courtesy of Karen Portin
At Lime Kiln trail on May 30, 2014- Karen Sykes is the woman in front in pink, Karen Portin is the woman in back.

Remembering Karen Sykes’ love of life

By Gwen Davis

Karen Sykes, the well-known hiker and author who died last week while hiking, loved life. She lived fully and richly, whether hiking or doing photography or writing. Her way of experiencing the world inspired a countless number of people.

“I was aware of her for several years before I emailed her,” said Karen Portin, a friend of Sykes. Portin new of Sykes from all of her writing, and was so enchanted with her that she wanted to personally connect.
“We exchanged emails in 2012, and we had so much in common with our interests in photography and hiking that we decided to meet.”

It was a quality friendship.

“We met up once a week, normally for a photography or hiking trip,” Portin said. “Lincoln Park was one of her favorite places. She also liked the garden at South Seattle College, but she really liked any park, especially ones that were in her area.”

The two were mutually inspired by each other.

“She loved to photograph beautiful things,” Portin said. “I did a lot of that with her. All of the things that she loved were things that I loved, as well.”

Sykes lived life richly, Portin said.

“She enjoyed the things that she did very much. She was a great liver of life. She would also share information and encourage other people to go out and experience the wonders of the outdoors. She was an educator as well as a leader,” Portin said.

Portin is currently retired, which was a blessing since it allowed her to meet up with Sykes regularly.
“She meant a lot to me,” Portin said.

Sykes died of hypothermia after being reported missing for days. The 70-year-old of Seattle failed to meet up with her boyfriend as planned during a day hike in the Owyhigh Lakes near Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier National Park officials suspended a three-day search for her on Saturday, June 21 when they discovered the body of a woman near the eastern branch of Boundary Creek in rough terrain.

A secondary cause of Sykes’ death was heart disease, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. She did not have other injuries, and officials ruled her death accidental.

Sykes was well-known in the Northwest hiking community. She wrote stories about hiking for online publications and newspapers, authored a guide book about Western Washington hikes and co-wrote another book about hikes in wildflower areas. She wrote a trail column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and produced additional stories about Washington treks for The Seattle Times.

She kept a blog called “Karens Trails” where she posted hiking-related stories, photographs and trail reports.
“A real zest for hiking”
Heidi Walker was another one of Sykes’ friends.

“I met her seven years ago while hiking,” Walker said.

How they met was interesting.

“I was a photographer and always shyed away from hiking,” she said. “But once I found myself on a hike where ‘cameras were welcome’. Since I could take my camera, I went.”
Sykes happened to be co-leading the trip.
Walker enjoyed the hike.

“Not long after that, I joined a hiking conditioning series she was leading, and I went on a couple of her hikes. We hit it off after the first hike.”
Walker hiked with her a couple more times beyond the series.
“One of the things I really liked about her was that she had an intuitive mind,” Walker said. “If she saw a flower, she wanted to know more about the flower. She had a mind that never stopped wondering about the world.”

“Karen had a way of looking at life,” Walker said. “She’d make up different names for different things. She didn’t want to celebrate birthdays so she uncelebrated them. She went on hikes with champagne glasses and apple juice.”

Skyes was enjoyed by her colleagues, too.

“We both wrote for Signpost Magazine, the magazine for the Washington Trails Association,” said David Cummings, one of her colleagues and friends. “We both taught for the mountaineers scramble course, and did some trips together, too.”

The two also went fishing in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“Karen had a real zest for hiking and was super passionate about it,” he said. “She was always hiking or planning her next hike.”

Cummings will always remember Sykes for her warm demeanor.
“She had a great smile that was ever present,” he said.

While Cummings is saddened by Sykes’ passing, he noted that there was sweet with the bitter.
“In some ways I’m glad that she got to go where she was happiest.”

From Karen Portin:
Celebrate the life and legacy of Karen Sykes at the Seattle Mountaineers on July 14, 2014.  Share stories and experiences with friends at 6:30 PM, with a program beginning at 7 p.m.  
Please send photos of Karen Sykes for incorporation in a slide show to Heidi Walker at   

Share reminiscences of Karen Sykes at NW Hikers Trail Talk or at 

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