Wilderness view from Mt. Shuksan. Photo © Eric Wehrly
  Issue 5, Summer 2008  


Worthwest mountaineering is, for the most part, wilderness mountaineering. Wilderness experiences have defined mountaineering in this region for more than a century. In the past half-century, protection of wilderness, and threats to that protection, have been a recurring theme.

In 1958, David Brower of the Sierra Club produced a half-hour film called Wilderness Alps of Stehekin. At a time when logging, mining and road building were carving up the Cascades, Brower’s film opened America’s eyes to the magnificent but unprotected mountains near the head of Lake Chelan.

Two years later, public pressure led to creation of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and eight years after that the North Cascades National Park was established. The North Cascades park celebrates its 40th birthday this autumn.

In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was created north of Highway 2 near Index. Wild Sky was the first new wilderness designated in Washington state in almost a quarter century. The success of Wild Sky and the anniversary of the North Cascades provide an opportunity to look with pride on the wilderness legacy we have preserved in the Northwest. But it is also an opportunity to consider how times have changed.

Fifty years ago, David Brower and the mountaineers who joined the North Cascades campaign worried about forests being cut down and roads being driven deep into the mountains. Today, with logging activity much reduced, mountaineers are more concerned about old roads washing out than about new roads being built. Nature has gained the upper hand, as demonstrated by the devastating floods around Glacier Peak in 2003 and around Mount Rainier in 2006. Without logging to justify road maintenance, many of the roads long used by mountaineers for access have been closed or degraded. Much more difficult access has become an unintended consequence of preservation.

In an ironic twist, members of Stehekin Heritage, a group working to reopen the Stehekin Valley road destroyed by the 2003 floods, have been using David Brower’s 50-year-old film to bolster their cause. While arguing for protection of the wilderness in 1958, Brower praised the road that made access to the mountains so enjoyable for himself and his young sons.

This issue of the Northwest Mountaineering Journal offers several perspectives on today’s wilderness. Blake Herrington, who worked in Stehekin during summers in high school and college, describes adventurous new climbs in the heart of the “Wilderness Alps of Stehekin.” Articles by Ed Cooper and about the Firey family capture the flavor of Northwest mountaineering from the 1950s through 1970s. Modern tales by Steph Abegg and Pat Gallagher explore seldom-visited corners of the Olympics and North Cascades. And finally, as road and trail washouts haphazardly make the wilderness more remote, Leor Pantilat shows how, with a pair of running shoes and a fresh attitude, it is possible to bring the mountains almost unbelievably closer.

Lowell Skoog, editorial team leader

Issue 5 Notes
Editorial Team
Ralph Bodenner
Steve Firebaugh
Matt Perkins
Rad Roberts
Lowell Skoog
Steve Smith
Alisa Stoffel
Curt Veldhuisen
Aaron Zabriskie
Special Thanks
The editors again thank Jon Ryan and Tim Crawford of CascadeClimbers.com for their continued and invaluable support of this journal, and for the resources that they and the message board have provided.

Special thanks also to John Scurlock, whose aerial photographs of the Cascades have inspired Northwest climbers and greatly enhanced this journal.