Yeah, I wanted the Burke and Widgeon hiking book, so I ordered it and it arrived in the mail yesterday. And because there are no takers on my post about this book, I figured I'd write a review myself.
The book arrived in the mail in a padded envelope, yet still managed to get a little “nick” in the bottom of the spine, probably thanks to Canada Post's sorting equipment, or something like that. No problem, though. It's not even a nick, more like a little bend or crease, or something.
The physical condition of the book is good. Soft cover, but good materials, and well-bound. The paper for its 258 interior pages is a decent quality stock, smooth and semi-glossy, not rough and soft feeling like the sixth edition of 103 hikes, but more like the paper stock in Dawn Hanna's Best Hikes and Walks. This also helps the vibrancy of the full-colour photos throughout the book, many of which are full-page. The book is a little larger than 103 hikes (about 3/4 inch taller and wider), which makes for roomy and well-designed and laid-out pages, but makes is less suitable to take along on the hike because it's not going to like bouncing around in your backpack.
I don't know the Burke and Widgeon very well, my experience limited to about half a dozen hikes over the years. But I did wonder how author Lyle Litzenberger – a landscaper and a retired RCMP officer – would have managed to squeeze 28 hikes out of the area. The secret, I have found out, is in the different approach to the guiding style of the hikes. 103 hikes, and to a lesser extent also Dawn Hanna's book, is mostly goal-driven: The goal is almost always the bagging of a peak, or the reaching of a lake. Litzenberger has adopted quite a different style for this book. His routes are almost always more about the hike than about the destination. For instance, where 103 hikes describes quite clearly how to get to Dennett Lake (in two pages with a map and a muddy banner photo without any definition), Burke and Widgeon describes the same approximate route in 11 pages, with a full-page, full-colour photo of the lake, an overview box, 20 waypoints, an elevation profile, one map and two detailed inset maps, and a description that goes in detail about the route, the environment and things to see on the way. And while the route takes you to Dennett Lake, it is by no means the only way to get to the lake. No less than seven of the 28 hikes visit Dennett Lake, in an ever-changing composition of trails, from different entrances to the park to a full-blown traverse from Quarry Road to the Coquitlam River.
A standard closing line in many a guidebook is something like: “Retrace your steps back to the parking lot.” Litzenberger eschews this approach by designing the majority of the routes as a loop. I for one really like that. Loops rule. This does, of course, not work for the Burke-Widgeon connector, or for the two Burke Mountain traverses, although you could conceivably connect the (shortened) Upper Burke Mountain Traverse with the Lower Burke Mountain Traverse for a really long loop.
There are no less than three Five Lakes Loops, each visiting five of the seven lakes in one area in a different configuration and through different routes. That said, I did miss a “master” map that shows all the trails and the routes in relation to each other. It isn't a big deal when you start comparing routes and figuring out the trail system, but at first glance it was quite confusing. I love a good map, such as the Stein Valley map pull-out in Gordon White's book.
The route maps are in full colour with elevation lines, but lack a coherent design. The travel route is marked in different styles and colours on different maps, which is not a big deal, I'm just not sure why. The maps must be generated by some sort of software, which makes them not quite publish quality: they appear a little on the fuzzy side. Also, while the travel route is clear, Litzenberger often elects to not show all of the other trails that would exist on any particular map, potentially introducing confusion as you're bound to find trails on your hiking trip that don't show on the map. Every hike also lists its elevation gain (a simple subtraction of the lowest point from the highest point) and a elevation profile. The latter are uniform in shape, so they fit nicely on the page, and are therefore not uniform in scale, which makes them harder to interpret. In other words, you have to read the scale to make sense of the profile, just a quick glance will not tell you how steep the trail is. The same can, of course, also be said for the maps, but it is not feasible to print a map for a 20-minute loop to the same scale as a 20-km traverse. That said, there is no scale indication on any of the maps, but you get a good idea of scale by seeing the route and knowing how long it is.
Throughout the 28 routes, Litzenberger manages to send the traveler over just about every trail (or maybe it is indeed every trail) in the area, ranging from wide logging roads, to established trails, to biking trails, to barely passable faint trails, although there are not too many of the latter ones as the Burke Mountain Naturalists are an active bunch who spend many hours and days each year improving the trail system.
The extensive trail system of the Burke is in sharp contrast with the much more elusive Widgeon. Only three of the 28 hikes travel through the Widgeon area, one of which is the route that describes access to Widgeon over the summit of Burke. The other two Widgeon routes travel to the Widgeon Creek Falls and Widgeon Lake respectively. Truth is, any other kind of traveling in the Widgeon is a bushwack as there just aren't too many maintained trails, in part due to its limited access, which is primarily by canoe from Grant Narrows. But I, for one, would have liked an additional route that details the first 10 or so kilometres of the Fools Gold Route
While the author rightfully remarks that a compass and a map are essential tools for any backcountry traveler, I've never seen a guidebook embracing the GPS as much as Burke and Widgeon. Even the shortest route, a 20-minute loop from the Harper gate, lists three GPS waypoints. The 20-km Upper Burke Mountain Traverse has no less than 27 waypoints – in fact, the author ran out of letters in the alphabet to list them all. No need for anyone to ever get lost in the area again. In addition, every hike lists the hazards – if any – found on the hike, as well as a description of the cellular phone service that you can expect on a hike, including where you are most likely to find a signal. The book is supported with trail updates on the website www.burkeandwidgeon.com
, to which you can actually add your own experiences and remarks, but it is not well organized by route number. You'd think that with all those waypoints, Litzenberger could also make available a KML file to overlay on Google Earth, but there is none (yet).
I really like this book and it will surely get me out into the Burke more. On the few occasions I've been there I've found the myriad of trails always confusing, but no longer. This book also sets a new standard of working with GPS waypoints that most other guidebooks I know have yet to adapt to. As with any good guidebook, Burke and Widgeon has a useful appendix of hike summaries, and a stellar index, as well as a list of source material. The book also features short introductory chapters introducing the area and equipping the hikers with ethics and safety information – useful, no doubt, for novice hikers. In addition Litzenberger promises more entertaining reading in a yet to be released book about the history of the area, complete with historical photographs, which would make an excellent companion to the guide book.
In closing, Burke and Widgeon, A Hiker's Guide, by Lyle Litzenberger, is a book that I anticipate I'll be using quite a bit. It's well designed and printed, and in spite of that only $2 more than 103 Hikes, or Best Hikes and Walks, for that matter. It'll be money well spent if you decide that you'd like to see more of the Burke. It's self-published by the author and at the moment only available online, which will add some shipping dollars to the price.
• Paper stock
• Full colour
• Full-page photos
• GPS Waypoints and elevation profiles
• Details of route description
• A great variety of hikes, short and long, and of different difficulties
• Extensive use of loop trails.
• Book will easily get damaged in backpack because of its larger size
• Maps printed a little fuzzy
• Lack of overview map
• Omission of non-essential trails on maps may cause confusion on the trail
• Limited hikes in Widgeon
• Only available online.