Taking a moment to say thanks from atop Hugo Peak at Pack Forest

Staff writerJune 29, 2014 

Every hiker, runner and biker should have at least one good workout hill.

A place to condition your body, relieve stress and burn calories. A place convenient enough to drop by after work, before breakfast or during lunch. Bonus points if it’s snow-free in the winter.

I have a few, but my favorite is Hugo Peak near Eatonville. And I was introduced to it by Karen Sykes.

The morning after the 70-year-old hiking writer’s body was found at Mount Rainier National Park, I was stretching on top of the tiny peak when I was reminded of the woman who gave me this little gift.

In front of me was a bench fashioned out of a log, a summit register mounted on a post and a view blocked by trees and shrubs. It’s hardly photo-worthy. One comment in the register says “I can’t believe I hiked all the way up here for this.”

I snapped a picture anyway.

The day before, an image of the same scene was splashed on the front page of our website and those of many other news organizations. But in that image, Sykes was sitting on the bench, smiling as she rested her right elbow on a friend’s shoulder.

I never had the honor of crossing paths with Sykes. I knew her the way most did, from her regular hiking stories and photographs.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, she compiled an impressive hiking database for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She wrote guide books, maintained a hiking website and, most recently, wrote for visitrainier.com.

In one particularly tumultuous month in 2004, I moved and took a new position writing about outdoor recreation. I’d just finished an eight-year stint as a sportswriter and I weighed about as much as I do now when I’m carrying my fully loaded backpack.

I immediately started looking for the closest workout hill. I used (and still use) a couple small hills in my neighborhood, but I wanted a better option.

I was perusing the Internet when I found an article on Pack Experimental Forest written by Sykes in 2002. It was close and had a nearly 1,000-foot climb up a hill called Hugo Peak.

Sounded good to me, even though Sykes’ article pointed out the 4,300-acre University of Washington-owned landed was the site of a study on using recycled treated wastewater solids as forest fertilizer.

I was hooked on the place right away. The forest is packed with a web of trails and dirt roads totaling more than 50 miles.

Finding your way can be a little confusing at first. So confusing, in fact, a reader recently wrote me to say he couldn’t find the trailhead even with a map. (Find the map at packforest.org and find the Hugo Peak trailhead next to the forest gatehouse on state Route 7.)

It’s probably a bit unfair to label Hugo Peak a workout hill, because it and the surrounding forest are much more. While the forest has great training options for hikers, runners and mountain bikers, it’s also a fun destination in itself.

The Trail of the Giants showcases a 230-foot-tall tree and another that’s 9 feet around, but shorter thanks to a wind storm. There is the not-so-little Little Mashel Falls. There are signs of the University of Washington’s forestry research and much of the terrain is open for horseback riding.

It’s been 10 years since I declared Hugo Peak my workout hill, but it’s proven to be more than that for me too. It was the site of our family’s short-lived attempt at Thursday Hike Nights. Our dog thought the place was Disneyland (probably all of those treated wastewater solids). Sometimes I’d even head out there to work when I needed a little peace and quiet.

As I pedaled my mountain bike up the dirt road to Hugo Peak for the second time June 22, I remembered an email a reader sent me once to say thanks for a column she liked. She said it inspired her to get in shape. (The truth is, the person I wrote about actually provided the inspiration, but I’ll take what I can get.)

But the idea that stuck with me most from that email was her point that as we get fit, we need to remember to say thanks to those who gave us inspiration along the way.

So, when I got to the top I opened the summit register and scribbled a quick message for Karen Sykes: “Thanks for Hugo Peak.”

Memorial service

A memorial service for Karen Sykes, the outdoors writer who died on a hike in Mount Rainier National Park, will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 14. It will take place at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center, Magnuson Park, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 craig.hill@thenewstribune.com @AdventureGuys

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