Forest and Crag by Guy and Laura Waterman is considered to be the definitive history of hiking trail development in New England. It chronicles the development of the trail systems we have today in the White Mountains, The Adirondacks, Catskills and Vermont from the days when hiking trails were built by small Inns to attract customers, to the current state of affairs, where they are largely overseen and maintained by regional hiking clubs and the US Forest Service.
I have been looking for affordable used copies of this out of print book for years (used copies run well over $200), but it’s just been republished on the Kindle for $9.95.
Written in a lively style, this book is a treasure trove of humorous facts about the people, organizations, and episodes that helped form hiking and backpacking as we know it today. If you’ve read some of the other ponderous tomes out there about the history of the White Mountains, the Appalachian Trail or others, this book is different. It moves, but is also meticulously researched.
The book is broken into dozens of small chapters, each footnoted with sources and additional details. The chapters are ordered historically and chronicle the history of early hiking in the United States, the unique personalities and visionaries that built trails and the organizations that eventually organized them into regional trail systems. It’s really a fascinating account, that explains how Americans’ relationship with the outdoors has evolved over time: this book is as much about social history and the influence of technology on our appreciation of the outdoors, as it is about outdoor recreation.
Regardless of where you live, this book chronicles the history of trail building, including the different schools of thought about how to do it, the evolution of trail maintenance techniques and organizations, and the rise and contributions of hiking clubs in the development of cohesive regional trail systems. It covers everything, from the development of female hiking garments and the beginnings of ultralight backpacking to the development of backpacks, sleeping bags and dehydrated outdoor cuisine.
For those of you familiar with the Appalachian Mountain Club and its work building trails in the White Mountains, here are a few tantalizing and humorous details:
- The origin of the word “Appalachia” is a pun created by the famous trail builder and punster William H. Peek. Peek came up with the name “Appalachia”, now a trail head parking lot at the base of Mt Adams, after a group of unhappy little boys who had eaten too many green apples. Peek suggested immortalizing both their plight and the fledgling AMC with the name “Apple-achia” (get it? Apple-ache.)
- The longtime nickname of Pinkam Notch was Porky Junction, known for it’s massive and annoying porcupine population in the days when Joe Dodge ran the place.
- In the very early days of the AMC, two factions emerged in the club called “improvements” and “explorations.” The improvements camp favored building mountain huts and maintaining established trail systems, while the explorations faction eschewed such luxurious accommodations and believed that the mountains should be explored and enjoyed in their wild state. Interesting that such factions still exist today within the AMC!
Anyway, if you are interested in the personalities, small hiking clubs, explorers, or social evolution of American hiking, Forest and Crag is treasure trove of amusing and insightful details – perfect summer reading, too.
About Guy and Laura Waterman
Guy and Laura Waterman have published many classic books about outdoor ethics, hiking, and rock climbing, including Backwoods Ethics: A Guide to Low-Impact Camping and Hiking and Wilderness Ethics: Preserving the Spirit of Wildness, which were formative in the development of the Leave No Trace Movement, as well as the definitive history of free climbing, Yankee Rock & Ice: A History of Climbing in the Northeastern United States.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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