Seymour River in British Columbia

Good books are like rivers. They have many twists and turns. Inevitably, they take you some­where dif­fer­ent from where you start­ed. They have thrilling rapids and peace­ful sec­tions. The jour­ney mat­ters more than the des­ti­na­tion. Before you know it, the cur­rent has swept you along. Here are eight riv­er nar­ra­tives for the mod­ern era.

The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Bril­liant White­wa­ter Career of Buzz Holm­strom, by Vince Welch, Curt Con­ley and Brad Dimock
Buzz Holm­strom was a unique char­ac­ter: an intu­itive boat­man who built his own boats in his base­ment in Coquille, Ore­gon where he worked as a gas sta­tion atten­dant. In the sum­mers he’d do pio­neer­ing riv­er descents, often solo. Then he’d return to his day job pump­ing gas. He ran many of the west’s icon­ic rivers includ­ing a solo descent of the Grand Canyon and a going across the con­ti­nent via riv­er. He was also a lon­er and brood­er who strug­gled to make sense of the con­trast between the tran­scen­den­tal joy of riv­er jour­neys and rou­tine exis­tence in Coquille. You won’t for­get Buzz Holm­strom for a very long time.

The Heart of Dark­ness, by Joseph Conrad
Conrad’s clas­sic reminds us that most riv­er jour­neys are inward as much as they are actu­al phys­i­cal jour­neys. Whether they lead to dark­ness or light is up to us. Retold in film as Apoc­a­lypse Now, The Heart of Dark­ness shows us how explo­rations to wild places strip humans down to our most basic state and reveal what­ev­er we are…good, bad, or both. Some­times it’s hard to tell the dif­fer­ence. If you had to read it in high school or col­lege, read it again now that you don’t have to write a report about it…you’ll dis­cov­er it anew.

The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West, by Vince Welch
Amos Burg isn’t a house­hold name, but it should be. He ran many of the rivers of the west and far north, played a major hand in pio­neer­ing the use of inflat­able rafts, explored Alas­ka and Patag­o­nia by boat, and was one of the first adven­ture film­mak­ers. His sto­ry is worth know­ing and Welch tells it very well indeed.

Let Them Pad­dle: Com­ing of Age on the Water, by Alan Kesselheim
Kessel­heim and his wife Mary­pat have been adven­tur­ing on rivers all their lives. Many great jour­neys are doc­u­ment­ed in Kessel­heim’s books. In Let Them Pad­dle, the Kessel­heim’s bring their chil­dren to the var­i­ous rivers of their con­cep­tion as rites of pas­sage as they enter their teenage years and begin to devel­op adult iden­ti­ties. It’s a deep, touch­ing, and thought­ful explo­ration of fam­i­ly, nature, upbring­ing and how we pass on the her­itage of rivers to the next generation.


Pad­dlenorth: Adven­ture, Resilience, and Renew­al in the Arc­tic Wild, by Jen­nifer Kingsley
Adven­tures aren’t total­ly fun—and even when they are, the deep expe­ri­ences change the bonds between adven­tur­ers. Kingsley’s descrip­tion of run­ning the Back Riv­er in the Cana­di­an Arc­tic deals unabashed­ly with group dynam­ic strains, tough emo­tions, and recov­ery from loss as a group of 20-some­things chart their course in life as well as down the riv­er. You’ll feel the expanse of sweep­ing Arc­tic land­scapes, the ache of sore mus­cles, and the stress of jour­ney­ing through the unknown together.

A Riv­er Runs Through It, by Nor­man Maclean
For­get the movie that launched Brad Pitt’s career. The book is far, far bet­ter. In A Riv­er Runs Through It, Maclean weaves a rich sto­ry of grow­ing up in Mon­tana where the riv­er and his fam­i­ly both flow through his life. The cur­rents and eddies of his rela­tion­ship with his father, his bril­liant but trou­bled broth­er, his wife, the Big Black­foot Riv­er, and his own aging are time­less. The way he writes is bet­ter than any film can ever capture.

The Riv­er Why, by David James Duncan
Gus Orviston—a stand-in for both Dun­can and all of us—is a riv­er-obsessed kid try­ing to find his way in the world between two very dif­fer­ent yet riv­er-obsessed par­ents. This hilar­i­ous, touch­ing, some­times dark, and deeply human sto­ry speaks about the love, joy, fam­i­ly strain and what it’s like to live obsessed by rivers when not every­one else around you is. The book launch­es with one of the most cap­ti­vat­ing first sen­tences since “Call me Ish­mael”. It gets bet­ter as you read along.

Sunk With­out a Sound: The Trag­ic Col­orado Riv­er Hon­ey­moon of Glen and Bessie Hyde, by Brad Dimock
Glen and Bessie Hyde planned a spec­tac­u­lar hon­ey­moon: float­ing the Col­orado in 192. They van­ished some­where in the depths of the Grand Canyon. Dimock tries to solve the mystery…by rebuild­ing a repli­ca of their sweep boat on a drunk­en whim and fol­low­ing their path. In a com­bi­na­tion of a riv­er jour­ney, foren­sic detec­tive nov­el, ele­gy, and love affair with the Col­orado Riv­er, Dimock seeks to answer an 80-year old cold case. He, and the majesty and mys­tery of the Grand Canyon, take you along.

As Grou­cho Marx once said, “Out­side of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Enjoy.

It’s cold and get­ting dark ear­ly. Win­ter is the per­fect time for set­tling in next to the wood stove with a good book. And when it comes to out­door books, the fol­low­ing are out­door clas­sics. If you haven’t read these ten, your out­door expe­ri­ence isn’t complete.

Desert Soli­taire by Edward Abbey (1968)
Abbey was a Penn­syl­va­nia kid work­ing as a wait­er in Hobo­ken, NJ, when he land­ed a job as a sum­mer ranger in the new Arch­est Nation­al Mon­u­ment in Utah, back when Moab was still a ura­ni­um-min­ing town. Desert Soli­taire is his lyri­cal love affair with the won­der, mys­ter­ies, and harsh­ness of the slick­rock desert. Writ­ten about a land­scape large­ly undis­cov­ered by the out­doors-lov­ing pub­lic, Desert Soli­taire mix­es his love of the land­scape with his fear of large-scale tourism he saw in the future. The Park Ser­vice, dis­pleased with his cri­tique of man­age­ment, exiled him to a dis­tant fire look­out. If they want­ed to silence Abbey, it was the worst move pos­si­ble. He had plen­ty of time to write his incen­di­ary next clas­sic, The Mon­key Wrench Gang. And Desert Soli­taire had already left its mark: count­less out­door adven­tur­ers packed a copy along with their sleep­ing bag on jour­neys through­out the southwest.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer (1996)
Into Thin Air may be Krakauer’s most-read book because of the draw Ever­est, but Into the Wild strikes a more uni­ver­sal chord. Krakauer’s account of a vagabond kid who seeks, like Huck Finn, to “light out for the ter­ri­to­ries ahead of the west and even­tu­al­ly meets a mys­te­ri­ous end in a remote sec­tion of Alas­ka is more than the answer to a rid­dle. He taps into a deep­er mys­tery: what exact­ly is it that we seek in adven­ture? Why do some crave it so intense­ly? Even if you already know the sto­ry, the book is riveting…and way bet­ter than the movie.

A Sand Coun­ty Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)
Leopold’s mag­num opus fol­lows the sea­sons near his farm in Wis­con­sin, notic­ing the sub­tle changes around him. It’s enough to make any­one want to find a patch of land some­where and trace the sea­sons going by. Unlike the rest of these books, it’s set not in the moun­tains of Alas­ka or the canyon coun­try of Utah, but in the hum­ble land­scape of the Mid­west. Don’t let that fool you. The final chap­ter, The Land Eth­ic, packs a punch that made it the foun­da­tion­al doc­u­ment of the mod­ern envi­ron­men­tal movement.

Arc­tic Dreams by Bar­ry Lopez (1986)
Few regions are as unknown, and maybe as unknow­able, as the high Arc­tic. Lopez brings it into your liv­ing room or tent. Spend­ing count­less hours fol­low­ing muskox, sci­en­tists, polar bears, and native peo­ples, Lopez makes this aus­tere region come alive. He dives deep into the shapes of ice­bergs, the migra­tions of birds, the his­to­ry of Arc­tic cul­tures and mod­ern attempts to make sense of the region. You’ll want to pack up a warm par­ka and go.

The Snow Leop­ard by Peter Matthiessen (1978)
On the sur­face, The Snow Leop­ard is about a writer about shad­ow­ing ecol­o­gy George Schaller as he trapis­es around the Himalaya study­ing wild sheep and the elu­sive Snow Leop­ard. But the real jour­ney is inter­ward. Matthiessen writes about griev­ing for his late wife, his encoun­ters with East­ern phi­los­o­phy, the lives of the Nepalese, and his own strug­gles fig­ur­ing out why its’ so impor­tant to tramp through the snow to see one elu­sive crea­ture. It’s about the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion for adven­tur­ers: what’s the nature of quests?

Com­ing into the Coun­try by John McPhee (1976)
Com­ing into the Coun­try put Alas­ka on the spir­tu­al map for climbers, riv­er run­ners, and any­one seek­ing the romance of the Last Fron­tier. McPhee embraces the lives of sub­sis­tence home­stead­ers, riv­er run­ners, bush pilots, prospec­tors, and politi­cians. McPhee’s book also delves into the chal­lenge of what Alas­ka is for: oil, fish, min­ing, or wilder­ness. Com­ing into the Coun­try drew thou­sands to the romance of the Last Fron­tier, and led many to focus on the last chance to “get it right the first time.” If you need proof that the pen is might­i­er than the sword, the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Pub­lic Lands Act passed four years later.

My First Sum­mer in the Sier­ra by John Muir (1984)
The most influ­en­tial book by the patron saint of the wilder­ness move­ment, Muir’s lyri­cal book about explor­ing the Sier­ra Neva­da radi­ates the joy of explor­ing the Sierra’s high coun­try. The Moun­tains of Cal­i­for­nia was writ­ten when the Sier­ra was still large­ly unheard of oth­er than as an obsta­cle to gold rush set­tlers head­ing west. Muir com­bines both his jour­neys to the high peaks with an under­stand­ing of ecology—a ground­break­ing con­cept at the time. Thou­sands flocked to Yosemite in the years that followed.

Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind by Rod­er­ick Nash (1967)
If you’ve ever won­dered why we love wild places, this book is for you. Nash’s book, which began as his doc­tor­al the­sis, asks, and answers that ques­tion beyond the typ­i­cal “because it’s there” ques­tion. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can mind brings a his­tor­i­cal eye to the long arc of how Amer­i­cans see the out­doors. Inad­ver­tent­ly, Nash launched anoth­er move­ment: the envi­ron­ment seri­ous pur­suit worth of study and careers. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind soon grew into the nation’s first Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia in San­ta Barbara.

Touch­ing the Void by Joe Simp­son (1988)
Joe Simpson’s sur­vival after a fall, bro­ken leg, and plum­met into a crevasse on Siu­la Grande in the Andes is the most amaz­ing sur­vival sto­ries in climb­ing. But Touch­ing the Void is more than just an incred­i­ble sur­vival sto­ry. Simp­son expos­es the read­er to the life and death deci­sions in the moun­tains, the ones we hope we’ll nev­er need to make. He shares the risk, skill, endurance and mani­a­cal dri­ve of peo­ple who climb at the high­est reach­es of the world. The great-grand­dad­dy of “moun­tain epics”, it’s still the best.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine Saint-Exu­pery (1939)
You’ll nev­er think of “going postal” the same way again. Saint-Exu­pery recounts his days fly­ing mail planes between over the Sahara from France to Dakar in the 1920s and 30s. At the time, deliv­er­ing the mail was every bit as risky as climb­ing in the Himalayas is today. Saint-Exu­pery is an adven­tur­er-philoso­pher at the height of his form, con­vey­ing the beau­ty, fear and cama­raderie of adven­ture-fly­ing in North Africa in terms that still res­onate today.

©istockphoto/gubernat

For Adven­tur­ous Young Women
Con­sid­er Beryl Markham’s West With The Night. “A bloody won­der­ful book,” said Ernest Hem­ing­way. First pub­lished in 1942, this adven­ture epic is still a clas­sic for good reason—in Markham’s mem­oir, she chron­i­cles her expe­ri­ences grow­ing up in Kenya (then called British East Africa) in the ear­ly 1900s, which led to her career as an African bush pilot. It’s all there: she tells sto­ries of being mauled by a lion, fly­ing over the Serengeti, and search­ing for the downed plane of her lover. She lat­er became the first woman to fly over the Atlantic from east to west in a solo non­stop flight. “I have lift­ed my plane from the Nairo­bi air­port for per­haps a thou­sand flights,” said Hem­ing­way in praise of the text. “I have nev­er felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air with­out know­ing the uncer­tain­ty and the exhil­a­ra­tion of first­born adventure.”

For Ocean Enthusiasts
Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki begins like this: “Just occa­sion­al­ly you find your­self in an odd sit­u­a­tion. You get into it by degrees and in the most nat­ur­al way but, when you are right in the mist of it, you are sud­den­ly aston­ished and ask your­self how in the world it all came about.”

First pub­lished in 1950, Kon-Tiki is Heyerdahl’s account of his 1947 mis­sion to prove that the South Pacif­ic could have been pop­u­lat­ed by natives of Peru. After set­ting out on a bal­sa raft with five Nor­we­gians and a talk­a­tive par­rot, his team sur­vives shark attacks, a beach­ing in Tahi­ti, and the doubt of his­to­ri­ans world­wide. Though the trip proved incon­clu­sive, the team survived—and guar­an­teed them­selves a sol­id place in his­to­ry books worldwide.

For Fans of the Amer­i­can Southwest
Edward Abbey’s Desert Soli­taire is based on his time as a park ranger at the Arch­es Nation­al Mon­u­ment in the late 1950’s. Often com­pared to Thoreau’s Walden and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Coun­ty Almanac, the text is a ver­i­ta­ble bible about the Col­orado Plateau region of the south­west­ern Unit­ed States. There are first­hand accounts of wilder­ness explo­ration and riv­er run­ning, vivid descrip­tions of the flo­ra, fau­na, geol­o­gy, and human inhab­i­tants of the area, and med­i­ta­tions on tourism in nation­al parks. “I dream of a hard and bru­tal mys­ti­cism in which the naked self emerges with a non-human world and yet some­how sur­vives still intact, indi­vid­ual, sep­a­rate. Para­dox and bedrock.”

For Bud­ding Photographers
Pick up a hard­back copy of Unex­pect­ed: 30 Years of Patag­o­nia Cat­a­log Pho­tog­ra­phy. Patag­o­nia has tra­di­tion­al­ly devot­ed more than half of their catalog’s pages to edi­to­r­i­al con­tent, which was unique and—according to some—revolutionary among com­pa­nies the out­door indus­try. Since 1980, the com­pa­ny has invit­ed their cus­tomers, ambas­sadors, and employ­ees to sub­mit their best and most unex­pect­ed pho­tos of life out­doors: “…of alpine climb­ing, boul­der­ing in the desert, ski­ing untracked bowls, surf­ing secret spots, ocean cross­ings, first kayak descents, and trav­el in unfa­mil­iar places.” This com­pendi­um, pub­lished by Patag­o­nia, high­lights 100+ of the most com­pelling pho­tos they’ve ever published—and it’s bound to inspire all the pho­tog­ra­phers in your life.

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©istockphoto/RyanJLane

©istockphoto/RyanJLaneWhen you’re hik­ing, pad­dling, climb­ing, or ski­ing, read­ing mate­r­i­al isn’t always high on the list. But part of being out­doors is know­ing ani­mal tracks, birds, and moun­tain wild­flow­ers. Every north­west hik­er should have these guide­books on hand. Some­times one or two will come with you on the trail or the water. Some­times they live in the car so you can pull them out in the pub and fig­ure out what you saw. Either way, they’re the per­fect com­pan­ions to help­ing you appre­ci­ate nature in the northwest.

Cas­cade-Olympic Nature His­to­ry, by Daniel Matthews
Writ­ten by lamp­light in a remote cab­in in the moun­tains, this guide the sin­gle most use­ful book for Cas­cade hik­ers. It’s near­ly-per­fect mix of the crit­ters and plants you’ll see, along with a lot of real­ly inter­est­ing eco­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion that goes well beyond just know­ing what some­thing is, and writ­ten with deep knowl­edge. One book that seems to mag­i­cal­ly have every­thing you need in it, and noth­ing you don’t.

Seashore Life of the Pacif­ic North­west Coast, by Eugene Kozloff
This guide is the all-inclu­sive book for sea life from the coast and Puget Sound. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of telling all kinds of sea crea­tures apart and learn­ing about the lives of limpets, sea stars, and oth­er odd­ball crea­tures you share the coast with.

The Sib­ley Field Guide to Birds of West­ern North Amer­i­ca, by David Allen Sibley
Far and away the best-designed, clear­est, and portable bird guide to any­where the Rock­ies and west, with great maps, illus­tra­tions, and songs. If it’s fly­ing, you can find it in here.

Plants of the Pacif­ic North­west Coast, by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon
Called sim­ply “Pojar” because it’s so wide­spread, this is the defin­i­tive plant guide to any­thing from the cas­cade crest to the sea and from south­ern Ore­gon to south-cen­tral Alas­ka. My weath­ered copy is falling apart and full of notes for a rea­son; it packs infor­ma­tion for the casu­al explor­er and dichoto­mous keys for the seri­ous nat­u­ral­ist. It’s been the plant’s gold stan­dard for two decades.

Wild­flow­ers of the Colum­bia Gorge, by Russ Jolley
But there’s one place where Pojar can let you down: the Colum­bia Gorge, where wild­flow­ers found nowhere else in the world thrive. Jolley’s book to this well-defined area helps you iden­ti­fy the vast fields of wild­flow­ers as they bloom in a dis­tinc­tive east-to-west pattern.

Wet­land Plants of Ore­gon & Wash­ing­ton, by Jen­nifer Guard
How about swamps, marsh­es, and wet­lands that stretch from the Willamette Val­ley to the coast? Guard’s book will help you make sense of these plants that we usu­al­ly take for grant­ed. Throw one in your dry bag on your next canoe trip.

Scat and Tracks of the Pacif­ic Coast, by James Halfpenny
A pock­et guide by a mas­ter of track­ing, this will help you iden­ti­fy those odd tracks in the beach or around your camp­site at night, from the big crit­ters like bears and elk to noc­tur­nal crit­ters like weasels, coy­otes and fox­es. You’ll also be able to fine-tune your abil­i­ty to tell the tracks of a weasel from a vole.

Amphib­ians of Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, and British Colum­bia, by Char Corkran and Chris Toms
Tailed Frogs, Giant Pacif­ic Sala­man­ders, and Cho­rus Frogs, oh my! This is your defin­i­tive guide to these slip­pery guys, even down to the near­ly impos­si­ble task of telling a Cope’s Giant Sala­man­der or Pacif­ic Giant Sala­man­der apart. Good luck—this is usu­al­ly done at night in very cold water with an angry, squirm­ing crea­ture. And those gelati­nous egg mass­es you find pad­dling? This book will help you find out what they are.

Obvi­ous­ly, you won’t be car­ry­ing a full library on every hike, but these books should all spend some time in your pack, your car, and on your book­shelf. They’ll help you become an out­door adven­tur­er and out­door schol­ar and nat­u­ral­ist all in one.