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Ira Spring, 84; Photographer Wrote Hiking Guides

June 11, 2003|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Ira Spring, a prolific photographer and hiking guide writer and a passionate defender of wilderness, died June 5 in Edmonds, Wash., of prostate cancer. He was 84.

Spring spent much of his life tramping the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and wrote 64 hiking guides. The photos he took of the Cascade and Olympic ranges filled many of those books and appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post.

The guides that Spring wrote -- often with co-author Harvey Manning -- were considered by many outdoor enthusiasts to be the most accurate and well-written in the region.

Trail guides are notoriously sketchy affairs: Many books include sparse or inaccurate directions, and the prose can be as rocky as a mountain trail. But Spring's books were meticulous in their detail and are believed to have introduced thousands of residents in the Pacific Northwest to some of the sublime scenery of Washington's mountains.

Though Spring wrote lovingly of Olympic and Mt. Rainier national parks, he also encouraged readers to visit more obscure locales such as Dark Divide, the Napeequa Valley and Cloudy Pass.

Spring's career as a photographer and writer also spanned a period of intensive logging in the Northwest's national forests.

Early in his career, Spring saw some of his favorite trails vanish because of clear-cutting, and he vowed to use his books as a way to fight future logging efforts.

"He saw his books as a means of publicizing the unprotected trails in unprotected areas and get them a constituency," said Karl Forsgaard, a Seattle attorney who worked with Spring on conservation efforts.

Spring was deeply involved in the preservation of federally protected wilderness areas, which people can enter only on foot, horse or mule. He backpacked thousands of miles across those lands, often climbing steep passes and fording swollen rivers.

He was on the board of the Washington Trails Assn., a group dedicated to hiking interests and land preservation. Spring was also one of many who fought for the passage of the Washington Wilderness Act in 1984, which secured wilderness designation for 1 million acres in the state.

"The biggest tragedy of losing my father is that he knew the trails of the Pacific Northwest better than anyone I knew," said Spring's 52-year-old son, John. "He could tell you about a trail he had hiked 10 years ago -- exactly where a certain waterfall was or that there's a big mushroom growing" behind a particular tree.

Spring got his first camera when he was a boy through a Kodak promotion, and then hit the trails with his twin brother, Bob, and their Boy Scout troop.

Later, he served as a photographer in the Army Air Forces in the South Pacific, recording cultural sites and flying on reconnaissance missions.

In his later years, Spring worried that today's youth didn't love hiking as much as his generation had. He recently wrote:

"The generation gap could spell an end to the wilderness we know. Without people green-bonded to the out of doors, who will there be to defend our wild places from industry needing more resources and a Congress with more pressing issues to resolve?"

In addition to his son, who lives in Seattle, Spring is survived by his wife, Pat, and a daughter, Vicky, both of Edmonds.

Information on memorial contributions can be found at

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