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Remembering Hiker, Writer Karen Sykes

Posted by Susan Elderkin at Jun 22, 2014 11:55 AM |
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The Washington hiking community lost an inspiration with the sad death of Karen Sykes, a local hiking guidebook author and columnist.

This past week the hiking community lost a longtime inspiration, hiking columnist and guidebook author, 70-year-old Karen Sykes. The news about her death comes after three days of intense search efforts along the Owyhigh Lakes Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. An experienced, prepared hiker, searchers found Karen's body on Saturday afternoon in steep, rugged terrain. More details should be forthcoming.

Karen shared trip reports with the WTA community for many years, but she was perhaps best known and loved for her weekly hiking column at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She was a guidebook author, having co-written the Best Wildflower Hikes: Washington and written Hidden Hikes of Western Washington, both published by Mountaineers Books. More recently, she contributed articles to The Seattle Times, Seattle Backpacker, and Visit Rainier, for which she was reportedly researching an article when she died.

Karen's passion for Washington's wild places and wildflowers inspired thousands of new and veteran hikers to get out and explore, to protect and to treasure the landscapes she so clearly loved. As a hiker, writer and friend to so many on Washington's trails, she will be dearly remembered.

WTA's Kim Brown recalled fondly both her curiosity and her humor on trail. "She always enjoyed having fun with nature – like picking up shed antlers to  pretend she’s an elk, or using a mat of moss for a toupee. Once when we were hiking the Lime Kiln Trail she got all excited about a bit of ice hair, ran up to take a picture of it, only to discover it was Kleenex; she laughed so hard at herself."

It's memories like this that the many people whose lives she touched are remembering today. Hikers are expressing their feelings and recollections about Karen on a message board at

All of us at Washington Trails Association send our sincerest condolences to Karen's family and friends. And through the words she left behind, may she continue to encourage others to seek out the joy found among Washington's fragile wildflower meadows, along river valleys and from ridge-tops.


NOTE: There will be a public celebration of the life and legacy of Karen Sykes at the Seattle Mountaineers (7700 Sand Point Way NE) on July 14 at 6:30 p.m.


Paul Kriloff on Remembering Hiker, Writer Karen Sykes

I had been hoping for a positive outcome since seeing the news that she was missing. Her willingness to share her love of the outdoors leaves a great legacy behind. I know in my case, her Hidden Hikes book opened up places like Marten Lake that I might not have explored otherwise.

Posted by:

"Paul Kriloff" on Jun 23, 2014 10:15 AM

Hike on Karen...

Karen will be remembers first for her genuine kindness to others. She joins some great company and recent graduates this year in the Hike in the Sky Wilderness. Hike on will be missed.

Posted by:

Putz-in-Boots on Jun 23, 2014 12:06 PM

See you on the trail.

Longmire. As we worked through the process of acquiring our permit for a weekend at Klapatche, we made small talk & joked with the rangers and volunteers. Then, I asked if they'd found her yet--and the entire room changed. Long faces told my wife and I all we needed to know: she hadn't been found. I may have seen a trip report or two--perhaps perused one of her books--but admittedly, I am only coming to know Karen posthumously; nonetheless, I feel the loss that perhaps many of us feel when one of our clan doesn't come home from their hike. Throughout the weekend, we heard the helicopters, and our thoughts and hearts went out to Karen, as well as those working hard to find her. We didn't learn of the final outcome of the search until we were down off the mountain ourselves. I prefer to think that perhaps her hike isn't over... maybe her adventure has just begun.

Posted by:

"James Perryman" on Jun 23, 2014 05:34 PM

so sorry for her loss

I, along with so many, hoped for a positive outcome. My thoughts are with her family and friends during this time of loss.

Posted by:

"DKreuger" on Jun 23, 2014 07:25 PM

Thank you for the memories Karen.

The Mountain was calling so she went in search of a new story to tell her humble followers, but Mother Nature embraced her and told her it was time to come home but I think her soul will live on the trails she pioneer with her stories.

Posted by:

"Ed Hunds" on Jun 23, 2014 09:12 PM

She has gone to the great bourne from which no man (or woman) hath returned

Only met her twice, both times at summits or ends of hike destinations ... in both cases she was kind, civilized, and displayed a wry and childish delight in being there. Sometimes the life best lived is one where folks just remember to be in the moment they are in ... she not only did that well but did her best to share it with others.

We should remember her spirit of joy in exploration ... not her demise.

Posted by:

davidwrahfeldt on Jun 24, 2014 06:29 PM