The Passing of an Outdoor Writer

Mt. Ranier at sunset, from wikipedia, photo by Troy Mason
Mt. Ranier at sunset, from wikipedia, photo by Troy Mason

The Story

Outdoor writer and hiker, Karen Sykes of Seattle, Washington has been missing on Mt. Ranier since last Wednesday. Yesterday it was announced that a woman’s body has been found in the same area, but no positive I.D. has been made so far. Miss Sykes, separated from her hiking partner, while researching a story on the trails of Mt. Ranier. According to press reports, the 70 year old Karen Sykes proceeded up a steep trail covered with snow and ice, while her male companion waited for her to return. In the days that followed searchers scoured the area with one rescuer being injured, when he fell through a snow bridge.

Miss Sykes had a locally prominent writing career. She published the “Hike of the Week” column for the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as well as being a frequent contributor to Visit Ranier, a local website. Karen Sykes had also penned two books about hiking in the Washington area.

The Dangers of Being An Outdoor Writer

Every profession has its risk and that of an outdoor writer is no exception. Even though Sykes was well experienced in the backcountry, this wealth of knowledge could not keep her from meeting her tragic end, while out gathering information for one of her many weekly columns. It is a paradox for outdoor writers that they often have to expand their expertise and knowledge at risk to themselves and some times others. The lure of the unknown trail can lead to disastrous consequences, when basic conditions are ignored or when deteriorating weather events are not taken into account.

Some writers like Jon Krakauer, have made a literary career from writing about outdoor tragedies. Unfortunately, this event was not the only fatality to occur on Mt. Ranier this winter season. Bigger headlines were made in May of this year (2014), when six hikers were lost, while trying to scale the 14,000 summit of  Mt. Ranier. So far their bodies have not been found. Incidentally, Karen Sykes was hiking at only about 5,000 feet, which goes to show how severe winter weather can be on this peak.

The Perils of Snow Bridges

Snow bridges can form over small creeks and rivers, as well as  glacial crevasses or even large bays of water. I once encountered the previous type, when hiking in the Adirondacks many years ago in April. The daytime temperatures soared into the 90s, melting the 2 to 4 foot snowpack at a rapid rate and turning small brooks into raging currents. As we proceeded to our destination, we encountered several of these natural bridges. The first one held, but the second broke when I crossed, sending me feet first into the cold icy water. Fortunately, the stream was only thigh deep, so I waded to the other side without incident. In steeper terrain with bigger bodies of water flowing underneath, such an event could have been catastrophic. Though I’m not sure what brought on Miss Sykes’s accident, evidence does point to the fact that she pushed on way too far of her hiking partner…presumably so she could explore the terrain and bring back that one good picture.


Karen Sykes with one of her hiking companions, Lola Kemp, photo by Lola Kemp via AP
Karen Sykes with one of her hiking companions, Lola Kemp, photo by Lola Kemp via AP


2 thoughts on “The Passing of an Outdoor Writer

  1. I learned of Karen’s passing this morning on nwhikers. She posted beautiful photos and current information about local trails there, to hep the rest of us choose where to spend our weekends. As you know she also wrote columns for the local papers and guide books. Additionally she taught classes for The Mountaineers, took children backpacking to introduce them to nature, etc. Karen touched almost everybody who hikes in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know her personally, but I knew of her through nwhikers, having admired her photography and benefited from her knowledge and experience.

    She will be sorely missed.

    We’re all trying to find comfort in the fact that she met her end in a beautiful place, doing what she loved, and not in a hospital bed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s