Trail Talk

Q&A with PCTA’s Mark Larabee, Part II

By on April 26, 2017

In part one of our conversation with Mark Larabee, editor of PCTA’s Pacific Crest Trail Communicator, he shared his early memories of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and how he came to turn his passion for the trail into a career to help promote and protect it. Last year, Larabee teamed up with thru-hiker and outdoor writer Barney “Scout” Mann to discover and document the complete history of the PCT. The result is the spectacular new photo book, The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America’s Wilderness Trail. Our conversation continues with a look at what went in to bringing so much of the PCT’s hidden history into the light.

This beautiful new book showcases the people and places that make the PCT one of America’s great treasures.

What motivated you to document the history of the Pacific Crest Trail?

The story of the trail had never been fully told. We had a chance to tell that story in a gripping and personal way. Most people buy coffee table books for the photos and ours is no different. But our stories are amazing as well. Throughout its history, this trail was nearly always a step away from failure, because of federal budgets, politics, insurmountable odds and Mother Nature’s forces. But in every case, we found that the people involved in making the trail—the advocates, volunteers, government trail managers and elected leaders—somehow made things work. It often came down to the action of a single person, time and again, to carry the torch. The trail’s story is one of the people, many people, and their perseverance.

What was the most challenging part of creating this book?

We had a very tight deadline. I was offered the work in January 2016 and was told they wanted to publish in 2017. I recruited Barney Mann to help with the writing because he had been doing magazine articles on PCT history for years and he was a wealth of information. We worked quickly, making long lists of possible chapters, deciding who would write what. There were many interviews to do and I traveled more than 5,000 road miles to visit trail crews and meet people. We wrote the first draft in about nine months and then had four more months for editing, photo selection and caption writing. Also, we wrote and polished the “gallery” section that describes the 48 wilderness areas which the trail passes through. There is so much detail-oreinted work that goes into making a book like this.

What was the most surprising discovery you made about the PCT?

You’ll have to read the book to get the whole story. One of the trail’s first champions, Clinton Clarke, was a tireless advocate and an unselfish one. He was also very wise in terms of how government operated. He put the trail down on maps long before it was ever complete or even thought through. Facing resistance from some in government, he kind of bluffed and pushed the thing even though much of it was only the seed of an idea. Sure, large parts of trail were done, but other sections were just a figment of his imagination. But he knew what he was proposing was pure gold. That takes guts, whimsy and a little bit of chutzpah.

One of the first maps of the PCT appeared in Sunset Magazine in 1936.

What was the most inspiring thing you learned about the PCT?

Anybody can step up and make positive change in the world. Read these stories. These are ordinary people with families and jobs and bills and overdrawn checking accounts. They made sacrifices and were determined to keep this trail a growing concern. They’re not famous for it, but they are certainly stars.

How do you hope this book will influence its readers?

I hope they gain an appreciation for the trail itself and the value it brings to all of us, as a nation. Setting aside these special amazing landscapes was, and remains, one of America’s greatest ideas. Long trails, national parks, national monuments, public lands in general—they play an important role in the American way of life. They are a resource for education, reflection and personal growth. They are a huge part of our heritage, not just for hikers, but for hunters, anglers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and more. Public lands are part of what make us who we are. They create jobs and attract tourists from around the world. It’s no accident that the PCTA has members from more than 40 countries. As long as we take responsibility for our public lands, they’ll be here forever.


Want a preview of Larabee and Mann’s PCT book? Check out our spotlight here.


With several current threats to our public lands—and our favorite trails that explore them—it’s going to take everyone who values these special places to speak up for their protection and preservation. You can help by supporting the Pacific Crest Trail Association, The Wilderness Society and other organizations that are fighting on behalf of America’s hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists. For more information on how you can get involved, click here.

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