Editor’s Note: we at Free Range Writers are pleased and honoured that Katie Ives has agreed to post for us this week. Katie is the former Editor-in-Chief of Alpinist Magazine, and is the author of Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams (Mountaineers Books, 2021), which includes stories of Harvey Manning’s invented peaks. The book received a Special Jury Mention at the 2022 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Congratulations, and thank you, Katie!
I. Go Slow
Grey rivers of Seattle roads and highways still roared through my mind as I stumbled out of the car and along the path into Esmeralda Basin, on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Soon, I felt lulled by the wind in the brittle whitebark pines and the rhythm of footsteps on dry August earth. Again and again, I paused, mesmerized by the purple and red hues of petals beneath the rusting grass: I was trying to see this place through the vivid prose of the guidebook writer I was reading.
In 100 Classic Hikes in Washington,coauthored with Ira Spring, local conservationist Harvey Manning described his regrets about hiking through the area too quickly, completing a fifteen-mile loop in a day. “More than 150 species of flowers were in bloom,” he wrote, “and in my hyperkinetic rush I could do no more than nod in passing.” So Manning redid the itinerary in a week, adding on more coiling paths of detours, more opportunities for “loitering” and marveling. “Could have used 2-3 more days,” he noted, still dissatisfied with his speed. “To make your world larger, go slow.”
For decades, Manning had published books on hiking trails and environmental issues throughout Washington State. It was now 2019, nearly thirteen years after his death. I was writing my own book about the imaginary peaks he’d passed off as real in Summitmagazine, but I found I had much to learn about his character from his factual accounts of actual ranges. In an age of digital navigation devices, crowd-sourced Internet beta, iPhone apps, GPS coordinates and other quantified data, some hikers and climbersmight be tempted to proclaim that physical guidebooks are becoming obsolete. But for many of us, they remain irreplaceable. Their batteries don’t die; their signals don’t get lost. Well used, with underlined pages and folded corners, with notes scrawled in margins and paper crinkled from sudden rain, they serve as tangible scrapbooks of our adventures.
Each guidebook is also an anthology of its author’s journeys. Pieced together, Manning’s numerous route descriptions turn into a poignant literary memoir. Always quirky, at times curmudgeonly, veering between sharp mockery (of self or others) and unabashed lyricism, his entries record stages of a lifelong quest to experience the natural world as intimately and respectfully as possible. To follow some of Manning’s directions, word by word, is to amble at the pace of countless acts of attentiveness. To learn to call each plant and stone by name and to appreciate each juxtaposition of fragrances, textures, or colors. To observe the dark scars of tire tracks slicing across lush grass or to shudder before a realm of rose-gold granodiorite and green-hued lakes, marred by the presence of 125 fire rings. Through slow hiking, he hoped, people might absorb, through all five senses, the value of fighting for wildness. And they might also experience a feeling of re-expanded time and place, so easily lost in the frenetic acceleration and shrinking open spaces of the modern world.
High ridges rim Esmeralda Basin, and there was dark sheen to the serpentine rock that afternoon, like the light on the backs of leaves before a storm.
At the top of Fortune Creek Pass, I rested amid the polished silver trunks of dead pines, and I imagined Manning lingering here. I thought about his classic book The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland, in which he’d urged climbers to appreciate rain- and fog-bound days as opportunities to remain in one spot and “examine rocks crystal by crystal rather than cliff by cliff…[to] trace…the contortions of grain in a bleached log…and thus, in the words of William Blake, ‘see the world in a grain of sand, all heaven in a wild flower.’” In those moments when we become utterly stilled with wonder, Manning knew, time itself seems to stall and existence appears almost infinite. Beneath me, now, the grains of wood in bleached logs twisted in patterns that would take an eternity to draw.
(Photo — Fortune Creek Pass, Esmeralda Basin, near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, lands of Coast Salish, P’Squosa and other Indigenous groups, August 2019)
2. Avoid Lakes and Learn to Hide
In August 2021, I was headed, once more, toward the borders of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness—this time with two climbing partners, Trevor and Catherine, on our way to the South Face of The Tooth, one of Manning’s first alpine rock excursions. The approach starts on the Snow Lake Trail which he’d described in 100 Classic Hikes in Washington,as attracting “some 15,000 pairs of boots a year.” He’d added with his typically mordant humor, “If it’s the sound of silence you’re seeking, wear ear plugs.” A classic route close to Seattle, the South Face is likewise often traffic-jammed with climbers, and we’d left before dawn, hoping to get ahead of the inevitable line.
During Manning’s later decades, as outdoor recreation became increasingly popular, he’d agonized over the conflict between his desire to keep recruiting hikers and climbers as conservation advocates and his fear of what guidebook-toting crowds could do to fragile ecosystems. In his own writing, he’d tried to channel most visitors to what he called the “edges,” areas on the thresholds of the wild—and to preserve the “deeps” as pathless refuges for skittish wildlife, delicate plants, and rare solitary wanderers. He’d stopped writing about his favorite places. “Most are not on trails and lie beyond jungles of slide alder and roarings of crazed rivers,” he noted. Nonetheless, he left clues, here and there, for the most dedicated ramblers to find certain spots once they’d gained enough experience to perceive them.
The problem with lakes, Manning explained in 100 Classic Hikes, resembled that of summits, “a lake is a ‘destination.’ A lake is where you take your picture and catch your fish and pat yourself on the back…. For me the beauty of a lake is enhanced by distance.” From faraway, he asserted, you could escape the shoreline crowds and enjoy the “sun-sparkles rippling the waters” in “solitude and quiet.” But there was also an inherent allure, he knew, about something that shimmered just beyond reach—or even beyond sight—about mysteries that could never be captured or claimed. He noted other, less-frequented bodies of water past Snow Lake, and farther yet, hidden places of beauty, for which he shared no details or directions. “For peace and quiet, avoidlakes,” he merely hinted. “Get off the trail. Snoop around for private nooks. Learn to hide. Take a vow of silence.”
On all my Cascades hikes, I’d had a “destination”—usually a climbing route—in mind. And when we began our approach to the South Face, I was still mostly fixated on getting up and down the peak before the onrush of other people. But after we left the Snow Lake Trail, the tangle of talus and woods below the Tooth proved to be vaster and denser than it initially seemed.
We soon realized just how easy it was to go astray. I’ve wondered, ever since our climb, what it would have been like to err deliberately, to seek, instead of the most direct way to and from our objective, everything that was not a way—all those off-route groves and clearings that, these days, for the most part, only lost people find. And I’ve remembered looking back as the night air began to blue, at the glint of a distant lake, reflecting a sun we couldn’t yet see.
(Photo — View of Takobed (Rainier) from below the South Face of The Tooth, August 2021)
“Learn to hide,” Manning had counselled. Perhaps, to encounter hidden places, we must first rediscover how to become hidden ourselves—not only from well-trodden paths, but from overly trammeled regions in our minds. To slip into the spaces between the contour lines and the marked trails and fade into the wildwoods of our imaginations. To realize that the unwritten sometimes matters more than the written. That not every adventure needs to be recorded. And that beyond the not-yet vanishing arts of guidebook writing is the art of learning to vanish.
For more information on “Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams,”please go to:
And see our glowing review of “Imaginary Peaks” in our May 29, 2022 post here at FRW.