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Backpacking Wyoming, From Towering Granite Peaks to Steaming Geyser Basins

Published : 2010-06-15

There's a new book just hitting bookstores that will practically take you by the hand and lead you along some long-distance hikes in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks.

In Backing Wyoming, From Towering Granite Peaks to Steaming Geyser Basins, Douglas Lorain leads us down the trail with pack on his back for a potpourri of the Cowboy State's best overnighters. And he does so with highly descriptive narratives that enable you to practically envision the trails and the sights and sounds from your living room months before you hit the trail.

Among the collection are five long-distance hikes in Yellowstone and five in Grand Teton (although some of the latter involve U.S. Forest Service lands adjacent to the park.)

Mr. Lorain approaches his task much like a chef prepares you for his meal, by presenting something akin to a brief menu for the feast you're about to enjoy. Each trail begins with a box of information any hiker considering one of these treks would want from the get-go. In this box the author rates the hike in question on a 1-10 scale in terms of scenery, solitude, and difficult; provides the mileage involved; notes elevation gains; estimates the number of days you likely might spend on the route; points out the months the route is generally open, as well as the months when it's best to explore; who to contact for more information; special attractions along the trail, and; whether a permit or reservations are needed

Beneath this highlights box are sections on pertinent rules (ie., having to camp in designated sites, food storage, etc), challenges (ie., bears), how to reach the trailhead, and then a lengthy - very lengthy, indeed -- description of the hike.

The front of the book also contains charts that provide much of this information in summary form. These charts, by the way, are broken down by month, so if you know when you want to take your hike, you can zero in on the possibilities.

As for the guts of the book, well, when a guy goes out of his way in the Acknowledgments to thank "the nice people at Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital in Thermopolis, Wyoming, who helped me through a nasty bout of giardia I picked up in the Wyoming backcountry," you realize he really did hike these trails and figure he's not going to skimp on or sugar-coat the details.

And speaking of details, Mr. Lorain makes sure to address whether you hike clockwise or counterclockwise. For example, in describing the Grand Teton Loop (Scenery 10, Solitude 3, Difficulty 8), a 48.5-mile trek, he points out that "although equally dramatic in either direction, the spacing of campsites makes a counterclockwise circuit preferable, so begin by walking 0.4 mile back north along the gravel entrance road, and then turning left onto the unsigned Moose Ponds Trail just before the road crosses a trickling creek."

Some of the details Mr. Lorain notes are for the birds. Literally. In writing about the Heart Lake and Two Ocean Plateau Loop (Sceney 6, Solitude 8, Difficulty 7, Miles 61.5) in Yellowstone, he tells us that the trail that wends its way east along the north shore of Heart Lake "is an excellent location for viewing the abundant birdlife that calls this lake home. Common mergansers, white pelicans, and common loons are frequently present, with the last often serenading campers in the evening with the bird's hauntingly wild call."

Guidebook writing, sadly, seems to be a dying art, as fewer and fewer publishers are willing to pay writers enough to justify many hours out on the trail, let alone the page space or literary freedom to do trail narratives justice. Fortunately, Backing Wyoming is an exception to that trend.

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