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Exploring Idaho's Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Scramblers and Hikers

Exploring Idaho’s Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Scramblers and Hikers. Tom Lopez. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1990. 288 pages, black-and-white photographs, maps, appendices, index. $16.95 (paper).

Idaho has countless summits scattered across, by the author’s count, 37 mountain ranges. A useful guide to such a vast array of peaks and passes would seem to require multiple volumes running to thousands of pages and yet Mr. Lopez manages to pull it off in a mere 288 pages. That is not to say that everything you might want to know about every mountain in the state is included, nor even that what is there is completely accurate, but as the author puts it, “this guidebook is an idea book.” And as such it is worthwhile reading for anyone contemplating a trip to the Idaho back country.

An introductory section includes descriptions of the state’s mountaineering history, geology, and weather, as well as some comments on maps, route descriptions, place names, and the general organization of the book. This is dry (real dry) but informative. The main body of the guide gives a brief description of each range or sub-range followed by a listing of individual summits and a variable amount of information on ascent routes. The approach to each peak is referenced by an effective but slightly tiresome system of numerals and upper and lower case letters. (Given the nontechnical nature of most of the climbs, however, the approach descriptions turn out to be the most useful part of the book.)

There are numerous maps and black-and-white photographs. A few of the latter successfully convey the charm of the Idaho back country but most seem slightly out of focus and lacking in contrast. For the compulsive peak-bagger, there is an appendix listing the highest peak in each of 72 ranges or sub-ranges and for the obsessive-compulsive, a list of all 180 summits over 10,000 feet. A number of first ascents are listed and an index is included. The guide concludes with a photo of the author, again slightly fuzzy, with the mountains on his Patagonia T-shirt showing up to better effect than any other peaks in the book.

It is incumbent upon the reviewer of any guidebook to find a few mistakes in order to establish the moral high ground and to remind the reader that blind faith in the written word can lead up a blind alley. There are always, for example, minor grammatical irritations such as the use of “infer” for “imply,” but the treatment of one Idaho summit (Eagle Perch) is particularly distinguished by the geographically unlikely phenomenon of its location in three different places depending on whether one consults text, photograph, or topo map. And the cover photographs are mislabeled.

When you fall back on nit-picking, however, it usually means there is no serious criticism and that is the case with Exploring Idaho’s Mountains. As with most guides, a slightly less formal style would make the book more attractive for browsing by the fire. The author does include “above-average driving ability” with “route-finding skills, climbing experience, and perseverance” as a prerequisite for climbing in the Lost River Range, but this was virtually the only irony in the entire volume and I am not so sure it was intended. For the most part, the book is better suited to the Scramblers and Hikers in its subtitle, rather than the Climbers, although the author does mention a number of undeveloped areas of potential technical interest. Whether hardman or hiker, however, Exploring Idaho’s Mountains is a great start for getting where you want to go in Idaho’s mountains.

Charles E.Eiriksson, Jr., M.D.