Finding the Soul of Wilderness

Vancouver couple releases book filled with a decade worth of adventures in the Coast Mountains

Warning: flip through the pages of Soul of Wilderness and you might be tempted to ditch your day job and head into the backcountry.

The coffee table book — published last month by Harbour Publishing — is filled with stunning images of the Coast Mountains by Linda Bily and John Baldwin, and sprinkled with essays about the adventures behind those photos.

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The Vancouver couple has been embarking on epic journeys into the mountains — both hiking and ski touring — for the last 15 years; the book covers about 10 of those. Baldwin has several first ascents under his belt and wrote Mountains of the Coast in 1999 and Exploring the Coast Mountain on Skis in 2009. Bily, an environmental engineer, has had photos published in various magazines over the years.

“The hard part was you do so many trips you could go on forever if you went into too much detail about each trip,” Baldwin said. “We tried to group them into trips that were similar.”

To that end, the book is broken down into themes, from “Whales and Icefields” to “Gentle Wilderness” and “Ski Wild.”

“Ours are not heart-stopping tales of conquest and hardship,” they write in the opening chapter. “The purpose of our trips is simply to see as many of these special places as we can — to wander across high meadows, climb to and ski from mountain summits, and revel in the magic of wilderness.”

The purpose of the book is to encourage people to seek wilderness wherever they are, they added. “Wilderness is really important to us,” Baldwin said.

“We feel it should be more important to our society. I think you can fight each battle for saving each piece of wilderness, but underneath that, if people have an appreciation for wilderness you don’t have to fight every little thing.”

On top of that, their journeys are less aggressive than harrowing tales featured in mountain magazines. “There’s so much conquering in the mountains,” Bily said. “We’re not conquering the mountains, we’re being with them. We’re seeing them. Just being out there and enjoying them and seeing them — it’s not like there aren’t some challenges, but that’s not the (focus).”

It’s a message that certainly resonates in the Sea to Sky corridor. As part of their book tour, Bily and Baldwin will present a slideshow of a selection of their photos at Millennium Place on Friday (Nov. 20).

“We share some stories,” Bily said. “There are a few moments of funny things that happen on these trips. I feel like we’re trying to take people along.”

For her, holding the first copy of the book was a lifelong dream. “My parents had coffee table books and National Geographic,” she said. “I was always pouring over photographs, especially of nature. It was a dream of mine to have a photography book. It was almost overwhelming. It sunk in more when we did our first show and I got to sign my name; this is actually something I did. It’s beautiful to work together on something.”

Soul of Wilderness is available at Armchair Books. The Whistler Arts Council will host the slideshow presentation on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at artswhistler.com.

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