At 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, the Portland-based Lorain — author of three outstanding Northwest backpacking guides plus two other top-drawer general hiking titles — is not exactly Bunyanesque. Closer to Runyonesque, perhaps.
The “100 Hikes” series of trail guides that became the trademark of the late Harvey Manning and Ira Spring, and were well-thumbed Bibles for many Pacific Northwest hikers, are soon to disappear from store shelves. Who’s the next great Northwest trail-guide author? Here’s a profile of one candidate:
By Terry Wood
Special to The Seattle Times
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Think “outdoor guidebook author” and it’s logical to think of a hardy, all-season adventurer — skin tough as Kevlar; senses impervious to the elements; a physique that casts a sequoia-sized shadow.
Then you meet Doug Lorain and you revise your thinking. At 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, the Portland-based Lorain — author of three outstanding Northwest backpacking guides plus two other top-drawer general hiking titles — is not exactly Bunyanesque. Closer to Runyonesque, perhaps.
As we hiked in the Glacier Peak Wilderness this summer on one of 28 trips he describes in his second edition of “Backpacking Washington” (published this spring by Wilderness Press), I asked Lorain if he ever pursued athletics.
“Have you looked at me?” he says, lifting his arms and punctuating the question with his staccato laugh. “I wasn’t exactly the leading candidate to be an offensive tackle.”
Lorain is equipped with a few additional physical/psychological oddities as well:
• Pigment-deficient skin. His skin tone looks pale but not abnormal, yet on the trail he always wears pants, long sleeves and a Douglas of Arabia hat that drapes a sun-shielding curtain around most of his head. His sunglasses are glacier glasses. Only vampires avoid direct sunlight more vigilantly. How white is his skin? “In case of a power outage,” Lorain says, “I’ve subcontracted my body with the city of Portland for use as a neon light.”
• A diminished sense of taste. Only very sour, salty or sweet flavors register with Lorain’s underperforming taste buds. “Food on the trail isn’t a big deal to me,” he says.
• Discomfort in crowds. He can give a trail presentation in front of an audience. Just don’t expect him to stick around for questions afterward and possibly get encircled by attendees. “I finish talks by telling people that books are on the front table, then head for the exit,” he says.
Lorain, 45, has old-school tendencies, too. He uses only film for photographs, using an Olympus camera that has survived close to 30 years of backcountry use. He owns one backpack, two sleeping bags and four pairs of backpacking pants. Knickknacks and clutter are banished from his home. “I’m a proud, avowed minimalist,” he says.
He has sewn his own footprint for his tent and his own sleeping-bag liner. He creates his own walking staff (he’s on No. 8 right now), made from driftwood he found on the Oregon coastline. Its name: Webcutter, used to knock down early-morning spider webs that pop up across trails overnight.
He records his trail observations in longhand on a notepad. “I carry two pens and they never need new batteries,” he says. “Somehow it just works, writing it all down.
“I have my stick grounded firmly in the mud,” Lorain concedes. “Old is easier for me.”
Tried and true
No one who has used and benefited from Lorain’s detailed, well-researched trail descriptions is advocating that he change his ways. His three backpacking books for Wilderness Press, covering Washington, Oregon and Idaho, offer wonderfully comprehensive and insightful accounts of his judiciously selected trails.
Lorain rates each trip on a 1-10 scale for scenery, solitude and difficulty; provides good maps (of his own design); and orders his information, from special attractions to problems, in a way that makes it easy for readers to evaluate a trip’s appeal based on how these factors matter to them.
Vitally, Lorain routinely suggests tips and side trips that proactively respond to a wilderness traveler’s curiosity about what lies over that ridge or up that valley.
“You might disagree with what I think is the best,” says Lorain. “That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But you can’t argue with the comprehensiveness of the coverage.”
For the four-day trip we shared in late July, an in-and-out trip of 50-plus miles called the Entiat River Loop (Trip 13 in the second edition of “Backpacking Washington”), Lorain and I explored several of the tentacle trails his description recommends, all in a search for big views and quiet spaces.
On day three, we grunted nearly 3,000 feet up a meadow-filled valley with an alpine basin that holds two of Lorain’s favorite Washington lakes, Lower and Upper Ice Lakes, below 9,082-foot Mount Maude. I was dazzled, and it was obvious why Lorain gave this excursion a 9 rating for scenery — and why he spends most of his time hiking.
“Have you looked around?” Lorain asks. “Where else would you want to be?”
Building a reputation
Raised in the farm country of Oregon’s Willamette Valley north of Salem, Lorain acquired an interest in birding while his older sister gravitated to flora. “My dad called me ‘birdbrain,’ ” Lorain jokes. “My sister was the ‘blooming idiot.’ “
Lorain attended kindergarten through eighth grade in what was originally a one-room schoolhouse, then graduated as the valedictorian of his 60-member high school class in 1980 before heading to Oregon State University.
Lorain excelled in math, which steered him to a career as an accountant, but he never lost his childhood love for exploring the outdoors. Word got around that he was the resident know-it-all for cool outdoor places to visit.
“People would be constantly coming to me, ‘Doug, I want to take a hike this weekend, where should I go?’ ” he says. “I got tired of having to reinvent the wheel every time, so I started writing down some standardized recommendations. It sort of grew into a booklet-like arrangement. People would say, ‘Gee, Doug, you ought to publish this thing.’ “
So he decided to try, focusing on his favorite style of hiking: extended backpacking trips.
“I did not realize at the time that the way you do this is you send in a proposal to a book publisher,” he says. “No, I sat down and wrote the whole thing. I did all the research, put in the index, the photographs, the whole book and sent it off to publishers.”
Happily for Lorain, Wilderness Press published his effort, titling it “Backpacking Oregon” and releasing its first edition in 1998. Four other books have followed, including “100 Classic Hikes in Oregon” for Seattle’s Mountaineers Books in 2004. He hopes to publish a “Backpacking Wyoming” book in the future.
Having salted away enough money during his early years as an accountant, Lorain now considers guidebook work his principal occupation. He estimates he has hiked more than 30,000 miles in his career and has taken close to 4,000 hikes in Oregon alone.
“I’ve been able to hike my age in miles since I was 6 years old,” he says. “I did a 40-mile hike a few years ago, almost the whole [Mount] Jefferson [Wilderness in Oregon] traverse in one day,” he says. “I didn’t say it was smart. I just did it. When I turned 41, I shifted to kilometers.”
Alone with the outdoors
Lorain — intelligent, quick to ID flowers, a little quirky — calls himself a “hermit” with a Type-O personality (for outdoors) who finds humor in outdoor topics and wordplay. He can converse about pro baseball and football, but is he an outdoor geek?
“If you define the term as out of the mainstream, skinny and weird, then yeah,” he says with a laugh.
“Most of the things most people are interested in don’t interest me,” he says. “I don’t understand why anyone gives a rat’s behind about Paris Hilton or Tom Cruise or anybody else. I don’t get it, but clearly they do.
“I don’t care about food, I’m not much into music. The things that most people appear to be interested in bore the hell out of me. So I have a hard time relating to them and they have a hard time relating to me, and that doesn’t bother me, frankly.
“Most people, I don’t particularly want to relate to,” he says with another staccato laugh. “And that’s fine with me. I’ll just go for a hike.”
If you go
Entiat River Loop
On U.S. 97-Alt, drive north 15 miles from Wenatchee, turn West on Entiat River Road and travel 38 miles (most on paved road) to trailhead parking at road’s end just past Cottonwood Campground.
For more information
Entiat Ranger District: 509-784-1511; www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee
Suggested hiking itinerary
Here’s what Lorain and I followed:
Day 1 (8 miles): Hike 8 miles to the junction of the Entiat River and Ice Creek trails; set up base camp.
Day 2 (up to 18 miles): Day hike up the River Trail into the upper Entiat Meadows until the path ends. Options: Return via the Cool Creek Trail (recently cleared by trail crews) or hunt, as Lorain and I did, for an obscure 2-mile route up the north side of the valley that leads to a sky-high ridgeline view. Tread faintly appears in the vicinity of the junction of the River and Cool Creek trails. Nice view, but tough going.
Day 3 (12 miles): Day hike (out and back) to the trip’s main visual treat — a steep walk up dramatic Ice Creek Valley, then continue way up to Lower and Upper Ice Lakes. It is here that the trip’s scenery earns its 9 rating.
Day 4 (16-plus miles): Lorain hiked straight out to travel to Wyoming. I took a side trip up the Larch Lakes Trail, then climbed toward Pomas Pass to take in fine long-distance views along open slopes overlooking Rock Creek Valley and Glacier Peak to the West. If you exit via the Cow Creek trail for views of pretty Cow Creek Meadow, be aware that the distance to the River Trail junction is 4.5 miles, not 2.1 as noted in Lorain’s book (a rare glitch). The 2.1 miles appears to be the distance to the meadow.
— Terry Wood
Footnote: The 2006 Tin Pan fire burned roughly 10,500 acres in the Entiat River region. Happily, all key scenic regions on this hike were spared, and Entiat district recreation manager Randy McLandress reports that by mid-August trail crews had made huge strides in clearing deadfall from footpaths, even restoring the fire-obliterated junction that connects the Ice Creek and Pomas Creek trails.