More often than not, scenery sets one hike apart from another. But other factors come into play. There is the thrill of using ropes to get into a slot canyon, the satisfaction of solitude or the joy of scientific discovery.
Peter Potterfield, author of the new book Classic Hikes of the World ( W.W. Norton & Co., $39.95), a coffee-table type tome that features 23 treks illustrated with color photos, acknowledges his selections were purely subjective.
"To me, to qualify as a classic route, it has to be iconic in terms of the scenery or the landscape," he said. You "have to see something extraordinary when you go there."
It probably won't come as a surprise to hikers in the Intermountain West that two of Potterfield's classic hikes are in southern Utah or that the book's cover photo is a Utah slot canyon.
The surprise is that the Utah routes included in the book - Buckskin Gulch on the Utah-Arizona border and Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park - are not as well known as, say, the treks to King's Peak, Mount Timpanogos, Zion Narrows or Delicate Arch.
Both of Potterfield's Utah choices easily can be justified from a purely scenic standpoint. But he struggled with the eternal dilemma of guidebook authors revealing special places to the masses. He did not want either to be destroyed by too many visitors. Thus, it is significant that overnight camping in Chesler Park and Buckskin Gulch requires a permit and that those permits are limited.
"I wasn't going to send people to any place not already protected," he said. "I didn't want to see a beautiful place overrun. I was impressed with the way Canyonlands manages Chesler Park. . . . And the hope is that if people go down there to make that trip and they find out permits are reserved, they will go someplace else in the area."
Unlike most of the 23 hikes in the book, Chesler Park and Buckskin Gulch can be done in a long day of hiking. The Chesler Park trail is 15 miles round trip while Buckskin is 24 miles one way, though there are shortcuts.
"While there are hikes you can do in a day, my intent is to extol the virtues of backcountry travel," he said. "There is a feeling of renewal, both physically and psychically, that you can get from spending three or four days in the backcountry."
Then there is the question of whether seeing some of the more exotic destinations in the book should be done without a guide. For example, I have done parts of Potterfield's two South American hikes - Torres del Paine in Chile and Fitz Roy in Argentina - but attempting either without expert local help would have been difficult, if not impossible.
"The important thing is to go," he said. "If you feel more comfortable with a guide, that is great. I would not consider going to Mount Kilimanjaro or the Everest trek without a guide service. A good guide on some of these routes can make all the difference in the quality of the trip. Guides know the places to stay and can insure your physical well-being in high altitude."
Many readers probably will look at Washington's Wonderland Trail, not to mention Buckskin Gulch and Chesler Park.
In fact, one of the charms of the book is that the majority of Potterfield's classic hikes require little in the way of technical climbing skills and can be accomplished by people in relatively good physical condition.
While this moderate15-mile round trip hike can be done in a long day, consider getting a backpacking permit from Canyonlands National Park (call 435-259-4351 before noon for permits or log on to http://www.nps.gov/cany) so you have time to enjoy the side canyons in this subtle place of red rock spires and open meadows.
This 24-mile one-way hike through one of America's most scenic slot canyons takes three to four days, though portions can be done in a day. Check with the Kanab BLM before attempting the hike, especially during the late-summer flash flood season. Overnight camping permits are required and shuttles are suggested. For information on shuttles, permits and current conditions, call the Kanab BLM Field Office at 435-644-2672 or log on to http://www.ut.blm.gov/kanab/index.html.
What is your idea of a classic hike -
In Utah or elsewhere?
Send the hike and a brief description on why you think it qualifies as a classic for a future Salt Lake Tribune Outdoors story to Tom Wharton, The Salt Lake Tribune, 143 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, Utah 84110 or e-mail it to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.