Sierra Summits: “a guidebook with heart”

Sierra Summits, Matt Johanson’s latest adventure guidebook, is his third and best effort.  

Sub-titled A Guide to 50 Peak Experiences in California’s Range of Light, the book offers a wide range of experiences covering the 400 miles of the Sierra Nevada range. For example, beginners and hikers with children can start on Sentinel Dome in Yosemite, an easy 2.4 mile round-trip with a minimal elevation gain of 422 feet. More experienced hikers seeking a more strenuous challenge can tackle the 10.2 mile climb of Mount Gould, a 13,005-foot peak in the Eastern Sierra with 3,805 feet of elevation gain. Also included in the book are the iconic climbs of Half Dome and Mount Whitney.

The only constant among the hikes is that they can be done in a single day without technical gear.

Published by Falcon Guides, the production is first-rate, from the layout of the large, easy-to-read maps, essential information (distance, elevation, directions), to the many attractive color photos.

Best of all, Sierra Summits is a guidebook with heart. The introduction begins with a story from Johanson about climbing Mount Ritter in the Eastern Sierra with his brother in 2015, shortly after the passing of their father. Sixty-three years earlier, their father had climbed the same mountain as a 14-year-old with his scout troop. Now, having reached the same summit, Johanson writes of his shared joy. “This is where Dad taught us about camping, backpacking, and fishing from a young age.”

After this intimate introduction, Johanson puts on his guide hat and takes the reader to the first of the 50 hikes. You are in good hands. Johanson spent two years criss-crossing the state to research and compile the information for this book. Before that, however, he has hiked, climbed, biked, and skied, noted, and photographed countless miles of trails that make up these 50 hikes.

The book is neatly divided into five sections: Lake Tahoe, Central Sierra, Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, and Eastern Sierra. Each hike begins with an overview, followed by information about the distance and elevation, and a rating of difficulty.

Each section also features a brief history of the region, and much space and tribute is given to the native peoples who inhabited these regions long before Europeans Americans first appeared. Unfortunately, much of the history is tragic, as the tribes were forcefully removed from their homelands to make way for the miners upon discovery of gold in the region in 1849. Reverence for these native peoples begins in the dedication of the opening pages and continues on throughout the book.

In addition to serving as a guidebook, Sierra Summits could also serve as a photography book. The photos are that outstanding. From capturing the majesty of the giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park (Central Sierra), the serenity of Lower Monarch Lake via Sawtooth Pass Trail (Sequoia National Park), to the impossible rock formations of Mount Gould (Eastern Sierra), the photos make you want to say, “I want to go there!”Just be sure to take a copy of Sierra Summits with you. It will make for an informative and delightful companion.


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Bob Leung

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