Trails for everyone, forever
Three prolific trip reporters explain why they love writing up their hikes—and why you should too | by Cassandra Overby
When Stuke Sowle moved to Olympia five years ago, he didn’t know much about hiking. He knew even less about Washington’s outdoors. But he was drawn in by the state’s beauty, and for the first time in his adult life, he felt compelled to get outside and hit the trail.
A Google search led him to wta.org, where he found a treasure trove of information on nearby trails and something he considered just as valuable as the trail summaries he was devouring—reports from other hikers that spoke to the difficulty level, not-to-miss features, and current road and trail conditions of the hikes he was interested in. Those write-ups, better known as WTA trip reports, didn’t just lead Stuke to the right trail for his initial exploration. They led him to one great trail experience after another—and a hobby that now gets him outside more than 160 days a year.
Each year, thanks to their unique blend of information and inspiration, trip reports help thousands of Washington hikers like Stuke get outside and fall in love with hiking. There’s just one catch—for there to be trip reports, we need trip reporters, hikers who take the time to log their experiences on trail. As three of our most prolific trip reporters will tell you, writing trip reports is not only essential—it’s fun. Their stories illustrate three great reasons you should join their ranks: to give back, to share the trails you love and to be more mindful while you hike.
Like many trip reporters, Stuke (reporting as Stuke Sowle, 370+ reports) made the transition from reading other people’s trip reports to writing his own because of a need to give back.
“I started writing them pretty quickly,” he said. “I felt like it was something I needed to give back to because I was using the site and the tool’s only as good as what we put into it. Also, I knew I was probably getting out more than a lot of people, so I was seeing a lot of stuff that could be helpful for other individuals.”
For Stuke, that meant sharing information on current trail conditions: how accessible the road to the trailhead was, whether snow levels necessitated traction devices, what bridges were out, and the like. “When I write, I try to give as much of the specifics about the trail conditions as I can. Here and there, there’s a funny story. But for the most part, I just try to keep it to what I’m seeing out on the trail and what other people want to know.”
To Stuke, trip reports are about more than helping people get outside. They’re about helping them get outside safely. “I try to get on there and post trip reports and encourage other people to do it because you can prevent someone from going out there ill -prepared,” he said. “You can possibly prevent someone from getting themselves in trouble.”
For David Hagen (reporting as mytho-man, 560+ reports), trip reports aren’t just an opportunity to help hikers recreate safely. They’re also an opportunity to share trails you love. And if you’ve ever come across one of David’s many trip reports, you know there’s nowhere he loves more than Central Washington.
“I grew up in Seattle and moved over here in ’79 for a job,” he said. “I was going to stay three years ... and I’ve been here for over 30 now. I started writing trip reports because I really wanted to let people know how great the hiking is over here in Central Washington. There weren’t a lot of trip reports about the area, so I wanted to publicize it. There’s wonderful hiking over here.”
Because David is an avid photographer and his trip reports are aspirational in nature, they’re full of photographs that routinely entice even far away hikers into trying—and loving—the trails of Central Washington. And these days, many of them feature David’s current favorite spot to hike, which is the area east of the Columbia, from Potholes Coulee to Frenchman Coulee and around Lower Crab Creek and the White Bluffs. For David, the scenery isn’t just beautiful and close to home. It’s also world class.
“There’s no other landscape like that area in the world,” he said. “It’s the combination of the shrub steppe and the coulees and the effects of the ice-age floods on the basalt. (You can’t see it) anywhere else.”
Like David, Jenny Lamharzi (reporting as hikingwithlittledogs, 410+ reports) peppers her trail reports with photos, as much to jog her own memory about where she’s been as to inspire others to hit the trail.
“I hike a lot—this last year I hiked almost 100 hikes—and so I like to keep track of the hikes for myself,” she said. “I like to go back and look at (my reports) as a sort of photo album of the places I’ve been. I’m getting ready to go out of the country, and I wish that my out-of-the-country hike could be recorded. I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to document myself.”
In addition to giving her a digital log of where she’s adventured, the practice of writing trip reports has helped Jenny better remember her time on trail in another way—by being more mindful about what she’s experiencing as she hikes.
“Sometimes when I’m hiking, I’m thinking about what I’m going to put in my trip report,” she said. “If I see something or hear something or smell something, I think about how I would put that into a trip report.” For Jenny, the process of writing trip reports isn’t work—it’s fun. “I’m writing for myself as much as for other people.”
Regardless of what motivates you to start writing trip reports, it’s easy to get started. Sign in to wta.org/tripreports to access the simple form. There are two main steps to complete. First, you’ll enter the details of your trip—the name and date of the hike. Then, you’ll describe your experience on trail. There are several check boxes and drop-down menus to select from, as well as a text box where you can write your comments. You also have the option of uploading photos or videos from your hike.
The whole process can take as little as three to five minutes—or as much time as you’d like. “You don’t have to spend half an hour writing a trip report,” Stuke said. “You can get on there and say, ‘I was on Mount Si. No snow, good conditions.’ And that’s all. That’s all you need to write. And people will get the information they need right then and there. It doesn’t have to be something really elaborate. It doesn’t have to be a huge time investment. It just takes a couple clicks. And that keeps everyone who’s using the site up-to-date.”
When you’re finished, hit the “Submit Trip Report” button at the bottom of the page. It’s that easy. Within minutes, your trip report will be attached to the hike summary it pertains to and you’ll be helping a fellow hiker get outside.