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Review in the Vancouver Courier

Adventurer Explores BC's Unnamed Mountains

When most of us hear the words Knight and Bute, a traffic-choked bridge and a gridlocked downtown artery spring to mind.

To John Baldwin, author of Mountains of the Coast, they are BC coastal inlets, synonymous with a lonely three-week trek through the unvisited, unnamed peaks that separate the two. Baldwin is the kind of man who makes me think I should get out more.

For the last 25 years, armed with hard-earned knowledge of the wilderness, a diary and a cursory knowledge of photography picked up at night classes, the West Side resident has been exploring BC's Coast Mountains - hard-earned because skiing from Bella Coola to Vancouver brings its share of knocks including one brush with death.

"At a flat point in the ridge it was my turn to lead and break trail for a while, but as I moved ahead the snow fractured and the entire area under my feet dropped like a trap door and sent me hurtling down the cliff inside an avalanche of snow. I was spewed out into the glacier amidst piles of debris," writes Baldwin of a hike up Hudson Bay mountain above Smithers in 1977.

What makes the story remarkable is the fact that the 250-metre plunge left him with only an injured knee and bruising.

Mountains of the Coast features more thrills than spills though. Baldwin sorted 8,000 slides to present dramatic high-altitude images of a BC few know, while his narrative describes his route, methods and motivaions. The 42-year-old has negotiated blizzards, temperamental glaciers and epic ski traverses over vast ice-fields to bag more than 250 first-ascents. Aside from map-checking and refining equipment, planning involves airlifting food that's triple-bagged and tightly packed in cardboard boxes to withstand 40-metre airdrops and the unwanted attentions of passing bears. Three photos illustrate what can happen when the odd box doesn't survive the drop. They're not pretty pictures.

Baldwin's philosophy toward mountaineering is clear from his conclusions. He may have skied the entire length of the Coastal range, humbled Mount Waddington (BC's highest mountain) and still had time to take stunning pictures, but this is not a tale of endurance, risk or being first. Leave that Jon Krakauer. Rather, he revels in the emptiness of wilderness and the simple joy of nature. His book puts life's molehills into perspective.

-Neville Judd, The Vancouver Courier