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Meandering mountain meditations

Beat writer Jack Kerouac was first introduced to mountains and meditation by Buddhist poet Gary Snyder in the early 1950s.

Kerouac then spent the summer of 1956 at a forest fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington state's North Cascade Mountains.

The wilderness epiphanies that came to him there while staring at Mount Hozomeen became the foundation of two books, The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels .

Unbelievable jags and twisted rock and snow-covered immensities, enough to make you gulp.

British Columbia has been called a "sea of mountains." Mountaineering has been called the "sport of intellectuals."

Walking has been called the "original meditation."

Combine the three and you get, well, a sea of meditating mountain-sport intellectuals.

Kevin McLane, a Squamish-based climber and owner of Elaho Publishing, is fast becoming one of B.C.'s mountain-walking gurus and is the type of person Kerouac would have called a Bodhisattva – one whose essence is knowledge.

The mountains are mighty patient, Buddha-man.

McLane and his company, best-known for its popular rock and ice climbing guides, have recently ventured into new territory with two mountaineering guidebooks.

Alpine Select , written by McLane, is a user-friendly guide to 158 of the "best, most popular and most difficult" climbs in southwest B.C. and northern Washington state.

The guide, although not as extensive, updates Bruce Fairley's 1986 Coast Mountain guidebook and will be a welcome addition to any climber's library.

The guide provides detailed descriptions of ascents in the Tantalus, Garibaldi, Fitzsimmons, Joffre and Hurley areas.

Other legendary climbing areas – the Chehalis, Chilliwack and Anderson regions – are also included, along with five popular routes in Washington state's Cascade Mountains.

Most of the climbs are located within driving distance of Whistler on the Sea to Sky or Trans-Canada highways.

The ascents are rated according to Elaho's new alpine grading system, which is based on a combination of the traditional French and Yellowstone systems. The end result is an easy-to-understand grading system.

The guide's best feature is the clearly labelled aerial photos, which show every approach and route in detail and add to the book's drool factor.

The circumstances of existence are pretty good.

Elaho's other new mountaineering guidebook focuses on the birthplace of Canadian mountaineering – the Selkirk Mountains near Revelstoke, B.C.

Southern Selkirks by David Jones, the leading authority on the range, concentrates on 500 ascents of peaks located between Rogers Pass, the Bugaboos and Trout Lake.

The guide includes classic routes first climbed more than 100 years ago such as the Sir Donald, Asulkan and Bonney groups, and a number of new technical ascents and unclimbed peaks in the range's more remote regions.

Detailed route descriptions, Elaho's grading system and excellent photos make the guide another must-have for anyone contemplating a visit to this historic mountain range.

Aurora Borealis over Hozomeen – The void is stiller.

The two Elaho guides pose a serious threat to topple Calgary's Rocky Mountain Books off its decade-long stay atop the guidebook throne.

Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies by Sea Dougherty was first published in 1991 and has been revised three times since.

This excellent guidebook, which includes 200 famous routes in the Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper areas and detailed descriptions of classic ascents such as Assiniboine, Lefroy, Victoria, Temple, Columbia, Alberta and Robson, is the standard against which all others are measured.

My eyes in my hand, welded to wheel to welded to whang.

McLane, Jones and Elaho are currently in the throes of putting together a couple of other mountaineering guides for the northern Selkirks and the Mount Waddington region.

Both areas are more isolated than the ranges already included in Alpine Select and Selkirks South .

Desolation, Desolation, I owe so much to Desolation.

Despite his summer of meditation on Desolation Peak, Kerouac never did reach nirvana. He died alone and penniless in an alcoholic haze at age 47.

Desolation Peak is in Washington state's North Cascades National Park, which is adjacent to B.C.'s Manning provincial park.

The lookout has become a counterculture shrine that attracts beatniks and hep cats from around the world.

The view from the top of Desolation Peak today is pretty much the same as it was in 1956.

— Greig Bethel

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