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Pathfinder, Ron Strickland and the Pacific Northwest Trail

Ron Strickland
Courtesy Ron Strickland

During a recent trip in the San Juan Mountains I spoke with experienced climbers about their future goals. A few were setting their sights on ultra-long distance backpacks instead of higher, harder, more remote peak climbs. I’d heard of people doing the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail, but this was the first time I heard of the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Pacific Northwest Trail
Officially known as the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), it spans 1,2000 miles from the Continental Divide in Montana to the Pacific Ocean in Washington. An end-to-end traverse includes crossing the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades and Olympic Mountains. The total journey crosses three National Parks and seven National Forests.

PNT Guidebook
Buying a copy of The Pacific Northwest Trail Guide, by Ron Strickland might be a spendy proposition. Current prices range from $93.80 to over $460.80 on for the out-of-print second edition. However, Ted Hitzroth's PNT maps are now available online or in hard copy.

Pathfinder: Blazing a New Wilderness Trail in Modern America
More research on the PNT kept leading me to the name Ron Strickland. Just who is he and how did he carry his vision of the PNT for over 30 years? To learn more I read his memoir, Pathfinder: Blazing a New Wilderness Trail in Modern America.

The book serves as a lens into the transformative experiences of hikers far and wide. The collection of vignettes describes colorful mountain miners, communes and days upon days of living in nature. Early chapters are linear in their sense of time and adventure.

Further along, story tangents weave deep into the human condition. Strickland gets inside people, deep inside their heads, much more so than being bogged down with outward appearances. He notes possibilities rather than shortcomings and writes about feelings in such passages as, “I realized that hiking is full of little moments that don’t add up to much in the big scheme of things but which comprise the indefinables that make life worth living.” Pathfinder, page 73

Ron Strickland, a man with a vision
Speaking with Strickland about his memoir, I encountered a person of incredible perseverance, patience and crystal clear vision.

When asked about what specific advice he had for someone embarking on a decades long project like the PNT he replied, “Talk to people about it. Inspire them.”

Strickland refers to himself as “a stubborn Yankee who won’t accept defeat.” He also emphasized the importance of mentors and having an open mind to be inspired by others.

His take on patience is, “If you believe in something, you have to stick with it.” He indeed stuck with his vision for the PNT, starting in 1970 with initial explorations and seeing it through to designation as a national scenic trail in 2009.

A new mission for Strickland is getting people of all ages off the couch and outdoors onto a trail. His genuine concern with the dwindling numbers of young people on trails is fueling his passion to bring hiking to the public.

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Have fun and be safe out there!


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