Montana Book Review: Montana parks inside and out
By Doug Mitchell
A look at the meticulous research examining the shrinking state of Glacier National Park’s icy namesakes. The story of an almost unthinkable hike across Glacier in the dead of winter. And a new tourist guide to the “granddaddy” of national parks, Yellowstone National Park.
Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana.
The Melting World
St. Martin’s Press, New York – 2013
Acclaimed science writer Christopher White uses the real-life laboratory of Glacier National Park to give us a hands-on look at the research at the center of the worldwide discussion about climate change.
In so doing, White provides an insight not only into one of this generation’s seminal public policy debates but also into the frozen world of one of Montana’s and America’s true gems; Glacier National Park.
The Melting World is the result of White’s research between 2008 and 2012. During that time, the author joined researchers on the ground in Glacier to measure the size of the park’s namesake masses of ice. As White writes in the introduction to this groundbreaking book, “The story of ice is the story of climate.”
The Melting World tells the story of climate in a very even-handed, scientific manner. Even the most hardened climate change skeptic will have a hard time not being impressed by the meticulous approach taken by the staff of the U.S. Geological Services as they perform the tedious but important work of measuring the iconic glaciers.
The writing is strong and the journey through which White takes us provides a unique insight into both the science of climate and the magic of Glacier Park.
One of my favorite lines in the book has nothing to do with science. Late in the book, during year four of his journey, White writes “Glacier is the one place where I can live in the present, past, and future, all at once.”
I couldn’t agree more. That is exactly the feeling I get when I spend time in the park as well, but I think in that poetic sentence, White is also telling us a little about science. You see, research of the present shows that the Glaciers are shrinking and in that we can see the future.
As any good scientist should, White works hard to let the results speak for themselves.
For me, he goes too far in this regard, leaving some obvious conclusions unspoken and even making what I thought was an odd choice by changing the names of certain of the researchers to protect their anonymity.
There’s nothing in this well researched book about which White or the research staff should be embarrassed.
The Melting World is an important story at an important time written by gifted storyteller. It deserves a space on the bookshelf of any fan of Glacier National Park.
Sweetgrass Books, Helena – 2013
OK, I’ll admit going in that I just don’t get it.
inaccessible is the nonfiction journey of one man’s attempt to hike across Glacier National Park in the winter. Now I like hiking just as much as the next guy – perhaps even a bit more – but hiking across Glacier National Park in the winter? That’s just plain crazy.
Which is perhaps part of what makes Richard Layne’s book so irresistible. I’m a sucker for a good adventure book and given my love for and familiarity with Glacier Park, inaccessible was a must read. Once I started it was hard to put down.
Layne has a story to tell and he does it well. His solo adventure finds him facing thoughts of his own mortality and a foe in the harsh climate that seemed in some sense alive and on the prowl. At one point of high drama he writes, “To fertilize my fear, much of the time as I traveled the length of the elongated peak, the cornice lay hidden inside the clouds like a hungry carnivore lying unseen in the bushes next to the trail.”
Gripping prose for a gripping moment in an incredible adventure not meant for the faint of heart.
Now, those of you who might dismiss this ill-advised trip as the folly of youth, please understand that Layne is a fully-grown man of 63 years who has done this kind of thing before – many times before – in his 40-plus years of backpacking. He knew what he was doing, followed the rules and, to all of our benefit, lived to write about it.
For those of you familiar with hiking in Glacier, all you have to know is that his plan was to hike Hole in the Wall in the dead of winter. When you stop chuckling, read on. You see, to his credit, Layne had the same trepidation, and the multi-season story of his stalking of the access to Hole in the Wall is impressive both in its respect for the place and the author’s tireless preparation.
inaccessible is a book that will have you shaking your head. How can a guy nearly freezing to death be so worried about his next cup of camp stove coffee?
I think that kind of quirkiness is what I found so charming about the book and Layne. I’ve never met the man, but am betting he sure would be a fun guy to talk to, over a cup of coffee of course.
“The Best of Yellowstone National Park”
Farcountry Press, Helena – 2014
No conversation about parks in Montana can be complete without talking about the granddaddy of them all – Yellowstone National Park.
There is lots of good reading material about Yellowstone and this year Alan Leftridge, a former seasonal naturalist at Yellowstone and ranger in the Mission Mountains Wilderness adds a handy, easy to manage tourist guide to the bibliography.
“The Best of Yellowstone National Park” provides a little something for everyone. It is organized by topics and features the highlights for everything from “Best Day Hikes” and “Best Backpacking” to “Best Mudpots” and “Best Names of Natural Features.”
I tested the description of one of my favorite hikes to Slough Creek and the description is right on the money.
You’ll want and need other resources to plan a trip in to this American landmark, but “The Best of Yellowstone National Park” is a great place to start.
My only disappointment as an avid fisherman is that the section on fishing is a bit light. That said, it’s not a fishing book and, quite honestly, I’m at least a bit secretly happy that some of my favorite spots remain a mystery.
Doug Mitchell is the Montana Magazine book reviewer. He writes from Helena.