Some prefer to get the ideas for their hikes by closing their eyes and pointing to a destination point on a topographic map, or better yet by driving until someone exclaims, "That peak looks cool. Let's climb it!"
But for less adventurous souls who aren't fans of extended bushwhacks or hiking for hours only to find the goal impeded by an impenetrable glacial stream or towering wall of rock, it always helps to know of as many established trails as possible.
"50 Hikes," co-authored by Shane Shepherd and Owen Wozniak, is packed full of adventures that could keep even the most rabid explorer busy for months.
For each hike, the authors give directions to the trail head, useful field notes on what to expect on the trail, a map, distance of the hike, elevation gain, hiking time, hiking difficulty, terrain and which U.S. Geological Service topographical maps to obtain for the hike. Note that the maps in the book are not a substitute for the topo maps.
All this should sound vaguely familiar to owners of "55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska," which has long been considered the standard portal into the enchanted areas of this part of the state.
Peninsula residents with dogeared copies of "55 Ways" sitting on their coffee table may want to think twice about rushing out and buying "50 Hikes."
The convenient thing about "55 Ways" is that 19 of the 55 adventures offered are on the Kenai Peninsula. On the flip side of the coin, all of the treks in "50 Hikes" require a drive to at least Girdwood.
Even more daunting is the fact that more than half of the 50 hikes require a trip through the heart of Anchorage. That, as a menacing dent on the rear of my car shows, can be a wilderness trip in itself.
Those who do get north to the big city quite often also should note that "50 Hikes" covers many of the same hikes around Anchorage as "55 Ways" does. By my count, at least 13 were duplicated.
One other handy feature of "55 Ways" is that it tells what time of year the hike is most enjoyable. For the most part, "50 Hikes" is lacking in that department.
In addition to the hikes, the authors of "50 Hikes" give a number of tips to trekkers regarding such things as hypothermia, bears, water purification and stream crossings. The tips are solid, but it is important to note, as the authors do, that a book like "50 Hikes" is not a passport to a safe trip.
Just because a hike is written about in a book does not mean it's an established route immune to the vagaries of the Alaska wild. Leave the book in the car and take your common sense instead.
Speaking of common sense, the book did have several portions that were disturbing.
For starters, there's the picture of a "front door view that can't be beat" out of a tent with a gas stove inside of it. As the recent asphyxiation death of two Fairbanks men near Circle Hot Springs shows, burning anything inside of a tent is not a good idea.
There are times when it must be done, but when the weather is providing views that can't be beat, it's certainly not one of those times.
Cooking inside a tent is a summertime no-no anyway, because it soaks the tent and its inhabitants with an enticing smell that says "Game on" to a curious bear wondering about the new entry into its habitat.
The book also introduces the plants, animals, geological and human history of Chugach State Park.
The stuff about plants, animals and geology is germane to the hiker, but I could have done without the human history portion, especially because it appears to be painfully under-researched.
A case in point comes during the brief portion about the Dena'ina, an Athabaskan group that anthropologists believe started inhabiting the Cook Inlet region about 1,000 years ago.
The Dena'ina had a fascinating, noble and intricate way of living in this region that modern day Alaskans, including Alaska hikers, could learn a ton from.
Instead, we are commonly shielded from this potential resource by gross oversimplifications and assumptions that fit snugly into preconceived notions of Alaska history.
A prime example comes when the authors say it was gold that served to "energize" Alaska and "doom" the Dena'ina in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
With the risk of oversimplifying myself, I'll just say this ignores major factors such as the influence of Russian fatalism, Russian Orthodoxy and smallpox that began in the late 1700s; and disastrous effects the canneries of the late 1800s had on, among other things, the redistributive economy of the Dena'ina.
The book also says that before 1867, Cook Inlet was unoccupied by non-Natives. In fact, Russians had established trading posts in Cook Inlet as early as the late 1700s.
But even with those negative qualities, "50 Hikes" keeps its value as a book that gives good ideas leading to good hikes.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.