There’s no substitute for getting to know a mountain region through your own two feet, or its rivers by your own paddle. But the written word is a wonderful way to learn how those mountains got there, how a culture grew around them, or how humans throughout history have felt about the peaks you currently call home. If you want to really get to know the history—natural history, human history, or how both intertwine—or just want to kick back with a book about the iconic mountains of the Pacific Northwest, here’s some of the best books for getting to know the North Cascades.
Geology of the North Cascades by Ralph Albert Haugerud and Rowland V. Tabor
This is an excellent book that gives a broad geologic overview of the region (comprehensible even to non-geologists) as well as a specific history of the North Cascades. The best part, though, might be the second half of the book, which lists hikes of geologic interest with descriptions of the rocks, formations and features you will see along the way. You’ll find a new appreciation for the role of the North Cascades rivers in shaping the mountains after reading this book.
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder
It is hard to find a more iconic description of summer in the peaks and valleys of the North Cascades than Gary Snyder’s poems, written when he worked as a fire lookout at Sourdough Mountain. Over weeks spent high above the Skagit River he composed some of the most poignant descriptions of mountain life, and of the North Cascades in particular, of any poet.
North Cascades Crest by James Martin
With a combination of beautiful photography, musings on the North Cascades and their rivers, and stories of specific climbs and hikes the author has done in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, this book is a window on the mountain world of the North Cascades. The author’s prose is as rich in imagery as his photos.
Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades by John Suiter
The North Cascades were a common pilgrimage for the foremost writers of the Beat Generation. Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac all spent time as fire lookouts in and around North Cascades National Park; Kerouac’s iconic The Dharma Bums is based partly on his experiences as a lookout on Desolation Peak. This book is a wonderful history of the beat generation and of decades of literary tradition on the peaks above the river valleys of the North Cascades.