Nature Notes

Vol. XII May, 1934 No. 5

Highlights of History in Mount Rainier National Park

Part VI.

The goal which Lieutenant Kautz and his party from Ft. Steilacoom sought was not to be achieved for some years. As far as is known, no one attempted to climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier until 1870 when man stood upon the highest point of the mountain for the first time. In Olympia at that time were two young, ambitious, and adventurous men. With muscles and spirit tempered by pioneer life in Washington Territory, they were admirably equipped for the accomplishment of this - at that time - almost superhuman feat. Hazard Stevens, son of the first Governor of Washington Territory and distinguished soldier during the Civil War, and Peter B. VanTrump, secretary to Marshal F. Moore (then Governor of Washington Territory) are the men who first stood upon Rainier's crest. A third man - Edward T. Coleman - who had several first ascents to his credit, among them the first ascent of Mount Baker, intended to accompany them, but due to some unfortunate complications dropped out before the others reached their base camp near the cascade now known as Sluiskin Falls.

The entire party left Olympia on August 8, 1870, and arrived at the ranch of James Longmire on Yelm Prairie in the evening. This group included a gay escort of young men and women who came this far with the climbers to bid them good luck on their perilous undertaking. Stevens and VanTrump had previously arranged with James Longmire for assistance in securing a guide capable of leading them to the base of Mt. Rainier. Longmire, himself, was later to figure prominently in the history of "The Mountain". Accordingly, with Longmire leading the way, Stevens, VanTrump, and Coleman began their journey the following morning. Several days later, after many hardships, they reached Bear Prairie, and near this spot Longmire found Sluiskin, a Yakima Indian, whom he persuaded to lead the party beyond this point.

sketch of The Mountain

Longmire returned to Yelm after this duty was performed while, guided by Sluiskin, the other three men picked their way toward the crest of the Tatoosh Range. Coleman stood dropped out, Stevens and VanTrump continuing onward with their Indian guide who led them upward over the steep slopes of the Tatoosh and thence along its crest among the various peaks. After advancing along this difficult and tiresome route, the party descended on the other side and advanced toward the mountain along what is now known as Mazama Ridge. Why Sluiskin chose this laborious route is a matter of conjecture. He may have desired to tire and discourage these white men hoping at the start to dispell their hopes of attempting what he regarded as foolhardy and impossible; he may have been seeking to prolong his employment (he was to receive one dollar a day for his services as guide); or he may have been influenced by the Indians' natural disinclination to inform the white man regarding heretofore virgin territory. At any rate, a much easier and shorter route might have been taken, and it is quite certain that Sluiskin was not familiar with it.

Sluiskin, during the journey, became greatly attached to his white employers, and began to admire their courage and fortitude. Accordingly, as his methods of discouragement failed, he began to warn them of the dangers that they would encounter by persuasive and impassioned speech. (See Meany's "Mt. Rainier - A Record of Exploration") Stevens and VanTrump refused to be discouraged, and on August 17, 1870, at 6:00 A.M. they started from their last camp near Sluiskin Falls (named by them at that time in honor of their guide). They had previously, at the request of the Indian, signed a statement to the effect that they had been duly warned, and that Sluiskin was in no way responsible for their deaths. This document Sluiskin intended to carry back to Olympia as proof of his innocence after waiting for the return of the climbers for a specified time of three days. He was sure that he would never again see them.

Nevertheless, after a grueling climb via Gibraltar Rock (the same route that is usually followed today), Stevens and VanTrump did reach the summit. They were forced to spend the night in the steam caves about the crater rim, and at 9:00 A.M. on August 18, they began the perilous descent. VanTrump received a painful leg injury, but the men reached camp safely where they were joyously received by Sluiskin, who had difficulty in realising that they were not ghosts but actually his friends in the flesh. (See accounts of this first ascent in Hunt's "History of Tacoma" Vol. 1, and Washington State Historical Society Publications, Vol. II (1907-19140).

After a rest at camp, during which time VanTrump's leg recovered sufficiently to enable him to travel, the party returned to Bear Prairie via the easier Paradise-Nisqually River route, and thence to Olympia. Thus was the great Rainier conquered for the first time. (C.F.B.)

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