Bill Schneider has put his sole into hiking the best trails in the West.
The Montana native and publisher of Falcon Books, based in Helena, got his second wind around his 50th birthday, about the age other baby boomers started shopping for their first RV.
Schneider put his marathon running background to work, hoofing to every corner of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Then he turned his attention to Yellowstone National Park before heading to Canyonlands in Utah.
“The rangers at Canyonlands say I’m the first person they know of who’s hiked every mile of trail at Canyonlands and Arches National Parks (in Utah), as well as riding all the roads,” he said.
Last year, Schneider hiked 450 miles of the park with his son, while two of his friends hiked another 400 miles of trails. Combined, the foursome covered virtually all the park trails in a single season.
Details of his research are compiled into user-friendly hiking guidebooks for each area, as well as various other outdoor books, including two on getting along with grizzly bears.
Schneider had been visiting the Beartooths for years before he decided to produce a guidebook. That’s when he got serious, devoting six weeks to tireless research.
“Basically, I hiked 15 miles a day,” he said. “I had one 41-mile hike in from Box Canyon Trailhead at the end of Big Timber Road to Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone,” he said.
He assembled the book after putting more than 400 trail miles behind him.
“A bluff charge by a grizzly at Slough Creek confirmed that adrenaline glands still work at my age,” he said.
But his most serious encounters were with the weather.
“I almost died in a hail storm on Horseshoe Mountain,” he said. “I had all the right rain gear and everything, but it was a tremendous storm that caught me where I could find little shelter.
“There was so much rain and hail and it got so cold so quickly, I was overwhelmed. I had 13 miles to get out, and I had to keep walking or die. Once back at the trailhead, it took me 20 minutes to get the key into the lock to open the truck.”
Strange things happen when you log so many miles in a wilderness.
Schneider and a friend once had a wolverine - the most elusive furbearer in the backcountry - stroll right through their camp.
“He had a line of travel and we just happened to be in it,” Schneider said. “I was so stunned, I don’t even have a picture.”
The wilderness experience also has a subtle way of creating conservationists.
“That’s why I’ve decided to write guidebooks to some of my favorite places,” Schneider said. “We came within a whisker of having a major gold mine open in the Beartooths. Nothing is sacred in this country. Without enough friends to create a political force, our favorite hiking areas are vulnerable.”
By the end of 1999, Schneider’s company is scheduled to have published hiking guidebooks covering every national park. The next goal is to cover every wilderness.
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