Dances With Marmots
by George Spearing
Published by Magog, South Island, New Zealand

New Zealander George Spearing walked the 2700 Pacific Crest Trail some years before I did. Only a few years, mind, but the difference shows.
Dances with Marmots is his account of a hike the length of the US, completed in the days before the

preponderance of eager-to-please Trail Angels, before packs of adventure-hungry college grads began migrating along the route, wilderbeast-like, eating trail towns dry of ice cream, and before the way became so well signed that you could almost walk from Mexico to Canada at night using waymarks as Braille route indicators.
The Pacific Crest Trail, through the south California deserts, the Sierra Nevada’s “range of light” and the forested North Cascades, is still one of the world’s great challenging hikes; of the 400-500 who currently start it each spring, only a few dozen reach the northern terminus at Manning Park in Canada’s British Columbia before winter blizzards effectively make the trail impassible.
Walking the trail’s length remains a physical challenge but, as more and more people rise to it, others strive to derive something different from its length: Scott Williamson hiked it end-to-end and back again in 2004; Matt Hazley set a
new speed record on the trail the following year; and then there are those for whom the trail is home every summer – they just keep coming back for more and, with the help of Trail Angels, ever-improving waymarks and fast-food joints, complete the trail time and again.
But (without trying to sound like a Hovis advert) it was different in George’s day. The element of challenge was greater simply because fewer people had managed a thru’ hike; the information available for planning wasn’t so easy available; and lightweight gear hadn’t evolved to the same extent (George hiked with a 60lb pack on some stages) as it has today. Therefore, it’s true to
say that when George hiked the PCT there was a logistical challenge that today might seem to be on the wane.
Yet there’s no chest beating here. George recounts his PCT odyssey with humour, self-deprecating glee and a real feel for the camaraderie of the trail, even though he encountered only a handful of characters route (compare that to the hundreds I met in ‘04). As I read this book I was able to imagine myself back among the forests, scaling passes, crossing rivers and relishing George’s company and his sardonic Antipodean style of humour along the way. Some of
the tales herein will be familiar to many hikers – the bear encounters, the occasional “temporary displacement”, the varied battles with the weather – but in a way they’re all the richer for the matter-of-fact way they’re recounted.
Dances isn’t intended to be a blockbuster; it was written for personal reasons and George was talked into publication by friends clamouring for copies. The layout takes a little getting used to – every sentence starts on a new line but the only indentations come where a fresh paragraph would normally begin; the text therefore seems to have a stop-start nature – but persevere and you’ll be glad you did. What do you want, waymarking?
John Manning

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