Mike White | Confessions of a guidebook author

Mike White hiking Hurricane Pass on the Teton Crest Trail at Grand Teton National Park. | Courtesy Mike White

Reno resident Mike White is the author or co-author of 30 hiking and snowshoeing guidebooks on the western United States. Many focus on the glories of hiking and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada and Nevada.

White was raised in Portland, Ore., and started hiking early. “My mom never learned to drive a car, she would drag me along when we walked to town,” said White.  Once he was old enough to expand out from his neighborhood and discover the rest of Portland, he was hooked on hiking as a way to explore the world.

He attended Seattle Pacific University where he met his wife Robin. When she was accepted to medical school at the University of Nevada, Reno in 1976 the couple thought they would be out of Reno after she graduated. They are still there 42 years later.

While his wife developed a busy pediatric practice, White spent his first 15 years in Reno “at an actual job,” he says, managing a department at an engineering firm.

“I was ready for a change. By that time Robin was loving what she was doing, and my two boys had outgrown day care. Since I was getting bored with my job it seemed logical for me to be the one to spend more time at home. I was always interested in writing, the only reason I got through college is I could write,” said White.

White saw an ad placed by Wilderness Press for a writer to update guidebooks on Mount Lassen and Big Sur. While those assignments didn’t work out, the next one to upgrade a guidebook to the Trinity Alps did, which would become his first book.

“I get to go to these fantastic places and hike all these great trails. I am the kind of guy who generally wants to know what is around the next bend, always looking for new experiences and new places to go.”-Mike White

“It was very exciting when that first book came out. You go through the process of doing the initial writing, then a several month process of reviews and edits.  And then finally you have your book in your hand,” said White.

His books include “Afoot and Afield Lake Tahoe,”  “Top Trails Lake Tahoe” and “Snowshoe Trails of Tahoe” published by Wilderness Press, and “50 Classic Hikes in Nevada” and “50 of the best strolls, walks and hikes around Reno”  published by University of Nevada Press.

White concentrated on books in California and the Sierra Nevada when he first started, but more recently he has expanded to other states in the West such as in his 2016 book, “Best Backpacking Trips in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico,” and the one he is working on currently, “Best Backpacking Trips in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.”

“I get to go to these fantastic places and hike all these great trails. I am the kind of guy who generally wants to know what is around the next bend, always looking for new experiences and new places to go. Writing has really given me the opportunity to see so much of the West. I love that part of it, but I also like the sitting down and taking information and crafting it into a description,” said White.

White was originally trained as a draftsman, so he does the maps for the books himself, as well as the photography. His process for cranking out books is straight forward. He spends the summer and fall hiking, taking notes and doing the research, then during the winter months he carves those notes into a book.

“As fall comes around I start my nesting period. I’m not as enamored with winter as I used to be, I’m more of a summer person,” said White.

When asked which of his books have been the most successful, White says that he doesn’t know, because, “I try not to look at my statements too closely, it is too depressing. When I started if I knew how little money I would be making I wouldn’t have gotten into writing, and I would have missed a lot of wonderful experiences.”

While at 65 he can’t hike as far and as fast as he used to, he is still thankful that he is healthy and able to get out on all the trails he needs to for his books.

“The idea of having a wrangler packing in your stuff is sounding attractive, however,” said White.
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, now in its third edition, as well as three other books. Based on his own experience of writing he says that he is gobsmacked by White’s level of productivity.