By Bill Sheets Herald writer
Despite late hiking author and photographer Ira Spring’s fame among outdoors enthusiasts, an obscure mountain in Snohomish County is the perfect one to bear his name, some who knew him say.
Three longtime friends of Spring’s — John Pollock, Tom Miller and Fred Beckey, all of Seattle — have applied to the state to change the name of Spring Mountain to Ira Spring Mountain.
The 5,770-foot mountain, east of the Mountain Loop Highway and about 15 miles southeast of Darrington, can’t be seen from the road and takes three to four hours to climb from the trailhead, Pollock said.
“Somebody said they thought it was very appropriate,” he said. “Ira was a quiet, low-key, behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”
Spring, of Edmonds, died of prostate cancer in 2003 at age 84. His name is on 64 hiking guidebooks and he was known as a leading advocate for trail enhancement and preservation.
If the Washington State Board on Geographic Names approves the application — a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 17 — it would be forwarded to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, said Caleb Maki, an administrative assistant for the state board. If approved at the federal level, the name of the mountain would be changed in all future references, including official U.S. Geological Survey maps.
“It came as a big surprise,” said John Spring, 57, Ira Spring’s son. “I think it’s an honor and a privilege. It’s a nice thought.”
The group didn’t notify Spring’s family because they wanted to make sure the application got through the red tape first, Pollock said.
A trail is already named after Spring. In 2003, at his urging, a trail to Mason Lake near I-90 was rerouted to make it more accessible. The following year, after Spring’s death, the U.S. Forest Service renamed route the Ira Spring Trail, complete with a plaque bearing his photo at the trailhead.
More recently, two of Spring’s friends talked about honoring him in a bigger way, by naming a mountain after him.
“Tom (Miller) and I discussed the idea when we were walking around Green Lake one day,” Pollock said.
The two contacted Beckey, an internationally known climber who is still hitting the trails at age 85, and he agreed to go in on the application.
The group set about researching how Spring Mountain got its name, to make sure they weren’t dishonoring someone else’s memory.
The mountain apparently was named for spring water or the season and not for a person, said Pollock, who met Ira Spring while working as publisher of Mountaineers Books in Seattle.
“We talked to old timers in the Forest Service, anywhere, trying to find out if anyone knew how Spring Mountain got its name and there just isn’t any history,” Pollock said. “We spent time on the Internet and in the library, on the telephone and no one knows anything about it.”
Climbing the mountain doesn’t require ropes or technical ability, but it does takes some rock climbing, said Pollock, who tackled it once, about 20 years ago.
“It’s a pretty desolate area,” Pollock said. “It’s what climbers would call a scramble.”
Spring began his career as a photographer in 1946. He and his twin brother, Bob, now 89 and living in Bellingham, photographed wilderness areas around the state and authored stories that appeared in national magazines such as Time, Life, National Geographic and the Saturday Evening Post.
Spring often took others hiking and used them as models for his photography. These included the twins Jim and Lou Whitaker — Jim became the first American to climb Mount Everest, and Lou owns Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the Mount Rainier-based guide service.
The first book in the “100 Hikes” series was published in 1966. Spring co-authored many of his books with Harvey Manning of Issaquah, who died in 2006 at 81, and Louise Marshall of Lynnwood, who died in 2005 at age 90.
As trails were lost to logging, road building and development in the 1960s and ’70s, Spring became an active preservationist, his son said.
“Every year he’s put on his shoes and go back to Washington, D.C., and lobby anyone who would listen,” said John Spring, who now lives on Mercer Island.
Ira Spring co-founded and served as president of the Washington Trails Association and also served as director of Recreational Equipment Inc., the Seattle-based outdoor equipment cooperative.
In 2000, Spring and his wife, Pat, established the Spring Family Trust for Trails, to raise money to restore, maintain and build trails. Since then, all proceeds from Spring’s books have been donated for that purpose, John Spring said.
Ira Spring never made much money from the guidebooks, his son said. He made his living taking wilderness photos for magazines and other publications.
“His love was always taking pictures of mountains,” Spring said.
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or email@example.com.
A public hearing on the proposed name change for Spring Mountain is scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 17 at the state Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia. Written comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.