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Rock After Rock: Backpacking the Sierra High Route (2016) by Donna Thomas. Contemporary narratives written while hiking the Sierra High Route route are juxtaposed with early twentieth century quotes about the first attempts to pioneer that route by various authors including John Muir, Joseph LeConte, and Theodore Solomons. Twenty-five digitally reproduced watercolor paintings, with text and hand-drawn maps letterpress printed using a muted sepia split fountain on handmade paper. Quarter-bound in wooden boards with a leather spine, hand-carved mountain scene on front cover. Cloth and leather “backpack” slipcase. 7 7/8 by 10 1/2 inches. 32 pages. 20 copies. $1145.
This book is Donna’s artistic reflection on the grueling five week, 195 mile backpacking trip she took in 2007. This trip was mostly off-trail, following along the crest of California’s Sierra Nevada, a route commonly known today as the Sierra High Route. For most of the trip she was hiking, rock after rock, on granite above tree line, with the relentless heat of the sun always present. The trip was demanding but also an ecstatic respite from the fast pace of civilization, and a kaleidoscopic visual feast of rich mountain beauty. She conceived this book as a way to share her motivations and experiences, both through her writing and visual imagery, and these are juxtaposed with the writings of her hiking companions and those of the intrepid adventurers who had first sought to create the route in the early 1900s.
The project combines hand-rendered trail maps with reproductions of illustrations Donna painted on the trip and her own writing. All these are printed side by side on the page with quotes from her hiking companions’ travel journals, and with quotes gleaned from early Sierra Club Bulletin articles written by the early twentieth century hikers who first visited the same places in their attempts to map out a “high route” along the crest of the Sierra Nevada.
Donna drew the maps and wrote out the text in her own calligraphic hand. Those originals were made into polymer printing plates and printed on a Vandercook proof press, in multiple colors using a "rainbow roll" of ochre and sepia colors. Peter made the paper using cotton rag half-stuff, adding Donna’s actual cotton hiking shirt from the trip to the beater, which added the colored flecks found in the sheets of paper. The illustrations are reproductions of paintings Donna made on the trip. She carried watercolors and handmade paper with her on the trip spent time every day painting. Twenty-five of her illustrations were digitally reproduced on Peter’s handmade paper and then hand sewn onto pages of the book. The book is quarter-leather bound with a Nigerian goatskin spine and wooden boards. Donna hand carved a typical Sierra scene on the front cover of every book. The book is housed in a cloth backpack that Donna sewed. With an embroidered patch sewn on the front, and made in the likeness of an early 20th century knapsack, the slipcase is the final step to further the artists’ intent to juxtapose the ethos of the pioneering early backpackers and contemporary hikers.
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