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Originally published Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 12:02 AM

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Hiking guide author Craig Romano follows in footsteps of icons Manning and Spring

Craig Romano is one author of a series of guidebooks from The Mountaineers Books that replaces the long-popular "100 Hikes" series created by Harvey Manning and Ira Spring.

Special to The Seattle Times

Favorite fall hikes

Here are three fall hikes Craig Romano recommends, each featured in his "Day Hiking" guides from The Mountaineers Books:

North Cascades

Yellow Aster Butte

Round-trip distance: 9 miles

Elevation gain: 2,500 feet (high point: 6,563 feet)

Difficulty: 3 out of 5 (moderate)

Directions: Drive Highway 542 north of Bellingham 47 miles; just beyond a state Department of Transportation garage, turn left on Forest Service road 3065 (aka Twin Lakes Road). Go left at a junction; drive 4.5 miles to trailhead.

Romano says: "A basin full of sparkling tarns with spectacular views of Mount Baker, Shuksan and a jagged wall of peaks straddling the international border — plus huckleberries galore."

Central Cascades

Garland Peak

Round-trip distance: 10.4 miles

Elevation gain: 3,550 feet (high point 7,400 feet)

Difficulty: 5 (extremely difficult)

Directions: On U.S. Highway 2, 15 miles west of Leavenworth, travel north on Highway 207. In 4.2 miles go right at a Y (Chiwawa Loop Road), then left in 1.3 miles on Forest Service Road 62. Drive 9.4 miles to Forest Service Road 6210 and turn right. Drive 5.8 miles on gravel to trailhead.

Romano says: "It's horribly buggy in summer, but in the fall larches change color up high and the huckleberries turn crimson all over the open pumice slopes. It's very difficult early but wonderful at the top. The view of Glacier Peak is excellent."

Olympic Peninsula

Bogachiel Peak

Round-trip distance: 16 miles

Elevation gain: 3,450 feet (high point 5,474 feet)

Difficulty rating: 5 (extremely difficult)

Directions: From Port Angeles drive Highway 101 west about 31 miles, turn left on Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. Trailhead is at road's end, 14 miles. Park entrance fee ($15) required.

Romano says: "In September the High Divide area is abuzz with wildlife. On one trip I saw five bear, including a sow and cub splashing in a tarn. Views are superb, especially of Mount Olympus across the Hoh Valley."

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Career paths ordinarily do not follow footpaths. Author Craig Romano, though, loves being an exception, and a fairly unlikely one to boot — a Connecticut-born writer treading in the footsteps of revered Northwest guidebook icons Harvey Manning and Ira Spring.

"Writing trail guides is such a hard way to make a living," concedes Romano, 48, one of two writers (along with Times contributor Dan Nelson) who have authored a collection of day hiking guides for The Mountaineers Books to replace the signature "100 Hikes" series created by Manning (deceased 2006) and Spring (2003).

"But we do stupid things and fall in love with our passion," Romano says with a gregarious laugh. "I should know better than that — I'm a New Englander. But I'm also Italian. And that's the conflict: pragmatic Yankee, emotional Italian."

Grander dreams

Romano, today a Mount Vernon resident, addressed his pragmatic side by earning undergraduate degrees in forestry (New Hampshire Tech) and history and a master's in education (both at the University of Washington).

Yet he has spent just one year, the 1999-2000 school year, earning a paycheck in a traditional career setting, teaching history at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

Instead, he has supported his deep fondness for writing and the outdoors by working a variety of short-term gigs (surveyor, backcountry ranger, ski-lift operator, waiter) in order to keep grander dreams alive.

"I've been writing since I was a teenager," says Romano, who earned his first byline with a cycling column in his weekly community newspaper in Windham, N.H., about 20 miles north of another outdoor-loving writer's hangout, Walden Pond.

"I actually kind of miss waiting tables because I'm so high-strung," says Romano, who once ran the Boston Marathon. "I'd run circles around the 20-year-olds. I had the forestry degree, too, but I was more interested in conservation. Boise Cascade wasn't going to hire me to say, 'No, don't cut that tree.' But writing was always my first love."

He discovered the Northwest in 1980 at age 19 during the first of two cross-country bicycle tours and moved here for good after his first marriage crumbled. "I was amazed by Rainier," he says. "I knew I wanted to come back and do some hiking."

He wrote articles for niche regional publications (Outdoors Northwest, Northwest Runner) and landed a few bylines in Backpacker and Canoe & Kayak.

His first pitch to The Mountaineers Books, a guidebook on Eastern Washington's Kettle Range, was rejected, but later it became his first book after all when the nonprofit group Conservation Northwest enlisted him to write it for an advocacy effort — an arty, photo-heavy title ("Columbia Highlands") that The Mountaineers ultimately co-published.

The Mountaineers eventually recruited Romano, owner of two cats, to author a guide to hiking with dogs in Eastern Washington. He later coauthored a wildflowers guide with Karen Sykes. His thoroughness and zeal made him a natural choice to take on the day-hiking series.

"Craig brought a lot of fresh ideas on how to improve the [100 Hikes] books, and an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm," says Helen Cherullo, publisher of The Mountaineers Books. "He's like a hummingbird after a triple shot."

Hikes every mile

"I'm committed to this," says Romano, who has written three day-hiking guides (North Cascades, Central Cascades and Olympic Peninsula) and is at work on another (Columbia Gorge) as well as a guide to overnight hikes in the state.

"I hike every mile of what goes into my book," he says. "And the side trails. I put a lot of history into my books, too. Lots of sidebars."

Romano understands he's filling some significant boots. "When I came out here 20 years ago and bought Harvey and Ira's books, they were the Bible for me," he says. "I realized these guys were icons. It's amazing to have this opportunity to follow these legends."

Romano has remarried (he and his wife were wed three years ago at the exact Kettle Range campsite where they shared their first camping trip), hikes madly when weather allows and is loving life. This, he believes, is what he has been fated to do.

"I have my permanent substitute teaching certificate, and in a crazy economy I might have to go back into a classroom at some point. So I won't say I'm done with teaching. But I would very much like to continue my life as a writer and die with a manuscript on the computer screen."

Terry Wood is editor of the Expert Advice section of REI.com. Reach him at farhiker@rei.com.

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