Jim Webb, PCT caretaker, retires after more than 25 years

By Bob Arkes

Jim Webb, a long time Mount Hood Chapter caretaker, recently ‘retired’ from active trail work.

Jim oversaw an 11-mile section of the PCT encompassing Sedum Ridge in the Mount Adams Ranger district in Southern Washington. He is part of a group of long-time volunteers who have been with the Mount Hood Chapter from its beginnings, and though retired from caretaking, he plans to stay involved.

Jim and his wife Helen live in White Salmon, Washington, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, not far from the PCT. Bob Arkes, a fellow Mount Hood Chapter caretaker, recently caught up with Jim to talk about his time as a trail volunteer.


Jim, first things first.  Do you remember your first contact with the Mount Hood Chapter and your introduction to trail work?

In a neighborhood chance meeting with Brice Hammack and learning we had a common interest in backpacking, he asked if I’d like to do some trail “payback,” to which I readily agreed. Within a week or so he invited me to join a crew the following Saturday.

Have you always been outdoor oriented and interested in hiking?

I did some trail hiking during my college days in the mid 1950s, possibly on the PCT, but it didn’t register at the time. My first real exposure to the PCT was a book, Hiking the PCT, given to me by my brother in the early 1960s, while I was still struggling to earn my way through dental school. Upon completion of school and my military obligation, I led our growing family on many packing excursions.

An admiration and fascination with nature has been a part of me since early childhood. Getting to the top of a hill or mountain has long held intrigue. Both of my parents encouraged outdoor activity. My wife, Helen, has been a wonderful outdoor partner for over 60 years. My roots in the Northwest go back to 1854 with my great grandfather’s birth on the banks of the Umpqua River, then the Oregon Territory.

Jim, you mentioned dental school. You were an orthodontist professionally.  Somehow correcting teeth seems far different from correcting trails.

Orthodontics for me offered a chance to correct and improve someone’s mouth, so I guess trail work offered some of that same perspective.

Many trail volunteers have hiked the PCT or plan to. Do either apply to you?

For me, PCT hiking has only been in sections, although I have hiked most of Oregon and a fair portion of Southern Washington. Several years ago I hiked the first few miles north from Mexico and have done a similar excursion in northern Washington. So I suppose I’ve started and finished the PCT, but have left quite a few miles not hiked in the middle.

Last August I hiked with a grandson on the PCT from Panther Creek to the Columbia River. As a 21-year-old he was very patient with his 82–year-old grandfather with an artificial knee. I taught him quite a bit about trees and plants and he taught me some of the nuances of using newer equipment compared to my 50-plus-year-old Kelty pack.

You were a caretaker on Sedum Ridge. Was there a particular reason you adopted that section? Do you remember the first work party you organized?

Remember my joining Brice [Hammack] and his crew.  That was my introduction to what became the Trout Creek section. After about the third time out, Brice said: “You know how to run a chain saw – how about taking responsibility for this section?” and I agreed. At that time there was no Mount Hood Chapter, no Trail Skills College, no saw certification, no reporting. All I was told was to clear the trail to about an arm length on each side.

I have no record of my first work party, but it had to have been sometime in the late 80s, so I’m realizing I’ve been at this for more than 25 years.

What changes have you seen in being a trail volunteer through the years?

Changes over the years have been significant – especially in training and safety and more sophisticated equipment – resulting in more prescribed requirements for reporting, which are in the best interest of all and a good thing.

Do you have other volunteer interests?

A few others. I have been a volunteer tutor in middle and high school. I do some volunteering with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. I volunteer with the Portland Kiwanis, which provides a camp for the disabled. I lead and teach an adult bible class in my church. Plus, I try to keep up with four families and 12 grandchildren.

OK Jim, last question. What would you say is the greatest reward in doing volunteer trail work?

The rewards are many. The camaraderie and fellowship of others with common interest and purpose is certainly prominent, and to be able to do it in the wonders of natural creation only makes it richer. Plus, for me it is a thrill to turn the care of my section over to an enthusiastic and eager young lady.

Thanks Jim, I look forward to seeing you on a work party this summer, hopefully one of mine.

The Mount Hood Chapter and the PCTA would like to extend a formal “Thank you!” to Jim for his many years of true dedication. Whenever we’re on the section of PCT near Trout Creek, we will always remember the positive mark he left on the trail, and on our community of maintainers.

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