book,.. it reads differently.  Stephen Hui was/is a journalist and on some levels it reads that way.  In a shorter amount of space he imparts more meaningful history and directional information than previous editions.
Hui thanks key contributor to the book. 

Hui's take is also a modern one that doesn't shy away from real history such as BC's dark history with Japanese internment camps, or frequent references to the original First Nations names and beliefs of areas in the book.  Overall it just feels more culturally sensitive in a time when it needs to be, and he also is ok with shining a light on the less flattering aspects of the trails such as the crowds that have now ruined Joffre Lakes etc. (if you read between the lines, or maybe that is just my take!).

Lastly, one of the true highlights of the book's content is where he acknowledges me and Wanderung alongside my friend Andy Gibb on page 248! (in all seriousness, I'm proud to be a part of this endeavour).

Areas to Improve:
I'm a critical person and I love this series, but I truly am pleased with this book. I'd be really reaching to find anything bad to say but this is a review so I'm going to highlight a few things other people caught that I didn't but once I clued in I can't believe I missed them.  I hope these might be considered in 7 years for the next edition :)

Overview map - The crease of the book obscures the bulk of the hikes shown on the large scale overview map. Someone should have caught that at the publisher level.

Sorted stats page - The 5th and 6th editions had a section at the back sorting hikes by hike time, driving distance, high points, elevation gains, round rip distances, and average gradients. Yes, that is 6 tables. For me as a peak bagger this was invaluable since I could compare on the scale I was interested in, if, for example, I wasn't in shape and wanted to do something "slightly" harder than last week. As a hike nerd, I did usually move the data to a spreadsheet that I could sort and filter as I pleased (but now I might have to ask Stephen for his raw data to save the data entry!).  My wife Laura caught this and she in not a hike nerd but felt it was a loss.  Contrasting and comparing hikes when you aren't doing them is half the fun.

Best time to hike: Recommended hiking months disappeared in the 6th edition and probably rightly so. This is a super controversial topic,.. because as we all know (or should) no 2 years are alike and people like Micheal Coyle would probably back out of the project if Hui were to suggest July-Oct for X hike, like the 5th edition did.  People should always be checking the current conditions. Still,.. I liked it, if only for the extreme cases as a guideline (eg. Gardner can almost be hiked year round, whereas Outram might have a tiny window.  I get it, but I miss it.  Maybe Hui could consider some reference to average past "best wildflower timings" or something?

Car-free: I believe the author himself is carless.  He does mention, in the descriptions, hikes that are doable without a car but could that have been another column in the table or at least a field at the top of the hike profile? One of my faves, BC Car-free, still remains unique it its effort get people to nature with minimal reliance on a car.  Outdoor recreation by the way, one of the most cited reasons for Vancouverites to own a car at all.

Why the extra 2 hikes? - Was something wrong with 103? Now my blog's name is outdated...

I find it gratifying to know that people I know and like have found a way to be part of the history of this community.  Jamie Adams, Steve Chapman, Stephen Hui,.. I know them and they have all been a part of Wanderung which is something that I had a hand in creating. For that reason alone, this book is special to me.

As a vocal 103 peak bagger and hike book lover I'm here to tell you, this is the new benchmark.  It is more than an update, it functions differently and is even more respectful to our local history, people, and the land than ever before. This is the default gift to give your friend that lives local and just started hiking.  While you are at it buy a copy for yourself, check off the hikes as you go, and plan a long fun season of hiking in this beautiful place you've chosen to live.


  1. Awesome review Steve; and thanks for the kind words on my 2 pages. One tiny detail - my name's spelled "Michael"

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wow — thanks for the 105-paragraph review! 5 stars! (Blogger didn't like my use of emojis.)

    Find out more about the book:

  4. Hi Steve, thanks for the glowing review of the maps! Before I started the overview map I did ask the publishers to consider doing separate panels for the overview map, as I was anticipating gutter problems. They wanted to keep it in this format. There is an overlap of content in the middle, but the gutter is too aggressive at the beginning of the book.