In August 1966, 100 Hikes in Western Washington is published, kicking off a best-selling series that will span more than 30 years and sell hundreds of thousands of copies. This first volume is written by Louise B. Marshall (1915-2005), with photographs credited to Bob Spring and Ira Spring (1918-2003). It will quickly go through three printings, selling 15,000 copies within six months and 50,000 copies before going out of print. Ira Spring will collaborate with Northwest hiking legend Harvey Manning on the remaining books in the series, and their guides to Northwest trails will become hiking bibles for generations of outdoors enthusiasts. Their very popularity, in the eyes of some, endangers the wilderness they lovingly describe -- a philosophical and practical dilemma that will eventually estrange the long-time collaborators.
The Mountaineers Books
In 1960, The Mountaineers, an organization for Northwest climbers that dates back to 1906, took its first significant venture into publishing with a climbing guide entitled Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Ira Spring helped organize the photographs for the book and Harvey Manning was editor. The guide was an unexpected success, and the profits it earned were used to establish a Mountaineers Literary Fund Committee to select and oversee the production of additional books, and to ensure that any future profits were used for publishing and not for other club purposes. This committee evolved over the years into The Mountaineers Books, and the name change became official in August 1978.
Since those early days, The Mountaineers Books has gone on to become a leader in its field and has published more than 500 volumes, including dozens of outdoor guides and works promoting the group's interest in conservation and wilderness protection. But the death of Ira Spring in 2003, followed by Harvey Manning's passing in 2006, marked the end of a four-decade era that had contributed greatly to the organization's publishing success.
The Book That Started It All
According to Ira Spring's autobiography, An Ice Axe, a Camera, and a Jar of Peanut Butter, the idea for the first book in the 100 Hikes series came from a British guidebook that described 100 hikes in the Alps. Following that basic format, a committee of Mountaineers stalwarts set about drawing up a list of their 100 favorite Northwest hikes. About 60 of the hikes had already been photographed and documented by one or the other of the Spring brothers, leaving 40 or so to be hiked.
An author was needed, and Louise Marshall, who had just founded the Signpost newsletter for hikers and who was to be a moving force in the establishment of the Washington Trails Association, was selected to write the first in the 100 Hikes series. Marshall, although a seasoned hiker, had trekked only about a dozen of the 100 trails chosen for the book, so Harvey Manning was recruited to write about those he had hiked. Ira Spring and his wife, Pat (1923-2009), often accompanied by their children, John and Vicky, spent the summer of 1965 hiking and photographing the remaining 40 trails. It is likely that all the photographs were by Ira -- by this time the Spring brothers were working mostly on separate projects, although they would share all photo credits throughout their professional lives.
The result of these efforts, entitled 100 Hike in Western Washington, came off the presses in August 1966. Its creators thought of it as a niche product that might sell a few thousand copies over time, and a first press run of 5,000 was ordered, expected to last at least two years. These disappeared from the shelves within three weeks; the next 5,000 lasted barely a month, and a third 5,000 was gone by the end of the year. The Mountaineers and its Literary Fund Committee had a major hit on their hands.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The success of 100 Hikes in Western Washington seemed to show that there was a large number of people who had been just waiting for someone to tell them where to go, and even though they were given 100 options, the hikes described in that first book soon became overcrowded. It became so bad, in fact, that long-time hikers began to refer to the book as 100 Hikes Not to Go On. Ira Spring, in a 1974 interview with Backpacker magazine, had to admit:
"All right, 100 Hikes was a mistake because it picked only a few places and hikers congregated there. Before it could be turned off, almost 50,000 books were printed ... . Still, I'm not going to apologize for it because the error was unintentional. But even among The Mountaineers membership there was dissension as to whether it was going to do all that much harm and whether we should keep publishing it" (Backpacker, p. 54).
Since there was no way to stop the flow of new hikers, it was decided that the best way to tackle the problem of trail congestion was to simply provide more trails. The overwhelming success of 100 Hikes in Western Washington created the imperative for additional volumes, and Ira Spring and Harvey Manning set to work.
Trying to Strike a Balance
While Spring, Manning, and their colleagues at The Mountaineers were planning where to go next, the Mount Rainier National History Association approached them and asked that they put together a volume to guide hikers in the Mount Rainier area. 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park was published in 1969, and the result, again, was a rapid increase in the number of hikers on the trails described in the book.
Spring and Manning were really caught in a dilemma. They both believed that the best way to protect wilderness areas was to create a constituency of hikers who would fight for that protection. Spring would later call this "green bonding," comparing it to the bond that develops between a child and parent. On the other hand, the larger the constituency they were able to create, the less "wild" the places their guidebooks described would become. More books, more hikers. More hikers, less solitude.
For 32 years after the 1966 debut of 100 Hikes in Western Washington, Spring and Manning would try to reconcile the irreconcilable by describing more trails in more areas. Each volume in the series was not simply a guidebook, however: Manning, in particular, used his pungent style to advocate for the wild areas both he and Spring loved so well. But the number of new hikers always outstripped the number of new trails, and the authors seemed to always be playing catch-up. There was really no good answer to this quandary, and near the end of their lives it was to cause an irreparable rift between the two men who together had done so much to open the wonders of the wilderness to anyone willing to put on a pack and head for the hills.
Thirty-two Years and Hundreds of Hikes Later …
Although the "100 Hikes" title had a nice roundness to it, the second book, 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, demonstrated the need for flexibility. Some wilderness areas did not have 100 hikeable trails, and others had slightly more. But the goal of documenting every worthwhile hike remained the same.
Ira and Pat Spring spent several consecutive summers hiking and photographing Northwest trails for the series. Harvey Manning took on many of the longer, multi-day hikes. And Vicky Spring, Ira and Pat's daughter, participated as co-author on one volume in the series, 100 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes, published in 1985. By 1998, Spring and Manning could look back on a hiking canon that included the following titles:
100 Hikes in Western Washington (with Louise B. Marshall), published 1966
50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, published 1969
101 Hikes in the North Cascades, published 1970
102 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes, South Cascades, and Olympics, published 1971
100 Hikes in Washington's South Cascades and Olympics, published 1985
100 Hikes in Washington's North Cascades, published 1985
100 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes, published 1985
100 Hikes in the Glacier Peak Region: The North Cascades, published 1988
55 Hikes in Central Washington, published 1990
100 Classic Hikes in Washington: North Cascades, Olympics, Mount Rainier & South Cascades, Alpine Lakes, Glacier Peak, published 1998
And their output wasn’t limited to the 100 Hikes series -- interspersed between those volumes were additional works by both Spring and Manning, working together or with other co-authors, and often for publishers other than The Mountaineers Books. Together and apart, Spring and Manning dedicated their lives to preserving the wild areas and protecting them from the degradations caused by logging, mining, roads, and other threats. Only after the last book in the series was published did their approach to wilderness preservation diverge.
The increasing use of wilderness trails by hikers of all levels of competence and environmental consciousness was troubling to both Spring and Manning. Spring, right up to his death in 2003, believed that the benefits gained by creating a huge wilderness constituency -- "green bonding" as he called it -- justified the sacrifice of pure solitude. Manning was not so sure, and slowly came to the view that some areas should be simply left alone.
By early 2003, just months before Ira Spring's death, the split became irreparable. Their last argument was over a title change to a new book, but its roots ran much deeper. Manning had come to view Spring as a "trail promoter" rather than an environmentalist; Spring thought Manning's belief that some areas must remain inviolate was tantamount to selfishness.
The argument was almost metaphysical, with Manning believing that deep wilderness areas that were opened to hikers were, by definition, no longer wilderness, and Spring believing that such areas could remain wilderness, and protected from commercial interests, only by opening them to an ever-expanding hiking constituency.
Sadly, the two never resolved their late-life differences. Ira Spring died in 2003, and Manning three years later. But despite the unfortunate end to their long collaboration, they left behind a legacy of wilderness wisdom that has allowed many to enjoy the great outdoors as they did, and that will guide generations still to come.