The Year That Wasn't

September 6, 2018

Hiker at Finch Lake, RMNP

On August 23rd of 2017 the Rocky Mountain Conservancy asked if I would create a new hiking guide for Rocky Mountain National Park. This new guide would convey the values of the park and help our increasing number of visitors not only to have an amazing time but also learn to care for and protect this special place. Only a few days earlier I had crossed the finish line with my last book, "Whispers in the Wilderness". I was pretty exhausted, yet I saw the value in such a project. After talking with a few others about it including my family, I decided that this was worth pursuing and committed myself to make it happen. Within days I was on the trail covering as much ground as I could before the snow fell. Since then I've hiked many hundreds of miles of trails and spent months in meetings and in front of a computer screen. 

Today, exactly one year and two weeks later, I submitted the text to the National Park for their official review, all 100,000 words of it. It feels like I've reached a major milestone. Most of this last year has been sacrificed to this project. I've barely done any photography. Since the spring, I've been working 60 hour weeks almost exclusively on this book. I've had to cancel my backpacking trips. Other very important projects that I've been working on have been completely neglected. My email inbox is overflowing and my gallery staff have had to fend for themselves for this past year. The biggest sacrifice however has been made by my family who have had to put up with me either being physically or mentally absent. 

When I embarked on this project I figured it would be quite simple. I had already hiked every trail in the park many times. I just had to re-hike a bunch of trails with a GPS device and write about them. It turned out to be a very different task which was about as complex as anything I'd ever done. Some of the complexity came from working with a large government agency. There were concerns and issues of which I was previously unaware and which had to be addressed in just the right way. There were numerous departments each bringing something different to the mix. There were discussions about parking limitations, sensitive ecological areas, landslides, future trail development, etc. There were also laws regarding how I could or couldn't obtain the photos I needed - I learned that taking someone with me to photograph violated the commercial use restrictions. There were also changing expectations concerning the final form the book would take. I haven't even mentioned the incredible complexities when it comes to measurements of mileage and elevation. I spent hours learning about the intricacies of measuring mountain topography and why it is impossible to be accurate.

Despite all the challenges I was able to spend time with many folks from the NPS who were all delightful. While they work within the restrictions of a highly structured government institution they expressed a real love of what they do and what they are part of. They saw the big picture and were passionate about caring for this amazing national park and its visitors. Their enthusiasm was infectious. 

Over the next weeks I'll be out getting supporting photos for the book: pictures of shuttle buses, rangers and trash on the trail. In conjunction with the NPS I'll also be finalizing the mileages, using a new approach to give us the most accurate mileage yet. I'm working with someone on developing a new formula for assessing the difficulty level of mountain trails. I'll be working with a friend, who is also a mapmaker extraordinaire, on creating detailed topographical maps for the book and reworking all of the waypoints for each hike. Then it will be time to start designing the book with another friend and professional designer. If all goes well, I should have this book to press by Thanksgiving and then it will be available for purchase sometime next spring. There will actually be two versions: one large book with around 450 pages and then, if I can get my act together, I'll also have a smaller pocket guide available as well. The next big milestone is submitting all of these to the printer. Once that's done it will be time to celebrate.

This has been a huge project that has consumed my life, but the finish line is now in sight. Thank you to all of you who have put up with my absence and lack of communication. My family has made me promise that I won't take on any big projects in 2019 and so you should see more of me. Again, thanks everyone for your patience during this nutty year.  

Posted in Erik's Musings, News.

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