Book reviews from the pages of Footnotes
Everything you need to plan a backpack trip in our area
AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic: A Guide to 30 of the Best Multiday Trips from New York to Virginia, by Michael R. Martin Paperback
Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski
Michael Martin wrote a feature article Hills, Hollows, and Beyond that appeared in the May/June issue of AMC Outdoors. Did you happen to see or read it? Michael wrote about the Susquehannock Trail located in North Central PA. This is just one of the trails included in his Best Backpacking book.
Best Backpacking includes just about everything a beginner to experienced backpacker would need for planning one of the trips listed in the book. A map shows the location of each trip and a planner contains location, difficulty, distance, elevation, estimated time, type of trip, if a fee is required, if dogs are permitted, ample water supply available, trips by theme (i.e. waterfalls, big views), and listing by State. Michael gave each trip what he calls “a fun and fanciful title." These titles actually had me looking ahead to see what he named trails I had hiked. Some of my favorites: I Like Big Ridges and I Cannot Lie, (Don’t) Get Lost!, Carrying Water, and Hitting the High Notes.
Michael includes a section on where you should go hiking based on certain attributes about the areas, what you will see, what season it is or spending time with limited crowds. He also gives tips for staying safe and getting equipped for your trip. Leave No Trace guidelines are also included.
Each trail's header includes the following: title, whether you may bring man’s best friend on the trip, water availability, are there usage fees, is camping permitted, location, trip highlights, distance, total elevation gain/loss, length of trip, difficulty, recommended maps and other resources. The description includes: over- view of hike, options for overnight, getting to the trailhead, hike description, other hike options, amenities nearby, and additional information about the trail. The author does include latitude and longitude coordinates in the hike description for reference, plus a trail map
The book is broken into trips by state: Virginia (7), West Virginia (5), Pennsylvania (6), New York (5), Maryland (4), New Jersey and Delaware (3). The author includes backpacks for all levels including a difficulty level: Easy, Moderate, Challenging, Strenuous, and Epic. Epic is defined as “Extended adventures with considerable and constant elevation gain and loss, often in remote regions on challenging trails."
After reading this definition, I immediately turned to “Devil’s Path”, Trip #20. I’ve never hiked this trail, but I was always told it was extremely challenging. I was surprised that the trip was only rated “strenuous." Curious, I had to find one of the “epic” trails that I had backpacked. The Susquehannock Trail was the only one that I completed. Re-reading the authors explanation of the difficulty of the Susquehannock Trail, I have to agree. We did not come across one view point, but we did walk countless ups and downs with considerable and constant elevation gain and loss. We had a stop in Cross Fork that we will never forget.
When we arrived in the small town we found they were preparing for their annual Rattlesnake Roundup. People were camped near the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
office. The ranger on duty said we could find a spot and set up our tents. While at the small store buying ice cream a nasty storm blew into the area. The storm was so bad; we were actually holding our tent down. When the storm blew through, we got out of the tent to find a tree had come down on one of the campers, cutting it and a vehicle parked near it in half. Thank goodness no one was hurt. We spent most of the evening watching as the tree was removed. The owner of the camper came over to us and said at one point during the storm he was feeling really sorry for us being out in the weather in our small tent.
This book is a nice addition to my backpacking reference books. I have been backpacking for many years, but I still picked up tips from Michael in his gear section. After reading this guide there are trails that I have added to my list of those I would like to hike someday. Thank You, Michael.
AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia Four-Season Guide to 50 of the Best Trails in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, Susan Charkes, AMC Books, 2010
Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski
Looking for new hikes, hikes that you can reach by public transportation, hikes you can take with your children or dog? If you would like learn more about berries, birds, meadows, the PA Highlands, spiders, trees, wildflowers, or frogs? This is the book for you.
Susan has grouped the trails listed in the book into three regions: central and southern New Jersey (10 hikes); the Lehigh Valley (14 hikes); and southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware (26 hikes).
She lists hikes, many well known trails and AMC-DV favorites: Appalachian Trail, Fairmount Park, French Creek State Park, Nockamixon State Park, Peace Valley Nature Center, Perkiomen Trail, Ridley Creek State Park, Valley Forge National Park, and Wissahickon Valley Park.
Other not so familiar trails are listed like Clarence Schock Memorial Park, Money Rocks Park, and Neversink Mountain Preserve.
The book offers an “At-a-Glance” chart listing the hike, the page where the hike is described, its location, difficulty, distance and elevation gain, estimated time, fee, whether the hike is good for children, dogs are allowed, good for cross country skiing or snowshoeing, if you can get to it by public transportation, and lists trip highlights.
Each individual trip lists location, difficulty, distance, elevation gain, estimated time, maps, brief description of the walk, detailed directions including GPS coordinates, trail description, small map showing the route. After each trail description is a paragraph listing helpful additional information: park office hours, fees, location of restrooms, address, phone numbers and websites.
Dispersed throughout the book are 17 short nature essays covering topics such as bird migration, deer ecology and Wissahickon schist. These essays will certainly open your eyes to your surroundings on your next hike. ob, one of the many hikes in the book.
Mountains of the Heart: A Natural History of the Appalachians
20th Anniversary Edition By Scott Weidensaul
Review by Eric Pavlak
A gunshot and splash of blood on a snowy November day in north-central Pennsylvania in 1867 marked the end of the last of the wapiti, the native elk of the Appalachians. A hundred years later, the majestic bald eagle was all but gone.
Today, the eagles are back, thanks to conservation efforts and a ban on the poison that was killing them. A few western elk have now repopulated a tiny part of their former vast range. Each spring, the trout lilies and May apples still sprout. The land is once again verdant green, though men still rip coal from the earth, dump waste into streams and pump toxic fluids into deep bore holes to extract natural gas. Resplendent with nature’s beauty, rich with trees and water, these mountains have generated great wealth and great poverty. And every year, the snows refresh, the waters flow and the land regenerates.
Once towering to the heights of the Alps and the Rockies, the now-eroded and rounded Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest major mountain chains on earth. Extending from north-central Alabama to Belle Isle, off the northern tip of Newfoundland, they are the defining topological feature of eastern North America. They hold vast natural diversity and wonders, and have shaped much of the history of our nation and our continent.
Reading Scott Weidensaul’s Mountains of the Heart is like many fascinating days walking with an eloquent naturalist, and many evenings with a knowledgeable and genial historian.
Weidensaul takes us not just into the woods of these old hills, but along the creeks and rivers, and the flyways of birds and butterflies. He tells of those settled here and those who’s lives and land the settlers took.
This book was originally published 20 years ago. This is a newly updated edition, with a must-read introduction that includes the latest environmental insults our species is hurling at our mountains, and the conservation efforts to minimize the damage.
An author writing on a topic so vast as a mountain range obviously has to be selective. Your favorite topic might not be included. I was hoping for some mention of the extraordinary story of the American eel. I didn’t find it, but instead learned of the extensive travels of botanists John (father) and William Bartram in the mid-1700s.
Many nature writers are boring to me, lacking the poetry of a Wordsworth or the insight of a Thoreau. Unlike them, Weidensaul has produced a book that is fun to read. It is filled with well-researched information. Learn more about our loss of the great chestnuts, the once great shad runs, vanished bison. Celebrate the resurgence of egrets and ospreys. Learn about a multitude of things you have walked past and never noticed. Celebrate our beloved mountains.
About the Author: Scott Weidensaul is a Pennsylvania native and current resident, who began his writing career with the Pottsville Republican, first as a columnist, than as a full-time reporter. He left that 10-year stint to become a freelance nature writer, with long-running columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News. He has written more than two dozen books, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. He is contributing editor for Audubon magazine and writes for, Bird Watcher’s Digest and National Wildlife.
He is an active field researcher studying bird migration, and is one for the few licensed hummingbird banders in the country. Owls are the focus of much of his efforts, and he directs the ornithology program at the Audubon Society’s Hog Island camp off the coast of Maine.
No Regrets, No Apologies by Michael C. Sinclair, MD
World-traveling mountaineering surgeon now hikes with AMC-DV and works with Doctors Without Borders
Book review by Lennie Steinmetz
Michael Sinclair is a world class mountaineer who has summited Everest, a cardiac surgeon from the Lehigh Valley who has performed more than 4,000 open heart surgeries, a doctor who now travels the world working for Doctors Without Borders, and a member of the DV Chapter of AMC. He recently published an autobiography titled No Regrets, No Apologies which is a most interesting read.
Sinclair was raised in a small town in northern California where athletic prowess was the sole measure of male worth. Inept in all sports, he had a miserable childhood and adolescence. In college he became a nose-to-the-grindstone student and graduated with honors. He completed medical school and went on to become a successful cardiac surgeon. In his late thirties, he was determined to revisit the issue of his apparent incompetence as an athlete. First he ran marathons. Then he began climbing mountains. Mountaineering became a committing avocation which rivaled heart surgery for his attention.”
He launched his climbing career by contacting Rick Wilcox’s climb-
ing school and guide service in New Hampshire. He took private climb-
ing lessons there, then moved on to tackle big mountains like Aconcagua
in South America, Mount Vinson and Mount McKinley in Alaska, and
Mount Everest, to name a few. Some trips were more successful than
others, but his tales about all of them are fascinating. There is a realism
and honesty in his descriptions that is refreshing after reading some climbing books whose only goal seems to be to burnish the image of the climber himself.
After retiring from climbing big mountains, Sinclair continued to do rock climbing closer to home. Unfortunately, one of these trips led to his becoming the poster child for the Good Shepherd Home and Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown. A climbing accident in Delaware Water Gap left him with a collapsed lung, broken ribs, multiple fractures to his back and a broken hip socket. His long and painful, but ultimately successful, recovery led to his being featured on billboards throughout the Lehigh Valley extolling the virtues of Good Shepherd.
He has since gone on to cycle across America, do numerous backcountry ski trips throughout the US and Canada, and join AMC-DV for hiking and skiing adventures. He has also spends much of his time working for Doctors Without Borders with his wife Phyllis. They have taken part in over a dozen international missions, most lasting about six weeks, in places like Libya and South Sudan. The Allentown Morning Call recently ran a lengthy article about Sinclair and his humanitarian efforts, which can be found here. No Regrets, No Apologies is available on line.
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