I was rooting through one of my bookcases the other day when I came across a book I’ve owned for the better part of my life. Along with a leather-bound, 1927 edition of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Bible my parents gave me when I became an acolyte at the Methodist church in Bethel, Maine, my first copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide has followed me everywhere since I left for college.
By my count, I’ve moved 15 times, every time paring down my belongings, giving away books or donating them to the local library. But I’ve held onto my 1976 White Mountain Guide, even as I’ve bought updated editions (the guide I use now was published in 2007). I suspect many of my hiking friends have kept their old copies of the guide as well.
Why? Part of it is the design of the book itself. The White Mountain Guide, first published in 1907, was — and still is — a lesson in simplicity. At about 500 pages, it can easily fit into the palm of a hand, or the flap of a backpack. There is nothing but useful information inside; it practically oozes expertise. Not a word is wasted — every sentence is pared down to the absolute essentials, much like a through hiker sheds extra gear to reduce pack weight. There’s as much craftsmanship in a White Mountain Guide as there is in a Limmer boot or Swiss Army knife. It’s more than a book — it’s a tool, and people just don’t toss good tools in the trash.
The 1976 guide also provides a tangible connection to my childhood, when I first began spending time outdoors. This was one of my parents’ first hiking-related gifts to me — I remember using it to help plan a family hike up Mount Chocorua, and taking it along on Scouting trips. It sparks a memory every time I see its cool gold cover.
Granted, I no longer use the 1976 guide to plan my hikes. The mountains are the same, but the trails have changed, sometimes dramatically. Even my current guide is a bit outdated, thanks to Hurricane Irene. The 4,000-footer list stood at 46 summits in the old guide; now there are 48 with the addition of Galehead and Bondcliff.
It’s out of date but I hold on to it just the same, just as I hold on to Poe and the Bible. The classics never go out of style.