Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. Ben Gadd. Corax Press, Jasper, 1986. 878 pages, black and white and color photographs, drawings, diagrams, maps. $25.00 (Canadian).
What is a middle-aged climber to do when the pack is humbling the back and it is no longer easy to carry seventy-five pounds? One thing he can do is set it down, eyeing the scorned looks from younger companions, perhaps, and pull out this book, exclaiming “This shrub in the forest looks very interesting.” There is a whole section on shrubs, tall and short, for geriatric gamesmanship. Later in the alpine meadows, there are many flowers to justify stopping to rest and identify. But what to do on the glacier? Mercifully, there’s a whole section on watermelon snow and snow worms. Saved again! Thank Ben Gadd for insects and spiders, summit rock, lichens, weather and climate data, orogeny and geology.
Gadd, climber, naturalist, and now an independent interpretive guide in Jasper National Park, has digested most of the relevant literature on each topic and distilled the essentials for the reader in a readable style. The small typeface and dense design make this a book to be read in short spurts rather than in a single go.
The treatise covers all of the Canadian Rockies, a monumental task spanning 878 pages. Most flower varieties are mentioned and even seemingly dull topics, like grasses, are handled well. Only details helpful and entertaining to the field observer are included. There is a good index.
The book includes aids to identification and drawings, either borrowed from texts or by the author. There are no color plates, except for a handful on common plant/animal communities. This book is self-published, a product of the personal computer age.
However, the book may not be worth close to two additional pounds on top of the seventy-five-pound pack when off for ten days climbing in the Adamants. Humping such a load, the reader might wonder if the last one hundred pages on history, hiking, mountaineering, ski touring, bicycling, and yes, mouth-to-mouth, were strictly necessary.
But, in return, this handbook gives one the opportunity to learn an immense variety and quantity about this amazingly diverse environment—and to take an occasional rest.