Carsten Lien was a vice president at Washington Mutual and at REI. But his lifelong love was the wild Olympics. The advocate and author...

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Carsten Lien was a vice president at Washington Mutual and at REI. But his lifelong love was the wild Olympics.

The advocate and author who also was president of The Mountaineers has died at age 86. The cause was Parkinson’s disease, which he battled for 17 years. He died last Saturday, April 7.

Mr. Lien, who led The Mountaineers in 1988, spent 30 years researching “Olympic Battleground,” a landmark book on the forests of Olympic National Park and the fight to save them from logging.

Born in Seattle March 24, 1926, he joined the U.S. Navy in World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade. After he was discharged in 1947, his love affair with the Olympics began in earnest when he spent the first of several summers in Olympic National Park as a seasonal ranger naturalist.

A graduate of Ballard High School, Mr. Lien earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in education and history from Columbia University in New York.

He first tasted the joy of the mountains at 15, leading hikes with fellow Eagle Scout Dan Evans, who would grow up to be a governor and U.S. senator for Washington.

“Those were great hiking days, none of the fancy equipment, cooking over an open fire, not much in the way of a tent,” Evans remembered. “Carsty was one of the original environmentalists… . Over time you just get that sense of protection ingrained in you, you cannot spend time in the Olympics without recognizing that every plant, every rock, every stream is important.

“You learn early on, leave your campsite clean, leave it better than you found it, those things ingrain in you a sense of what is right and what is necessary to protect. Carsty was a very important guy in terms of the protection [of the Olympics] that we enjoy,” Evans said.

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Shelby Scates remembered working with Mr. Lien to build a cabin by hand at Quinault, hauling all the materials in through the thick brush. “We worked our tail off; we were out there in the rain for four or five days at a time and I don’t think we ever lifted anything less than 100 pounds,” Scates said. “We were walking in from the road about one quarter mile through the brush to the edge of the continent. At night we would just fall down and sleep in a tent in the rain, but we got it done. He was a tough guy.”

Mr. Lien’s career was wide ranging. Over the course of his professional life he ran and lost in races for the Seattle School Board and mayor of Seattle, and worked in both Washingtons.

“He was fun, smart, always interesting,” said Cristi Lien, his wife of 36 years. “That was something about living with Carsten Lien, you were never bored.”

Among his many jobs, Mr. Lien was deputy administrator of the Latin American Training Program for the Peace Corps; he helped implement President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs at the U.S. Department of Labor and, upon returning to Seattle in 1974, was senior vice president at Washington Mutual Savings Bank and then vice president and corporate secretary at REI.

When Mr. Lien wanted to learn how to use Microsoft Word, he taught it to himself by copying the Seattle Press edition recounting the 1889-90 Press Expedition, the first documented crossing of the Olympics, word for word. That book, “Exploring the Olympic Mountains,” also brought together accounts of many other explorers’ bushwhacking into the mountains he loved so well.

But through it all, remembered his son, Garth Lien, of Seattle, he always made time for his family.

“He was pretty amazing as a dad, when I think of everything he accomplished in his life. He was larger than life in a way, yet he was home for dinner every single day at the same time, and in the evenings and weekends he never worked,” Garth Lien said. “They were always for the family. Somehow he just organized his life really well. I was lucky not to have a dad that was an absentee dad.”

Far from it: When the kids were 4 years old they got their first tiny backpacks, the beginnings of childhoods growing up hiking, camping and skiing. “The way he operated was simply exposing us to that, and letting us come to our own sense of what the outdoors was. He didn’t preach,” Garth Lien said.

It wasn’t until much later that he understood how deeply his father felt about the outdoors, when Mr. Lien was watering ferns around their Wedgwood home one summer afternoon — ferns they had hand-salvaged to plant around their house. “He said he could hear them screaming for water, and he was really serious. He could hear them.”

Garth Lien said he learned early never to swat a spider. “He would say, ‘No, no they are living, too; they have a reason to be.’ I didn’t get it until I was a lot older when I realized that everything really does have a reason; life is precious.”

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Lien is survived by son Noel Lien, of Seattle, daughter Meredith Lien, of Everett, and sister Greta Brunberg, of Seattle.

A remembrance will be held at 3 p.m. April 28 at the Shilshole Bay Beach Club, 6413 Seaview Ave. N.W. in Seattle. The family requests friends to bring stories to share at an open microphone. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to the Carsten and Cristi Lien Olympic National Park Seasonal Ranger Scholarship Fund at any HomeStreet Bank branch, or The Mountaineers in memory of Carsten Lien, Attn: Development, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle, WA 98115.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or