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California Trails

Top 3 Literary Hikes

Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac all went into the backcountry to find the right words.

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Fox River, MI, Forrest Netzel


Matterhorn PK, CA, Larry Carver


Mount Greylock, MA, Michael P. Gadomski

Whether you’re working on the next Great American Novel, a pamphlet on poison
ivy, or just some purple journal prose no one else will read, you’ll get inspired
on one of these treks, lifted straight out of the classics.

Fox River, MI

Hemingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River”

In this Hemingway standout,
a war-weary young soldier named Nick Adams spends three days hiking and fishing
in a remote area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Though Hemingway used the more
poetic name of the Two-Hearted River (which is actually 45 miles away), the
plot follows a fishing trip he took on the Fox River in 1919. To do Papa proud—Hemingway
claims he and his friends caught 200 fish here in a week—wet your flies
while hiking and casting along the Fox River Trail to a boggy area of downed
trees known as “The Spreads.” It’s where Nick Adams catches—and
then loses—the biggest trout he’s ever seen. The Fox River Campground,
five miles in, is near where Hemingway is said to have passed out drunk—er,
pitched his tent.

The Word

Duck into the Fox River Motel (906-499-3332) to hear what’s biting. Hosts Don
and Diane Reed are two of the area’s most avid anglers.

The Drive

From Seney (on the Upper Peninsula), take MI 77 1 mile N. The Fox River trailhead
is past the RR tressle on the right.

Matterhorn PK, CA

From Kerouac’s The Dharma

Seeking enlightenment, Jack Kerouac attempted an ascent of Yosemite’s 12,279-foot
Matterhorn Peak with poet Gary Snyder and friend John Montgomery in 1955. In
Jack’s loosely autobiographical novel, the character Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder)
summits, while Ray Smith (Kerouac) chickens out about 800 feet shy, and Henry
Morley (Montgomery) decides to lounge by a little lake under the peak. On the
return, the acrophobic Ray tests Ryder’s homespun Zen proverb—”You
can’t fall off a mountain”—by running and jumping down the ridge.
Seek your own wisdom on this stout hike, which starts at Mono Lake Village and
climbs 5,280 feet in 5.5 miles up the Matterhorn’s southeast slope.

The Word

Think Zen koans lack nutritional value? Stop by the Hi Sierra Bakery (760-932-7722)
in Bridgeport and load your pack with some Sierra Haystacks. They’re like macaroons,
and are the perfect trail food.

The Drive

Take CA 395 to Bridgeport. Turn south on Twin Lakes Road for a 13-mile drive
to the trailhead.

Mount Greylock,MA

From Thoreau’s A Week on the Merrimack and
Concord Rivers

Not long before heading to Walden Pond to build a cabin, Thoreau
climbed this whale-shaped hump of a mountain in the 10,000-acre Mount Greylock
State Reservation. From the trailhead on Notch Road, follow his footsteps by
climbing 5.5 miles up the Bellows Pipe Trail through deciduous forest. Though
Thoreau left the trail just below the summit to bushwack up a 35-degree slope
(“the shorter and more adventurous way,” he said), you’ll do better
turning left at the first junction and joining the Appalachian Trail for the
last 500 vertical feet. Standing at the 3,491-foot summit, which overlooks the
rolling Hoosac Range and the Berkshires, you’ll understand what Thoreau meant
when he wrote that the view held “all the delights of paradise.”

The Word

Get trail beta and last-minute supplies at The Mountain Goat (413-458-8445)
on Water St. in Williamstown. Need a place to crash? They’ll let you camp behind
the store.

The Drive

From North Adams, take MA 2 west 1 mile to Notch Road. Turn left and drive 2.3
miles to the parking lot at the Notch Gate.

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.