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Ira Spring - Personal Communication

Taped interview, 17 November 2001
At Ira Spring's home in Edmonds, Washington
By Lowell Skoog

In the 1930s, before Ira Spring and his twin brother Bob could drive a car, they had some adult friends who skied at Paradise every weekend. The Spring brothers would tag along sometimes. "That's where we learned a little about skiing," recalled Ira. "I never got very good at it. For me, advanced skiing was snowplowing--and sitzmarks." They would take a 10-cent shuttle from Narada Falls. The old road from Narada to Paradise went around the east side of Paradise Valley at the base of Mazama Ridge. That road is now closed in winter and open one-way in summer. The newer road is farther west. We talked about the lull in ski mountaineering activity after World War II and Ira remarked, "I don't know anybody else in that period who was doing it, or they would have joined us."

After World War II, Bob and Ira Spring formed a partnership to pursue photography as a business. They did adventure stories for the Seattle Times for many years. "That got us going," said Ira. In addition to adventure stories, they did stories on outdoor subjects like logging, farming, and kayaking. Ira said they did 250 feature stories for the Seattle Times. Those led to occasional stories in national magazines. When you got your name in the national magazines, then you could get assignments. Around 1970, the Seattle Times changed editors and decided to switch to a more urban focus. "That was the end of it," said Ira about their newspaper stories.

Skiing in the Olympics

The location of the Flapjack Lakes cabin in the Olympics (see spring-1998-ch2 and crews-1996-ch11) was scouted by the Bremerton Ski Cruisers. The Bremerton club then enlisted the Shelton Ridge Runners to help build the cabin. Each club raised $800 for the cabin. Ira recalled that the original scouting party went up the Wagonwheel trail instead of the Flapjack Lakes trail to reach the area. He didn't really know Paul Crews, since Crews was from Bremerton and Ira was from Shelton.

The abortive ski traverse described in Ira's autobiography (see spring-1998-p121) was planned from Lena Lake to Flapjack Lakes. Ira recalled that they attempted this trip after the Flapjack Lakes cabin was built. Before and after the war, Ira took some spring trips to the Home Sweet Home shelter (up the Skokomish and over First Divide near Mt Steel). They would carry skis up the trail and find nice open country once they got up there. (I didn't ask whether they came in from the Skokomish or the Duckabush, but I assume it was the Skokomish.) Ira recalled that at Deer Park you could stay in CCC barracks for a small fee. He said that by today's standards it was remarkable "what the road was like, when it was plowed out. Steep. No bank. I never heard of anybody going over the side. But it was bad enough in summertime."

During the period when roads across the Olympics were being promoted, the Forest Service was ready to put a road into Flapjack Lakes for skiing. A road (now a trail) was being built up the Skokomish River and over First Divide to Home Sweet Home and down the Duckabush. Another road would have gone "over the pass" (Anderson Pass?) into the Quinault River, and there were plans to link Hurricane Ridge, Observation Point and Deer Park by road. There were also plans to build a road up the Elwha River over the Low Divide and down the Quinault, "but those wild-eyed environmentalists got in on it," said Ira. Ira expressed mock disappointment about the Flapjack Lakes road: "Gee its tough that they didn't do it. We could drive up there to ski. Some of those radical environmentalists got through and stopped all that road building." Then he turned serious. "You just don't realize the work that's gone into things, like the parks, before we came along. Before I got involved," Ira continued, "it never occurred to me the damage to the future you'd have, if you had roads everywhere."

Picture stories

Even during the downhill ski boom of the 1950s and 1960s, Ira's editors were interested in adventure stories about ski mountaineering. He never did much photography of lift skiing, but he did cover a few ski areas when they put in new chairlifts and such. He selected most of the destinations for his adventure stories based on his own knowledge of the mountains. He didn't hear about them from other ski mountaineers. One of the most enjoyable trips was to Boston Basin and Sahale Arm (see st-1959-apr-5-pic12). Ira had been advised not to go to Cascade Pass in winter because of avalanche danger. But they went up the Boston mine trail and found a safe route from the mine up to Sahale Arm. They skied down via Cascade Pass. Ira recalled making at least two trips up there, maybe a year apart.

Ira took some plane flights to take aerial photos and some of his trips were conceived that way. The Glacier Peak ski plane trip (see st-1960-mar-27-pic14) looked good on the map, so they flew in with Bill Fairchild. I mentioned that Dwight Watson had done some skiing in that area 20 years earlier but Ira was not aware of it. He was also not aware of the 1934 ski traverse from Paradise to the White River across Mt Rainier, which he repeated to make the film Skiing Above the Clouds.

Ira recalled that the people he skied with were good recreational skiers. "They left me behind," he said. "A good skier, even with a heavy pack on, does great. But for me, the downhill skiing with a heavy pack was pretty much of a chore. I'd have to go out and kick turn, come back, kick turn, kick turn, kick turn. With a heavy pack I could never dare make nice turns." He mentioned that he once skied the Haute Route in Europe, doing kick turns all the way.


Skiing above the Clouds was done on speculation. They made the film and showed it to Fisher Flouring Mills and got them to sponsor it. "They paid for our trip," remembered Ira. The skiers in the film were Bob and Ira Spring, John Carter and Paul Wiseman. Making movies was an experiment. Ira observed that you "put all your eggs in one basket" when you made a movie on speculation. If you couldn't sell it, there was no backup. With still photos, on the other hand, you always ended up with stock pictures that you could use for other things. In addition to the ski film and Mountains Don't Care, made for the Mountain Rescue Council, they made a third film about spending the night atop Mt Rainier. They never found a sponsor for it, but Rarig, their production studio, put it out for rental. (See spring-movies.) They gave up movies after making those three films.

I asked whether Ira knew Chuck Hessey and he said they were acquainted. He remembered Chuck's movies, and how he got some broadcast during the early days of television. Chuck was furious when the T.V. stations ran ads for tote-goats (early motorized trail bikes) with his movies. Ira knew about the Hesseys' winter trips into Lyman Lake and he thought that Chuck did snow surveys there, but I've found no record of that.


Ira felt somewhat out of step with environmentalists. "Some people look at me as an environmentalist, but some don't," he said. "Environmentalists don't want to look at me at all. They think we get too many people out with our books. We're pretty much in parallel in what we want to save, but environmentalists don't think of me as an environmentalist. But we get along." He said that he and Harvey Mannning strongly disagree about user fees in the forests. Ira thinks the money raised through fees can greatly help in maintaining trails. His concern is that the public needs to have a say in where their money is going. He feels that the threat of privatization of public lands may be independent of fees, and may persist regardless of whether user fees are collected.

Around the time the North Cascades National Park was created, when there was concern about the building of trams, Ira got involved trying to locate them where they would have little impact. He said Ross Mountain was the site he preferred. (I wonder if he meant Ruby Mountain.) He said it was isolated, low impact, and had a great view. He remembered the proposal to build a tram up Arctic Creek from Ross Lake but felt it was impractical because of the access, which would require a boat ride to the base.

I was curious whether conservationists from the 1950s and 1960s ever lamented the loss of backcountry cabins, which were more widespread in the past than they are today. Ira felt that cabins never played a very important role. As he recalled, most of them were already falling down. He acknowledged that environmentalists didn't like them, but he felt that more of them disappeared because of age and disuse than hostility. Some would be quite historic if they were still standing. I noted that the Cascades were different from some ranges, for example the mountains of Canada, because we have few cabins and a lot of designated wilderness. Extended trips in the Cascades have to be self-supported. Ira replied, "We have to be sure we keep it that way. It didn't just happen."


When Ira walked the Ptarmigan Traverse in 1957, he knew it had been done two times before but he had no other details. There were no USGS topo maps, just Forest Service maps with smaller scale than today. They made mistakes and had to backtrack in places. They had poor weather much of the time. He remembered being discouraged in a whiteout near Totem Pass, then the clouds lifted and they spotted a trail just a few feet away. It was not on the map and must have been an old miners' trail. It led them to Canyon Lake and eventually to Image Lake. Ira's wife Pat had to stay home with the kids, so years later he repeated the route with her, going from Cascade Pass as far south as White Rock Lakes. They hiked out the South Cascade River trail, which is maintained in a rudimentary state by the USGS people who monitor the South Cascade Glacier.

In the 1960s, the Mountaineers had guidebooks for hiking that sold well, so they decided to do one for skiing. Knowing that ski mountaineering was not very popular, they put ski areas in the book, Northwest Ski Trails. These days, they would leave the ski areas out. I mentioned that Harvey Manning told me the book didn't sell well, since most of the growth in non-lift skiing at that time was in skinny skiing. I asked Ira if he ever skied on Mt Shuksan, which was included in the book, and he said no.

We talked about several people, but Ira offered few recollections. Mostly he just confirmed whether he knew them or not. He knew of Orville Borgersen and his winter photography, but didn't know him personally. He met Stella Degenhardt through her husband Bill, and they made a point to invite her along on trips after Bill died of a heart attack. Ira didn't know Dwight Watson and he never saw Dwight's films. Sigurd Hall worked for Pat Spring's father (Willgress) at the Cascade Machinery and Electric Company.

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