Hiking Vail: the ultimate guide
1987 was the year of the bear in Vail.
“People were putting salmon steaks on their outdoor barbecue grills and a bear would get them while they were still rare,” said Gilliland. “Bears were climbing onto people’s decks and eating trays of appetizers.”
Gilliland remembers that summer well. She’d had a slew of friends lined up to hike with her all summer to research the hiking guidebook she was working on at the time. Then everyone backed out.
So Gilliland hiked alone – carrying her daughter’s life-guarding whistle around her neck and Swiss cowbells tied to her backpack – on 39 of the 40 hikes, every one except Notch Mountain, which one person agreed to trek with her.
“No one would go,” said Gilliland, who’s written 16 books, most of them historical accounts of Summit County and the surrounding area. “Everyone was scared to death of the bears because they were so prevalent.”
Maybe it was the bells, maybe it was just luck, but Gilliland never encountered a bear that summer, though she did come face to face with a pair of snarling dogs guarding some sheep in a meadow below Shrine Ridge. The dogs came tearing toward her, barking ferociously, she said.
“My hand was shaking but I blew the whistle and it arrested them for a minute,” she remembered. “They stopped and looked confused. I held up my hand, still shaking, pointed at them and said ‘you, go back.’ They looked at me funny and turned around. That was the scariest thing that happened all summer.”
In 1988, Gilliland published “The Vail Hiker,” which at the time detailed 40 Eagle County hikes. She penned “The Summit Hiker” first and as she was delivering copies of that book to the long-gone Verbatim Bookstore in Vail, the owner made a recommendation.
“She said, ‘Oh, we need a hiking guide for Vail. We have request after request and you should write it.’ I thought that would be a lot of fun.”
Though at that point Gilliland and her husband were living in Summit County (they’re Silverthorne residents) they’d lived in Vail from 1969 to 1973 and had done a few hikes, but since she was busy “having babies” at the time, she hadn’t logged many miles.
“So I started out with 40 hikes and I just fell in love with hiking around the Vail Valley,” Gilliland said. “It was very different from Summit County, which is more alpine and littered with relics of its gold rush past with little tiny mine camps, resting boilers and extractors and mining equipment. In Vail, the hiking was much more verdant, luxurious in growth. It’s 1,000 feet lower, so it’s a whole different experience. And the East Vail hikes were just wonderful to discover – the hike to Pitkin Lake, Booth Lake and the hike up to Bighorn Creek. Those were wonderful. Then finally discovering the Holy Cross Wilderness, well that was like dying and going to heaven it’s so beautiful.”
While Gilliland said hiking has kept her in good shape, she said that was never her main goal.
“Most hikers are like me, I think, and we are there because of the absolute joy of seeing the splendor of nature in an outside setting,” she said. “To stand on top of a high mountain pass, to surmount a peak and get up high like that, it lifts you out of yourself. You’re not thinking about your credit card balance, or your work worries, you’re just lifted right out of yourself and refreshed deep down. I hike for the joy of it.”
This summer, Gilliland released the sixth edition of the book, now in color. As with any guide book, there have been a number of revisions. Over the years hikes have been rerouted and trailheads have moved. In 2001, the book went from 40 to 50 hikes. Gilliland guesses she’s sold upwards of 50,000 copies of the book, published by her and her husband Larry’s publishing company, Alpenrose Press.
While the strongest sales are, of course, in the summer, it’s also a “wonderful guide in the winter months for snowshoe trips and cross-country ski routes,” said Nicole Magistro, owner of the Bookworm of Edwards.
‘”The Summit Hiker’ will also go from black and white to full color, have all new photos, all new maps and fun new features,” Gilliland said. Work on the 2013 version is under way now.
The author will also give a free presentation on “the fun and folksy history of ranching” along the Lower Blue at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, 4 p.m. Sept. 8, as a part of Fall for the Arts, a weekend-long, Summit County-wide arts celebration taking place Sept. 7-9.
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