Ken Wilcox said he was a hiking nerd stretching back to the 1980s, and even before then really.
He’d head to a trail in the Chuckanuts after work during summer, taking advantage of the season’s long daylight hours to hike. On the weekends, he’d trek up into the North Cascades.
“I was just out there all the time,” said Wilcox, now 63.
So much so that he became known as the guy to ask about local hikes that would show waterfalls, glaciers or whatever else the person asking wanted to see or experience.
“Finally, one day, somebody said you should just write a book,” he said.
That book was “Hiking Whatcom County.” The first one came out in 1987. The sixth, and latest, edition will publish mid-May and is a major update, with about 15 additional hikes, Wilcox explained during a phone interview from Alexandria, Va. He and his wife moved there from Bellingham five years ago.
Wilcox works in nearby Washington, D.C., as an outdoor recreation planner. They still have a house in Bellingham and plan to return.
“We miss Bellingham. That’s really our community,” Wilcox said. “We’ll get ourselves back there before too long.”
He visits Bellingham a couple times a year, he said, and tries to “catch at least a few hikes every trip west.”
“Last summer I tried to hit most of the trails along North Cascades Highway, before the Newhalem fire,” Wilcox said. “The summer before, I was mostly around Mount Baker. I was in Bellingham at Christmas for about 10 days and was buzzing around all over the place trying to grab missing details, photos and all for lowland hikes.”
All of the “Hiking Whatcom County” editions have been self-published endeavors.
For the first one, Wilcox printed 2,000 copies because he didn’t want to end up with a bunch of the hiking guides in his garage if people didn’t buy them. He sold them all. He published a second batch, then a third.
He’s kept going.
“It’s amazing. It’s become a local resource,” Wilcox said.
“Hiking Whatcom County” is one of a number of hiking guidebooks from Wilcox. His other publications include “Hiking the San Juan Islands” and “Hiking Snohomish County.”
He is the author of “A National Jaunt,” a soon-to-be-published urban walking guide to Washington, D.C.
The first edition of “Hiking Whatcom County” featured 44 hikes, and it was a sampling of what was out there.
What’s new in sixth edition
The sixth edition is more comprehensive than the first. It has a total of 125 hikes and walks in town, along the coast, and up in the Chuckanuts, Mount Baker and the North Cascades — outings that range from easy ambles to steep grades that require sweat equity for a stunning view.
It includes some history, black and white photos inside, his perspective, and maps — while still maintaining the compact size that makes the guide portable and a favorite, even as Wilcox added new hikes and revamped the book so that the number of pages grew.
“It’s a major update. I basically rewrote the entire thing. I updated all the details and directions, things to see along the way, added a little more color and details to the trail description,” Wilcox said.
Ask him what his favorite trail is in the book and he’ll say it’s hard to narrow them to just one.
Close to Bellingham, it’s the forested Rock Trail. Volunteers from Washington Trails Association and Mount Baker Club helped create and build the route, which was completed in 2014 in Larrabee State Park. Wilcox has been credited with being the initial driving force behind the trail and designing the upper half of it.
Up higher, he remembers still his first hike into the Cascades.
He had gone with some friends up to the Railroad Grade. And there was Mount Baker, up close and in your face, snow-capped and covered in glaciers.
“It was a perfect day,” he said, “and I was just blown away.”
Wilcox is a lover of steep and hard trails, so Welcome Pass, High Divide and Hannegan Peak are high on his list of favorites.
Why it is popular
As for “Hiking Whatcom County,” it’s been described as a beloved best-seller and a guidebook bible by the region’s hikers.
That’s because it’s well-organized and well-written with clear directions, great descriptions and periodic historical information, said Drew Winsor, a member of the Mount Baker Club, which is sponsoring one of Wilcox’s upcoming appearances in Whatcom County for the sixth edition of his book.
It’s a view shared by Bud Hardwick, a member of the Mount Baker Club who has helped check Wilcox’s directions in the guidebook.
He praised Wilcox for the book’s thorough coverage — “from coastal areas to remote and lesser-hiked trails ... to popular parks and viewpoints.”
“The occasional historic references, particularly to those of wilderness protection, are fascinating and reveal how tenuous the preservation of some of these areas were, and how grateful we should be that individuals stood up for them, often at great sacrifice to themselves,” Hardwick said.
Wilcox attributed the guide’s longevity to its compact size and the appeal for people of having a guide to the many different and stunning routes — beachfront to alpine meadows, forest to snow-capped mountains and glaciers — that are in their backyard, and what a beautiful backyard it is.
“It’s our culture in the area,” Wilcox said. “People love to get outside.”
Ken Wilcox will be in Bellingham to discuss the new, and sixth, edition of his iconic guidebook “Hiking Whatcom County.”
Wilcox also will show pictures of hikes found in his new book. Dates for his appearances are:
▪ Thursday, May 26, 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Fireplace Room of Fairhaven Library, 1117 12th St. Wilcox will give away three signed copies of his book.
The Mount Baker Club is hosting the event. The hiking club,which has 266 members, also focuses on trail work, conservation and maintenance of the Winchester Lookout. It organizes outings for hiking, bicycling, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking and canoeing.
▪ Sunday, May 29 (the day of the Ski to Sea race and festival in Fairhaven), 2 to 4 p.m. at Village Books for book signing.