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Take a Hike Seattle

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Scott Leonard J.D. ‘07 has authored or coauthored three guides to Northwest hiking, including Take a Hike Seattle.

by Shelly Meyer

On the second day of a four-day solo hike, deep in the Olympic Mountains of Washington state, Scott Leonard pitched his tent and settled in for the night. A cold October rain had pelted him during the day, and he knew he was in for a wet evening. What he didn’t expect was a wild ride. A few hours later, he awoke to the sensation of movement. A stiff north wind was dragging his tent across an alpine meadow that was fast becoming a lake.

“It rained 9 inches in 24 hours,” remembers Leonard. “I was soaked to the bone.” Braving swollen streams and washed-out trails, Leonard eventually made it back to civilization. It was just one adventure of many that Leonard, a recent graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, has experienced on his way to becoming a hiking enthusiast and guidebook author.

Leonard, who grew up in Gladstone, took his first “proper hike” as an undergraduate at the University of Puget Sound. He signed up for an advanced backpacking trip in the Olympics during freshman orientation and fell in love with hiking. “I thought, ‘Why haven’t I been doing this before? This is much better than camping in an RV with the grandparents.’”

After graduation, Leonard worked as a media buyer in San Francisco but soon returned to the Northwest. He spent two years at EarthCorps, a Seattle-based nonprofit and AmeriCorps affiliate that undertakes restoration projects on public lands in the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound area. It was while building and maintaining trails with EarthCorps that Leonard refined his hiking skills. “I went on long backpacking trips–up to 70 miles at a time–and developed a real appreciation for the trails,” he says.

Leonard has parlayed those skills into three hiking guidebooks. He happened on his first book deal through a friend who was an acquisitions editor for Avalon Travel Publishing. “I was interested in writing a book about Seattle’s restaurants and parks,” says Leonard, “so she encouraged me to put a proposal together. I threw in a bit about hiking too, sort of as a joke.” As it turned out, Avalon was looking for a writer to update the Washington portion of its Pacific Northwest Hiking guidebook. Leonard got the gig.

Eventually, Avalon divided the Northwest guidebook into Washington Hiking and Oregon Hiking, with Leonard authoring the former. Washington Hiking is organized by region and features more than 400 hikes.

Out of that project grew his most recent title, Take a Hike Seattle. The book covers hikes within two hours of Seattle, including trails around Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainier, and along the Mountain Loop Highway, Highway 2, and Interstate 90. It includes descriptions of trails, “Best Hike” lists, detailed directions, and user-friendly trail maps.

He hiked 70 of the 80 hikes listed and talked to friends who covered the 10 he missed. In putting the book together, Leonard looked for variety: a mix of trail difficulty, geographic regions, and skill levels–plus a special section on beach hikes. He wrote the book during the summer between his first and second years of law school.

When preparing his hiking guides, Leonard takes a notebook and a camera. He studied photography in college (he calls himself “a darkroom kind of guy”) and enjoys taking photos for his books. He also solicits amateur photographers’ images that he finds on hiking websites.

His book projects, of course, involve plenty of work off the trail: preparing directions, locating maps, and writing and editing.

Leonard says the feedback on his books is generally positive. “If I get any complaints, I find they’re usually about driving directions.”

Although Leonard doesn’t have other book projects lined up right now, he does plan to do guidebook updates every three or four years. He might also consider writing hiking guides for other parts of the country. Eventually, he hopes to work in a small law practice in a rural area to be closer to the hiking areas he loves.

According to Leonard, hiking is an opportunity to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness, revel in solitude, and be self-reliant. And even though he’s hiked more than 250 trails in his 29 years, he’s never once gotten lost.

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