Lois and Ward Irwin, of Mercer Island, met during a Mountaineers basic climbing course more than 60 years ago and got hooked, first on each other, then on Alaska wilderness, through trips offered by the group in the 1960s. They skied, canoed, camped and fished throughout the Arctic – traveling there for weeks at a time when high-tech gear was yet to be designed. In the bush for almost six weeks, they planned and orchestrated their food and travel with great safety, visiting some of the most remote parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Between the two, they have summited Mount Rainier eight times.
Now, the Alaska Wilderness League will honor the couple with its Voice of the Wild Award.
The league created the award to recognize individuals whose actions, commitment and contributions have led to greater awareness of the importance of protecting and preserving Alaska’s wilderness.
The presentation will take place at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the league’s annual awareness-raising event at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, Seattle. The gathering will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wild lands.
A retired Boeing engineer, Ward Irwin is also an accomplished pilot – starting in the 1930s as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served on REI’s board of directors from 1954 to 1956.
Lois Irwin was a nurse who graduated from Yale’s public health master’s degree program and moved to Seattle in 1946. Lois chronicled every trip they made to the Arctic in notebooks handwritten in pencil.
“We are proud to be recognizing this pioneering couple, who have protected the Arctic Refuge at every turn,” Cindy Shogan, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a written release. “The Irwins have not only visited and experienced the Arctic Refuge, but they have also spent more than 50 years fighting for its existence. On the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Irwins are the perfect couple to recognize for their long-standing passion and commitment to preserving wild places.”