10 essential wilderness reads for Hudson Valley hikers

For some hikers, this time of year — end of winter and early spring, when conditions can be both icy and muddy — is a tricky time to hit the trail as often as in drier months of late spring, summer and fall.

Exploring the outdoors through books is one way to stay inspired, particularly if the reads help inform future outings. We asked local outdoor enthusiasts and guides for their top reads for staying close to nature in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, and a few common titles emerged.

“John Burroughs does very well in describing the beauty of hiking, and the feelings that go with being in nature in all seasons,” said area hiking enthusiast Sean O’Dwyer, who shares his trail excursions and tips on Instagram at @totalcatskills and online . “So books like ‘Wake Robin’ and try like ‘The Heart of the Southern Catskills’ [from the book ‘In the Catskills’] are seminal. He literally put the Catskills on the map for all of us.”

Will Soter, co-founder and lead guide for Upstate Adventure Guides, also likes the late 19th-century naturalist and recommends “Birch Browsings,” a book of Burrough’s essays including an introduction by Bill McKibben, and “Bed of Boughs,” also from the 1910 book “In the Catskills.”

Soter and O’Dwyer are similarly aligned in recommending Michael Kudish’s “The Catskills Forest: A History” — “the Bible of geology, forestry and local history for the Catskills” notes O’Dwyer — and the must-read “The Catskill 67” by Alan Via, which is out of print but worth seeking at used bookstores or online.

“It’s a list of mountains that hikers can hike after they’ve completed the high peaks and are looking for more off-the-radar hikes in the Catskills,” said O’Dwyer.

Mud season or not, it’s always a good time to bone up on skills to handle any adversity when in the wilderness, says Steve Lancia of Northcamp Survival, a wilderness survival skills school that began in the Hudson Valley.

(WW Norton & Company)

(WW Norton & Company)

WW Norton & Company

(Simon & Schuster)

(Simon & Schuster)

Simon & Schuster

WW Norton & Company / Simon & Schuster

“Start with ‘Deep Survival’ by Laurence Gonzales. A positive mindset and attitude are the foundation of success and survival,” he says. “Then read’The Wilderness First Aid Book‘ [by Grant Lipman, M.D.]. Survival priorities: attitude, first aid, shelter, fire, water, signaling and food. In that order.”

Another reference book that Lancia and Soter suggest that will resonate with hikers and chefs alike is “Northeast Foraging” by Leda Meredith, which enables readers to find and identify more than 100 edible wild plants, organized by season.

For readers looking for more narrative than reference material, Soter recommends Jack London’s classic short story “To Build a Fire,” about a man who sets out on a hike in the extreme cold in the Canadian Yukon.

Or just reach out to your wilderness guide for suggestions based on your personal interests. “As guides we pride ourselves on sharing our knowledge, and passion, in the hopes that we can inspire others to find the same love we have for our natural world,” Soter says.

When all else fails, read trail maps and simply step out into nature, no matter the weather, for the ultimate inspiration.

“Winter is my favorite season to hike so, in fact, I try to hike even more in winter than at other times,” said O’Dwyer. “With the right gear and some extra knowledge, it’s very doable and the scenery is incredible.”

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