Because John Muir Trail is Ansel’s first book composed entirely of landscapes, it’s a fascinating window into the beginnings of what would become the artist’s aesthetic philosophy—the marriage of photography with a conservationist ethic that would become Ansel’s signature.
Although the book itself is a triumph, the story of how it came to be, begins with a tragedy—the death of mountaineer Walter “Pete” Starr, Jr. Born in 1903, Starr was an early explorer of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Like Ansel, Starr was enthralled with the Sierra Nevada. As an avid hiker and lifelong member of the Sierra Club, Starr was determined to one day visit every inch of the High Sierra, sometimes hiking 50 miles in a single day. His love for the area soon translated into advocacy: he wanted others to be able to experience the High Sierra, to be as amazed and humbled by it as he was. He began compiling page upon page of notes on the region, hoping to one day publish a definitive guide to the John Muir Trail, allowing everyone to follow the trail and experience its awe-inspiring landscapes.