The summit isn’t where the journey ends, it’s where the story begins.
That’s the philosophy of mountaineer Lowell Skoog.
He will speak about the legacy of Washington mountaineers at the The Everett Mountaineers Awards Banquet on Nov. 5.
“Mountaineering has a very rich literature, in terms of storytelling,” Skoog said. “There’s a lot of interesting stories and interesting personalities.”
Skoog, 60, a retired software engineer who lives in Seattle, has been exploring the Northwest mountains since he began skiing with his family as a boy. He’s come a long way since he was a young man scaling peaks in $15 hiking boots and camping in a homemade plastic tent.
Mountaineering remains a passion, despite the tragedies that came with it. His wife, Stephanie Subak — “the center of my universe for nearly 32 years” — died after a fall while hiking with friends in a range of the California Sierra Nevada in 2015.
Their son, Tom, a sophomore at the University of Washington, occasionally joins his father on trips. “He hasn’t been smitten by mountains the same way I have been,” Skoog said. “But we go out skiing and hiking, and we’ve climbed a number of peaks.”
Skoog’s younger brother, Carl Skoog, died in a ski mountaineering accident in the Andes mountains of Argentina in 2005. As a tribute to Carl, Skoog completed a 25-year project traversing the Cascade Crest in numerous segments from Mount Baker to the summit of Mount Rainier.
Carrie Strandell, Mountaineers banquet spokeswoman, calls Skoog “a legend in Northwest mountaineering, backcountry skiing in particular.”
“Most people that have been associating with backcountry sports know his name,” she said. “I heard his name long before I really knew what he had done.”
Skoog joined the Mountaineers in the 1980s. He founded the Northwest Mountaineering Journal in 2004, and when he started writing a book about backcountry skiing in Washington, he turned to The Mountaineers library.
“I got involved in viewing the library’s videos and films, and I found some instructional films, some club outings back in the 1920s. Climbing Mount Baker, using horse-backers to get back in there,” he said. “These are real early backcountry and mountaineering trips. No one was really doing that except The Mountaineers.”
The Mountaineers Historians Association, which Skoog heads, was founded when the group recognized the need to gather the oral stories of the stars of those old films: their aging Mountaineers members.
“There’s a lot involved in the story of Northwest mountaineers,” he said. “Not just people going out and doing adventurous trips, but wrapped up in it are all sorts of issues of conservation, public lands and volunteering.”
Conservation is an important part of the mission for The Mountaineers.
Daniel J. Evans, 91, Washington governor from 1965-1977 and a U.S. Senator from 1983-89, became a fervent conservation advocate after his mountaineering trips.
“Dan Evans was a skier and he enjoyed hiking and climbing, and that influenced his approach to governing and public lands” Skoog said.
Volunteers teach classes on outdoor sports and safety, maintain trails, preserve historical artifacts and coordinate group outings.
“Skiing outside the ski areas has become much more popular. But that popularity has led to an increase in avalanche accidents, so there’s a whole community that is putting together an avalanche workshop in Seattle,” Skoog said.
The Mountaineers was founded in Seattle in 1906. An Everett branch was formed in 1910 by dentist H.B. Hinman. Other branches include Bellingham, Kitsap, Olympia, Tacoma and the newest Foothills branch, which includes Eastside and Snoqualmie.
“You find that sometimes there are connections between people who love the outdoors and other parts of our community,” Skoog said. “It’s a little bit like people who love the Seahawks. You find people from all corners. It’s a great way to get outside, see beautiful places.”
On his website, www.alpenglow.org, Skoog writes about Washington’s most famous mountaineers and documents his adventures. The book he is writing was inspired by backcountry skiing pioneer Dwight Watson.
“Some of his movies are just homage to nature, but he also did some of these real adventurous ski trips,” said Skoog, who owns a pair of Watson’s skis.
He also discovered Watson’s 600-page journal in The Mountaineers library. “And I’m probably the only person who’s read it,” he said.
Skoog’s research has unearthed interesting discoveries. “If you go back, you find the first event on Mount Rainier was a ski jumping event in 1917,” he said. “It was open to anyone who wanted to jump. The thing was, the contest was won by a 20-year-old Norwegian woman, Olga Bolstad. The first ski champion in Washington was a young, 20-year-old woman.”
Skoog hopes to celebrate the anniversary of Olga’s historic win in Mountaineers style.
“I’m thinking on the 100-year anniversary, let’s re-enact the ski jumping thing. Telling people, ‘Wear your biggest wooden skis.’”
Skoog says there’s still history to be made.
“One of the things that inspires me so much are all these cool old stories,” he said. “But those stories haven’t stopped.
“There’s still interesting adventures that people do, and issues that people discuss and grapple with.”
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