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Article in Pique News Magazine

For the Love of Mountains

As a child growing up in the Vancouver area John Baldwin would stare at the mountains cradling the coastal city.

It was Mount Seymour snowshoe trips with his Scout group that first took him into those mountains, where he started to succumb to the lure of the wild Coastal range. Over the years Baldwin developed a love and insatiable hunger for the Pacific mountains that would hold him in their unpredictable grip for the next quarter of a century.

For the last 25 years Baldwin has explored and photographed BC's western wilderness, from the Alaska panhandle down to Vancouver. It is an alpine area that holds the distinction of being known as one of the largest and least known on earth.

Baldwin travelled with friends, often with fellow mountaineer John Clarke. He registered 250-plus first ascents and pioneered epic ski traverses across ice caps in the '80s.

Baldwin has now put together a compilation of those travels in the form of a book, complete with the best of 20 years of photographs. The hardcover Mountains of the Coast: Travels to the Remote Corners of the Pacific Ranges - is due be released in the next few weeks. The Whistler Public Library has lined Baldwin up to make a slide presentation and talk about his book and travels at the Myrtle Philip community school.

"The idea behind the book was to try and give people an impression of what it was like to be able to see these places and travel through them - to hike and ski in this wilderness at our back door," said Baldwin.

"I don't talk about individual trips but more impressions of the vast wilderness." Baldwin said his travel tales are not about death-defying first ascents either. The hundreds of peaks he conquered were often without name - ones that had been ignored by a global trend toward more and more difficult and technically challenging climbs on the highest peaks of the world's ranges.

"Serious" climbers went into the Coast mountains and did the big ones - like Mount Waddington - then they moved on, said Baldwin. "All these huge areas that no one had ever visited were left untouched. They didn't have a draw," said Baldwin. "I was fascinated by that. That is when I teamed up with John Clarke, who had already been poking around in those areas for quite a few years. The two of us would spend every summer going up and down the coast to different areas."

Baldwin said the alpine and glacial wilderness held no attraction to early prospectors or trappers. He has found no record of trips to the area either. "Most of the areas we climbed had never been visited by humans and they have never been visited since."

His book brings the remote and mysterious to the armchair adventurer. Baldwin glides readers up from the sea, through rested foothills and up beyond treelines through treacherous gullies to sharper summits. He takes readers inland to the heads of long fjords and beyond to the spine of the Coast range where mountains are covered by snow year-round and where ice fields up to 1,200 kilometres in size lie untouched.

He tells of sudden blizzards, rumbling glaciers and month-long ski traverses over courses. Baldwin said his book is divided into accounts of both summer and winter expeditions. Alongside the tales of ski, snow and ice are accounts of alpine flowers and unexpected encounters with mountain goats and grizzlies.

Baldwin also describes the detailed planning required for each expedition and the special friendships that develop between dedicated mountaineers who share the thrill of being among the first to set foot on a remote peak.

Baldwin said if he had to isolate the high points of his travels he would have to say it is the thrill provided by the notorious coast weather working in harmony with the terrain to create unexpected surprises and backdrops of breathtaking beauty.

"The thing on the coast is you are always baffling the weather. You can pore over maps and plan where you are going but when you actually get out there - no amount of looking at any map and trying to imagine what it will be like can prepare you for what is out there. You are surprised by things so incredible and gorgeous you would never have expected . . . just the sense of amazement and wonder."

Baldwin said it was also the weather that provided the lows. "Weather is critical in these mountains. You can be locked in a tent for days on end and the whole trip can be washed out and you can be forced to go out the wrong way down some horrible bushy valley."

Baldwin, when not mountaineering, works as a researcher in civil engineering at UBC. He lives in Vancouver with his wife Eda Kadar and his two children, Stephen and Rachel. "My job has worked out that I only work eight months of the year and that gives me time to do these long trips," said Baldwin.

This is not his first boook. It follows Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis. He also produced a topographical map earlier this year entitled Backcountry Whistler. His award-winning photographs have appeared in publications including Beautiful British Columbia, Powder, Climbing,, and Sierra.

-Loreth Beswetherick, Pique News Magazine