Interview with Gordon White

Author Jim Hamlin

Interview with Gordon White

Gordon White is the author of the coveted Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook that was released back in 1991. Since the late 90’s when the last of the copies were sold out, the book has become rare and sought after, going for as much as $100 on eBay. Gordon began his passion for the Stein area back in 1984 and since then has spent over 400 days exploring the Stein. Given his first hand experience, he is one of the most qualified to write a book of this nature. He is currently getting ready to launch his second edition, due out in the Spring of 2007. This past Fall, I had an opportunity to speak with Gordon and during our interview, he shared his candid thoughts about what inspires him about the outdoors, and the Stein in particular.

Hamlin: What attracts you to the outdoors?

White: It is a combination of the love of exploration, enjoying wilderness, and definitely adventure. It also goes back to my family roots as we’ve always had a real connection with nature growing up in Kamloops. Lastly, the outdoors is my place for spiritual renewal and personal growth.

Hamlin: You mentioned in your message that you're heading on a holiday. Anything hiking related?

White: Actually I’m going to be paddling up the West Coast to the Brooks peninsula. It is the period for ocean kayaking before I get to the mountains in the Fall.

Hamlin: It sounds like you are into a nice variety of outdoor recreation pursuits. Besides backpacking, what else do you enjoy?

White: I'm an all around outdoor individual. I like river kayaking, ocean kayaking, backpacking, mountaineering... a little ice and a little rock.

Hamlin: I seem to recall reading that you were a park ranger in Lytton around 20yrs ago. Is that what got you interested in the Stein Valley?

White: Yeah, that’s how I was introduced to the Stein. I was a park ranger based out of the Lytton area for a summer back in 1984. It was like discovering an addictive sweet with the ability to discover one little area after another. I would go to my guidebook and visit new areas I hadn’t been to.

Hamlin: What was the original guidebook you were using?

White: I was using Exploring the Stein River Valley. It is a classic book that they did a very good job on. All the Exploring series are classics. I actually talked with Roger [author of Exploring the North Shore] while writing my guidebook and he gave me lectures on using the measuring wheel.

Hamlin: Did you use a measuring wheel?

White: I actually did use one and all the trail distances I did in the Stein were using the wheel.

Hamlin: What is your favorite area of the stein? Do you have a favorite spot?

White: No, I can’t say that there is one area. There are so many great spots.

Hamlin: I saw a quote from 2004 that you spent a couple hundred days exploring the Stein. How many days are you up to now?

White: Up to researching the book, I spent about 200-250 days in the Stein. Since then I have gone back numerous times and I’m over 400 days.

Hamlin: Do you take your family or is most of it solo?

White: Probably one half of those times I have gone solo, the other half has been with my family and friends.

Hamlin: There was a group from ClubTread that went up last September [2005] to do the traverse. When was the last time you did it?

White: I must have been hot on their heels as we did it in late September/early October. It is a great time to do it. With the road washed out on Lizzie, the traffic on the trail is greatly reduced on the whole Western half of the Stein. We didn’t see one person from Lizzie to the Stein trailhead.

Hamlin: Speaking of Lizzie, have you heard anything about the Lizzie Lake road being reopened?

White: I’m in regular contact with the Parks people in Kamloops to try and keep abreast of the changes going on. The latest I got is that there are no plans to fix the road. It is the case with all the logging roads we have always used. When there is no longer commercial timber, they will either close the roads or leave them un-maintained. It would likely be at least a million dollars to fix the road. I’m going to go up with some friends to put up some bridges, so hopefully it will make it more usable earlier next season.

Hamlin: I had heard that some people are looking to charter helicopters in. I know it’s not permitted in the park. Have you heard anything about this?

White: I’ve never heard of it and Parks hasn’t indicated anything like this is going on. I suppose they could charter up to Kelsa as it is outside the park boundary. Of course, I wouldn’t encourage this. There was a challenge about mechanized access for river kayakers to have access and then paddle out. That has been shut down from my understanding.

Hamlin: What have some of the biggest changes been in the Stein since your 1991 guidebook?

White: It would be the infrastructure that BC Parks is putting into place. For example the bridge put in where the lower cable crossing was. This is something that changes the character in my opinion. The old cable crossing was a bit of a landmark. There is something about a bottleneck being at that location. It made it that much more to get to the other side. It isn’t quite the same. Then of course there are all the food boxes and the outhouses.

Hamlin: What advice would you give someone who is planning the traverse?

White: Aside from buying my guidebook? [laughs] My advice would be to allow oneself time to enjoy the experience. Take 9-10 days so you can have some rest days and exploration days. I’d highly recommend taking extra time on the East side of Tundra. My wife puts it in the top 3 places in the world she enjoys, and I’d put it in my top 5. It is more than a “been there done that” experience. The other message that I’d like to convey is that one should try to soak up the diversity of the stein. This is something I tried to convey in my book. You are going from magnificent alpine with heavy snowpack, through rainforest, and then into semi-desert. You are going through 6 zones in such a relatively short distance.

Hamlin: Many talk about preserving areas, but few take action like you have. For example, your past work with Stein Wilderness Alliance and also your guidebook that has helped raised awareness. What was your inspiration for getting involved?

White: My inspiration came from the strong connections I developed with the Stein. Starting there as a park ranger in 1984, it just seemed that I was doing more trips there with each passing year. So in 1987 when they announced they were going to log it, I said I’m going to get involved. I had the connection and had to help.

Hamlin: You have been involved in the preservation of the Stein even before it became a provincial park in 1995. How do you feel about the future of the Stein?

White: It is a bit of a management issue now. It will certainly not have the numbers that some of the more accessible trails have such as the West Coast Trail. The sheer terrain and distances will always keep the numbers down. There may come a time where they may have to put a cap on the number of people who access. At the moment, with the Lizzie Road out that adds a day on to the trip and that helps. The more accessible sides like Teepee will always be busy on the long weekends. 80% of the people who visit the Stein go into the lower canyon. Another trend I can see happening is more First Nations involvement in the control and maintenance. If trail fees are incorporated, this could be injected into the maintenance work. There are good arguments for both sides of trail fees. On one hand parks are huge economic engines, and the funding shouldn’t have been cut so drastically. But political reality is that we likely won’t get the funding back to where it once was so we may need to get funding from other sources.

Hamlin: Are there areas that will be maintained that you know of? Do you know if they are going to be doing any work in the lower canyon because of the trail erosion?

White: There is the lower canyon, but then of course there is the upper canyon – it is quite the bushwhack. I was hoping to do the traverse after they did the upper canyon but they ran out of money. The did from the beginning of the trail down to Stein Lake from the ridge up above it. They marked and cleaned it quite well as it was sketchy and vague. The upper canyon will likely be next year. Once that is done, the traverse will be in pretty good shape.

Hamlin: There have been a number of discussions about Stryen on ClubTread. Is there going to be any work done in that area?

White: Parks is talking about that, but they don’t have any funding at this time. They are talking about sometime in the future they might actually connect the East and West forks together. You’d be able to do a loop around Mt. Roach.

Hamlin: Have you scrambled up Mt. Roach?

White: I’ve never scrambled up Mt. Roach. One of the First Nations elders called it the centre of the universe. It is one of their power spots. I’ve been reluctant to go there as I try to tread carefully in areas where there are power centers.

Hamlin: Obviously the Stein had a great impact on your life - enough to write a book about it. You mentioned earlier that you have a top 5 list. Is there another area in BC that you are passionate about?

White: Definitely the Southern Chilcotin. I’ve done about 14 trips up there for skiing and backpacking. Then there are the Northern Rockies near the Yukon border. Specifically, Muskwa Kechika. There is a lot of wildlife up there – you’ll see more wildlife up there in a week than you’ll see in an entire lifetime. Another area would be the southern Rockies – the Banff and Jasper areas. There is a lot of nice climbing in there. Lastly, the Cayoose Range.

Hamlin: What do you think about all the hype on ClubTread about your guidebook?

White: In one word, “surprised”. A friend of mine who is a regular ClubTread member mentioned to me that it was being discussed and said that it was going for $90 on eBay. You feel good about it when you see something that you have created get used. You must feel the same way with the ClubTread site.

Hamlin: When you were doing your research for your original book, what was the process you went through?

White: There are several parts to the book. There is the trail and route information – doing a lot of the research such as pushing the measuring wheel and taking lots of notes. Often I would do the trails multiple times. Then there is the cultural and natural history of the area. I visited libraries and did a lot of research in other books. This of course was in the days before the Internet. Lastly there was working with artists to put together maps and also the photographers.

Hamlin: What is new in your soon to be released second edition?

White: There aren’t really any new trails in the book. It is primarily focused on doing an update and getting things accurate for today. In this edition, there are also some updates to the cultural history.

Hamlin: I was talking to your distributor last year and they had indicated that the new edition was supposed to be out in 2005, but would be released in 2006. I now understand that it will be released in 2007?

White: Yes, it is planned for release in the Spring of 2007. It will likely be March or April.

Hamlin: What has been your biggest challenge getting the new edition out?

White: You know from running the ClubTread site that it requires a lot of effort to get things current and have an adequate level of detail. The same holds true for developing the book. But bottom line, I didn’t get all the routes and trails documented to my satisfaction for this new edition so I’m going over a number of them again this year. Any changes that are going to be made after publishing will be released on my Web site.

Hamlin: Where will the book be available?

White: It will be available on the bookshelves of most bookstores and places that sell outdoor gear. [Note: it will also be available on the ClubTread site as well for online purchases.]

I’d like to thank Gordon for his time discussing the Stein and his new book venture. I look forward to seeing it this Spring [expect it in May 2007]. I am sure that it will be a popular addition to many collections.