I've lived near and explored the jaggedly stunning mountain ranges around both Ketchum and Bozeman. I worked deep in the Yosemite wilderness for a couple of seasons and two more summers at 9,000 feet under the staggering, towering summits of the Eastern Sierra.
In each of these places I pored over guidebooks, often planning my next outing while sitting on the shore of an alpine lake while the sun dropped below a granite ridgeline to the west. Some of the guidebooks were great—noted guidebook author R.J. Secor has written guides considered bibles to devout high Sierra travelers—and I am indebted forever to Secor's efforts.
Other guidebooks, however, are disingenuous in the way they dumb down their ratings, leaving a hiker wondering where those writers came up with their degrees of difficulty. It's as if they erred on the side of super safety, sugar coating the realities of high-country travel, especially in regard to the inexperienced hiker, rather than giving an accurate, real forecast of what a hardened, devout hiker or an experienced once-a-year city backpacker, the very people most likely to use the guidebook, can expect during their trek into the mountains.
Scott Marchant's new book, The Day Hiker's Guide to Stanley, Idaho may find itself in the previous category. Marchant's ratings are real. Glancing through the hikes he lists, I focused first on the ones I'm familiar with. When Marchant writes that the hike from Redfish Inlet to Alpine Lake—an 11-mile trip out and back with a 2,000-foot elevation gain—is difficult, that matches my recollection of the hike. The vertical climb is stout enough to warrant its rating, but neither the distance nor gradient justify the rating of strenuous that I've found in other guidebooks, lending credibility to Marchant's descriptions.
Marchant's time-allocation tips are also quite helpful. He acknowledges that everyone hikes at a different pace: some people take their time, stopping to snack and relax at switchbacks with far reaching views across a glacial valley whereas more goal-oriented hikers stop infrequently, the anticipation of the destination driving the desire to push uphill. Marchant calculates the trip up to Alpine Lake taking from 4.5 hours to 7 hours, a healthy range. I made that hike in about four hours, which signals that Marchant's estimates can be trusted, especially helpful when reading about hikes not yet attempted.
Some of the best things about the Guide to Stanley is the wide array of hikes, both well-known ones and those less-traveled; a list of hikes for spotting wildflowers; those with the best views; good, early-season hikes; and a section for hikes particularly suited for families and kids. These categories are invaluable for a hiker who doesn't want to sift through every hike to find that one perfect walk based on time of year, ability or location.
While the guidebook's introductory information is a bit brief, the sections are helpful, making the book worth reading all the way through. Marchant provides cautionary advice for every single hike in the book including simple reminders like don't forget sun block or warnings that regarding high-use trails. He's to be commended for including warnings of a more serious nature, understanding that he's advising and guiding people through dangerous terrain, and considerate enough to warn of lighting prone ridgelines or dangerous stream crossings. Most guidebooks touch on these dangers nonspecifically in their introductions, but not all of them do it for each individual hike.
As should be obvious by the name, The Day Hiker's Guide to Stanley, Idaho lacks any information about multi-day trips, or beta for off-trail travel or peak bagging (climbing a mountain to reach the summit or a set of summits; climbing until the "peak is in the bag"). But if you're looking for a easy-to-use, well-thought-out hiking trip itinerary for the hills of Stanley, Marchant's The Day Hiker's Guide to Stanley won't leave you hanging.
The Day Hiker's Guide to Stanley, Idaho is available at area Hastings bookstores.