Thomas Winnett

Thomas Winnett in the 1970s. Courtesy of Wilderness Press.

For nearly 40 years, Thomas Winnett and his award-winning PCT Guidebooks kept Pacific Crest Trail hikers on track. Winnett, founder of Wilderness Press, died April 14 after suffering for years from Parkinson’s disease. He was 89 years old.

Winnett founded Wilderness Press in 1967 with the publication of Sierra North, a book that was groundbreaking for its time since no other trail guide like it existed for the Sierra backcountry. Over the next 35 years, Winnett published books that covered hiking in California, Alaska, Hawaii, the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, New England, Canada, and Baja California.

It was 1972 when he lit upon the idea of creating a guidebook for the PCT. At the time, few had thru-hiked the newly minted National Scenic Trail, and the market for such a book was small. But he’d already written guides to the John Muir and Yosemite trails. The first guide covering California came out in May 1973. The combined Oregon and Washington guide followed a year later.

Winnett called it “Trail Scouting.” With a recorder in his backpack and microphone in his hand, from the late 1960s onward, Winnett personally scouted many hundreds of trail miles. In a 2009 interview, Winnett set out his guiding philosophy: “People in general are not going to do anything to protect the wilderness, unless they have been there personally and enjoyed it.”

The Pacific Crest Trail Guides have sold more than 100,000 copies and are considered crucial tools for anyone planning a long-distance hike on the trail. The series is now three books, with California covering the first two. Through many Wilderness Press publications, Winnett gave thousands the confidence to explore the high country and set them on the path toward protecting the outdoors.

The phrase “We held him close to our heart,” often marks someone’s passing. Thousands in the hiking community did exactly that for years preceding Winnett’s death. Tucked in so many chest pockets were Wilderness Press Pocket Guides or the torn-out pages from PCT guidebooks.

Roslyn Bullas, who recently sat at the editorial helm of Wilderness Press, called Winnett’s death “the passing of an era.”

— Barney “Scout” Mann





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