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Originally published June 22, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Page modified June 23, 2014 at 11:02 AM

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Friends get news of hiker’s death on Mount Rainier

A friend of well-known outdoors writer Karen Sykes said Sunday he received a call from the National Park Service confirming that the body found Saturday on the east side of Mount Rainier is that of Sykes.


Seattle Times staff reporter

A friend of well-known outdoors writer Karen Sykes said Sunday he received a call from the National Park Service confirming that the body found Saturday on the east side of Mount Rainier is that of Sykes.

Official confirmation of the identify of a body isn’t expected until Monday from the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office, but Don Geyer said he was one of a handful of people who received a call.

Sykes, 70, went missing on Wednesday while she and her boyfriend, Bob Morthorst, were hiking in the Owyhigh Lakes area at Mount Rainier. When the pair encountered snow at about 5,000 feet, he stopped, but she went on, with plans for the two to meet up later.

When Sykes didn’t return, Morthorst hiked down and reported her missing. Rescuers searched on the ground and in the air, and found a body Saturday, off-trail near the eastern branch of Boundary Creek in rough, steep terrain.

The body was taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

The news saddened the many people who, like Geyer, had hiked with Sykes, met her through events at The Mountaineers or knew her through her many hiking stories for online publications and newspapers.

Geyer met her nearly 10 years ago when she was the first person to review his book of photographs of Mount Rainier.

“She was just somebody who couldn’t stay home,” he said. “If she wasn’t hiking, she was out running.”

Sykes’ stamina was amazing, he said. “You’d think she was 23 or something.”

Geyer wasn’t able to hike with Sykes often, he said, because she liked to hike midweek when he was at work.

But she had a number of other hiking companions, including Michael Fagin, a weather forecaster.

Fagin said he had hiked with Sykes for about 10 years, and never let her set the pace, because she’d move too fast for him to keep up.

Even when it reached lunchtime, she’d always want to go a little farther, he said. And even after she and her companions had stopped, he said, she’d spend most of the time taking photos.

“She’d be poking around, looking for the perfect composition for her flower photos,” he said.

Sykes loved wildflowers as well as photography, and would rattle off the names of every one she saw along the trail, he said.

“She’d give me a lecture every time we went hiking. I called her the flower child because her knowledge of flowers was phenomenal.”

She also wrote poetry, he said, and loved her many cats.

Other hikers would often recognize her on the trail, he added, stopping to ask, “Aren’t you Karen Sykes?”

And as soon as she finished a hike, she’d start talking about two or three others she was planning.

When she was younger, Fagin said, Sykes did some scrambling and perhaps some mountain climbing, but when he knew her, she stuck to hiking.

Over the years, she wrote a guide book, “Hidden Hikes in Western Washington,” and co-wrote “Best Wildflower Hikes Washington.”

For more than a decade, she also wrote a weekly hiking column for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as well as hiking stories for The Seattle Times, online publications and her own blogs.

She reportedly was researching a story on the day she went missing.

Friends said Sykes made a living from her writing, along with some part-time jobs. For a long time, said friend and outdoor photographer Alan Bauer, Sykes worked part time in a West Seattle pet store.

Bauer said he and other friends encouraged her to try to publish some of her poetry, but he wasn’t certain if she ever did.

He wasn’t sure where she grew up but knew she spent a lot of time around Shelton, Mason County, in her younger years.

Fagin said he didn’t know exactly what led to her love of the outdoors.

“I just think it was her comfort zone,” he said. “It was just a safe refuge ... a place where she was just able to relax.”

He also couldn’t say if she had a favorite hike. “She never met a hike she didn’t like,” he said.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @LShawST



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