Nature Notes

Vol. XV June - 1937 No. 2

Chapter Four


To the Indian people that dwelt within sight of this great mountain, the majestic volcanic peak had generated a feeling of awe and reverence. They rarely ventured high upon the slopes of Mount Rainier. As far as is known, no Indian even stood upon the crest of Mount Rainier until the feasibility of the ascent had been amply demonstrated by numerous white men and the natural fear of the Indian dispelled thereby. Only in comparatively recent years have Indians made the ascent and even now these records are rare (*). In spite of this apparently general fear or indisposition of the Indian to scale the mountain and the lack of any definite record of any early Indian's ascent, there are several factors regarding such activities that bear upon this subject. These, if they are not indications that the Indians did reach the summit, may imply that some of the original people of this region had ambitions in this regard.


(*) See "Mountaineer" Volume XIII No. 1 (November 1920) page 49 for account of an ascent by a group of Indians.


We find in the Indian legend which deals with the greedy miser and his lust for "hiaqua, (Indian shell money) a folk lore account of a mythical ascent. The second point of interest in this connection is found in the speech of Sluiskin on the night preceeding the ascent by Stevens and VanTrump. (**) In this speech he outlines the dangers which they will encounter. Thus he attempted to dissuade then from their intention of ascending the mountain which he considered foolhardy.


(**) "Your plan to climb Takhoma is all foolishness. No one can do it and live. A mighty chief dwells upon the summit in a lake of fire. He brooks no intruders."

"Many years ago my grandfather, the greatest and bravest chief of all the Yakima, climbed nearly to the summit. There he caught sight of the fiery lake and the infernal demon coming to destroy him, he fled down the mountain glad to escape with his life. Where he failed no other Indian dared to make the attempt."

"At first the way is easy and the task seems light. The broad snow- fields over which I have often hunted the mountain goat, offer an inviting path. But above that you will have to climb over steep rocks overhanging deep gorges where a misstep will hurl you far down - down to certain death. You must creep over steep snowbanks and cross deep crevasses where a mountain goat could hardly keep his footing. You must climb along steep cliffs where rocks are continually falling to crush you, or knock you off into the bottomless depths."

"And if you should escape these perils and reach the great snowy dome then a bitterly cold and furious tempest will sweep you off into space like a withered leaf. But if by some miracle you should survive all these perils the mighty demon of Takhoma will surely kill you and throw you into the fiery lake . . . . ." (from the Indian warning against demons as told to Stevens and VanTrump by Sluiskin their Indian guide; translation by General Hazard Stevens and printed in Meany's "Mt. Rainier - A Record of Exploration", Macmillan Co., 1916.


It is also interesting to note that Wapowety, the Nisqually Indian guide who accompanied Kautz and his party on an attempted ascent of Mt. Rainier in 1857 showed no fear of making the climb and started out from the base camp in good faith, to reach the summit with the rest of the party. After climbing a considerable distance he turned back on account of snowblindness.

Thus, while we have no definite record of any Indian completing a climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier we have, in these sparse examples, an indication that some adventurous souls among the aboriginal people of this region did have a desire to accomplish this feat.

With the coming of the white man into the Pacific Northwest and the gradual settlement of this region the mountain took on a new meaning. It became a beacon of conquest, and a desire to stand upon its broad crest burned in the hearts of many of the early pioneers of the region. In 1833 Dr. William Fraser Tolmie made a "botanizing expedition" into the mountain from Ft. Nisqually and by so doing became the first white man to enter the region now the park. He may have had incidental ambitions to stand upon Rainier's summit but this desire was not to be realized as his ten days leave, granted by the factor at Fort Nisqually, was not sufficient to allow further explorations from Tolmie Peak, the place to which he penetrated in this area.

In 1841 the U. S. Exploring Expedition, in command of Commander Charles Wilkes, made extensive explorations in and about the Pacific Northwest and for a time the party headquartered in the vicinity of Fort Nisqually. Wilkes had ambitions to attempt. a climb to the summit but the unfortunate wrecking of the "Peacock", one of the expedition's vessels, on the Columbia bar made it necessary for the expedition to abandon ideas along this line in the face of more urgent duties in connection with the Peacock disaster. In August of 1854, according to Len Longmire, three men, two of whom were Benjamin and Sidney Ford, were supposed to have made an at tempted ascent. Neither of the two left any record of this attempt (*) and so it is not until July of 1857 that we find any recorded effort along this line.


(*) Len Longmire is the grandson of James Longmire, early settler in the lower Puget Sound area and discoverer of Longmire Springs in Mount Rainier National Park. Len is himself familiar with the early days in this region and knew many of the early characters who contributed to the history of this section. His tale is verified by Mr. Joseph Hazard's book "Snow Sentinals" (Pages 144-145).


In the garrison at Ft. Steilacoom was a young lieutenant named A. V. Kautz who, according to his own admission, had a passion for standing on high places. We can readily understand, then, why ho desired to climb to the topmost point of Mt. Rainier, inasmuch as this glorious peak was visible from the barracks on Puget Sound. Accordingly, at noon on July 8, 1857, Kautz started on this quest which had for several months been one of his chief topics of conversation. He was accompanied by Dr. O. R. Craig of the garrison at Ft. Bellingham, and four soldiers. Later in the day they wore joined by Wapowety, a Nisqually Indian who was to guide them to Mt. Rainier. (**) Kautz had made every effort to learn as much as possible about the equipment necessary for such a hazardous undertaking but such information was, of course, very meager in this region at that time. Even in the Alps - the experiences of climbers there having served as Kautz' chief source of information - mountain climbing was not as general at that time as it was to be in later years. The equipment that they carried on this memorable journey then was of the most rudimentary type and the time for the completion of the journey was greatly underestimated. This had a particular bearing upon their food supply which was exhausted long before their return to Ft. Steilacoom.


(**) The Nisqually chieftain, Leschi, who was imprisoned at Ft. Steilacoom at that time for his part in the Indian war, and whom Kautz had befriended, aided in obtaining the services of Wapowety for the party and also gave Kautz the benefit of his knowledge of the region that they would traverse.


The party traveled as far as possible by horseback - a journey of one day to Mishal Prarie where they left two of the soldiers to care for the animals until such time as they would return. Kautz, Dr. Craig, two of the soldiers, whose names were Dogue and Carroll, and the Indian Wapowety pressed onward through the deep forest on the following day. After considerable hardship over a period of several days, they reached the Nisqually River, no doubt at a point approximately in the vicinity of the present town of National. From there they followed up the Nisqually to the snout of the glacier of the same name (*) climbed up the face of the ice and eventually made a base camp on July 14th in an alpine cirque between 5500 and 6000 feet on the west side of the Nisqually Glacier. This journey was replete with hardship and tremendous effort as it required eight days for the heroic band to reach this point from Fort Steilacoom. At 8:00 A.M. on the following day the entire party started the ascent. They climbed slowly along Wapowety Cleaver (**) finally reaching the glacial ice over which they proceeded toward the summit. One by one the various members of the party dropped out.


(*) From Kautz' account of the trip, which identifies certain prominent landmarks in the vicinity, we know that the snout of the Nisqually occupied a point approximately 100 yards below present Glacier Bridge. This fact serves as part of the glacial recession data made annually by the Naturalist Department of the National Park Service, Mt. Rainier Nat. Park, since 1918.

(**) Named for the Indian guide.


The effort required in penetrating the untracked wilderness, the lack of suitable food and the hardships that they endured on account of these factors had taken their toll of human endurance. Wapowety, due to snowblindness, and Carroll were the first to drop out. The doctor began to lag behind and finally Dogue was forced to abandon the attempt. Kautz continued on a short distance, but it was now after 5:00 P.M. and the weather gave promise of turning bad. Storm clouds began sweeping in and fog gathered about the glaciated slopes of the great volcano. In the face of such adverse conditions Kautz also turned and retraced his steps. Concerning this part of the attempt Kautz writes in his account as follows:

"Finally we reached what may be called the top, for although there were points higher yet, the mountain spread out comparatively flat, and it was much easier to get along . . . . It was after six o'clock and the ice was forming in my canteen and to stay on the mountain at such a temperature was to freeze to death for we brought no blankets with us."

By this statement he admitted that he had not reached the actual summit so Kautz and his party are not given credit for the first ascent but rather for the first attempted ascent, yet the hardships that they endured in their heroic effort stands today as one of the historical highlights of this region. Kautz is honored - as entirely proper - by the glacier that bears his name and over whose upper surface he climbed in his glorious effort.

They returned to Fort Steilacoom some days later and so emaciated was their appearance that their friends at the garrison did not immediately recognize them. Wapowety nearly died from the effects of the climb, the two soldiers who accompanied Kautz were sent immediately to the hospital and later one applied for a pension on the strength of physical injury received on this climb while Kautz and the doctor suffered for many weeks from its effects. (*)


(*) In 1921 Mr. Joe Hazard of the Mountaineer Club of Seattle climbed Mt. Rainier via the "Kautz route" and demonstrated the practicability of this route. In 1924 the same man led a party to the summit over the same route and checked Kautz' account in transit - thus determining that the first attempted ascent culminated at about 12,000 feet.


Thirteen years were to elapse after Kautz' effort before the first man was to stand upon the actual crest of Rainier. In 1870 there were two young men who were strong of body, keen of mind and equipped with e the driving energy necessary for the successful completion of such a hazardous feat. These men were Hazard Stevens, son of the first governor of Washington Territory, and Philomen B. VanTrump who was secretary to Governor Marshall F. Moore, then at the helm of affairs in Washington Territory. A third man - Edward T. Coleman - who had several first ascents to his credit, including the first ascent of Mt. Baker, was to accompany them but due to unfortunate complications dropped out before the others reached their base camp near what is 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 that far with the climbers in order to bid them good luck on their perilous journey. Stevens and VanTrump had previously made arrangements with James Longmire to assist them in securing a guide who could lead them to the base of Mount Rainier. Longmire himself was later to figure prominently in the history of the mountain. Accordingly, on August 9, 1870, with Longmire leading the way, Stevens, Van Trump and Coleman penetrated the timber toward Bear Prairie, which was reached several days later. Near this spot Longmire met and persuaded a Yakima Indian, by the name of Sluiskin, to guide these men to a point within striking distance of the mountain. Longmire returned to his farm after this duty was performed; and in company with Sluiskin, who picked a course toward the summit of the Tatoosh Range, the three men started from Bear Prairie. Coleman dropped out soon after and only Stevens and VanTrump continued. Under Sluiskin's guidance the two men ascended to the crest of the Tatoosh Range and followed along this range among the various peaks by means of a very laborious route and finally descended to the other side and advanced toward the mountain along what we now know as Mazama Ridge. Why Sluiskin took this route is a matter of conjecture. He may have wanted to tire and discourage these men from doing what he believed impossible and foolhardy; he may have been seeking a few day's extra pay or he may have done this on account of the Indian's natural disinclination to inform the white man of new and heretofore virgin territory. At any rate a much easier route could have been taken and it is certain that Sluiskin was not unfamiliar with it.

Sluiskin in the meantime had become greatly attached to his white friends and began to admire their fortitude and courage. Accordingly, as other methods had failed, he sought by impassioned speech to discourage them and inform them of the dangers that they would certainly meet in their attempt on Rainier. Stevens and VanTrump, however, refused to be discouraged at the gloomy picture Sluiskin painted for them, and on August 17, 1870 at 8:00 A.M., they started from their last camp, which was just above the falls that were named in honor of Sluiskin. They had previously, at the insistence of Sluiskin, signed a statement to the effect that they had been duly warned and that the Indian was not responsible for their death. This statement Sluiskin intended to carry back to Olympia as proof of his innocence after waiting for them a specified time of two days. He felt that they would never again be seen alive. (*)


(*) "If you go, I will wait here two days, and then go to Olympia and tell your people that you have perished on Takhoma. Give me a paper to them to let them know that I am not to blame for your death." (From the Indian Warning Against the Demons as spoken by Sluiskin on the eve of Steven' and VanTrump's ascent. Translated by Hazard Stevens for Meany's "Mt. Rainier - A Record of Exploration" Macmillan Co., 1916.


Nevertheless, after a grueling climb via the Gibralter route - one of the routes generally used until the summer of 1937 - the two climbers reached Peak Success at about 5:00 P.M. (August 17, 1670). They had taken no blankets, expecting to return the same day; but approaching nightfall and bad weather forced them to stay on the summit that night. They climbed higher in search of some protecting spot and in so doing discovered the small crater from the edges of which came gases and warm vapors that melt caves in the snow at that point. It was in one of those steam caves that these men spent the night on the summit while a blizzard raged outside. They called the topmost point Crater Peak, since named Columbia Crest. At nine o'clock on the following morning the storm had diminished sufficiently to allow them to make the return and they had nearly reached their base camp when VanTrump slid and fell, severely injuring one log. Sluiskin was both surprised and overjoyed to see them - but it was some time before he could realize that it was actually his friends instead of their ghosts that he saw. (*)


(*) See account of first ascent of Mount Rainier - an address delivered by P. B. VanTrump: Hunt's "History of Tacoma" Vol. 1.


On the insistence of VanTrump the returned to Bear Prairie by way of the Nisqually Valley - after a couple of days in which VanTrump recuperated from his injury. They arrived in Olympia some days later and apparently suffered no ill effects from their journey.

For centuries Rainier's crest had been immune to the tread of man and now in 1870 two parties were to reach the crater rim. About two months after Stevens and VanTrump successfully negotiated the ascent, Samual Franklin Emmons and A. D. Wilson of the U. S. G. S. climbed the mountain in connection with their work of exploring and mapping the major western peaks.

Emmons had been engaged in the mapping and exploration of Mt. Shasta during the summer and in the early fall was dispatched to the north to begin the initial work of a similar character in the region of Rainier. He was not aware that it had been successfully climbed until his arrival in Portland when he learned of the first ascent by Stevens and VanTrump. Engaging the assistance of A. D. Wilson, who had been busy on topographical work in the vicinity of Mt. Hood through the summer, he went to Olympia and met Stevens who graciously gave him the advantage of his experience and aided in obtaining Mr. James Longmire as packer for the Prospective party. So for the second time that year Longmire loaded his pack animals and pushed into the wilderness. An attempt was made to roach the vicinity of Sluiskin Falls with pack animals, as the party carried a quantity of necessary scientific instruments, but this was found to be impossible and they retraced their steps to Bear Prairie, crossed eastward to the Cowlitz Divide. They ascended along this ridge to a point in the vinity of Cowlitz Park where a base camp was made. A few days were spent in laying out a base line for future completion of the survey and at the expiration of this duty James Longmire returned to civilization again.

Emmons and Wilson finally made camp in the upper portion of Cowlitz Park at timberline, crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and climbed up the ice to Gibralter Rock. There they located the narrow ledge trail about which Stevens had told them and along this they crept to the "Chutes" where Emmons nearly fell over the precipice when his awkward pack (a blanket roll that had been thrown around his shoulders) slipped down about his ankles. He gingerly stepped from the offending impediment and watched it slide out of slight into the abyss below. The two men reached the summit, but it was impossible to make observations on account of the high winds and bad weather, and they returned to their base camp without mishap - returning to civilization again by crossing the Cascades to Fort Simcoe on the east side of the mountains. From there they made their way to The Dalles on the Columbia River. (*)


(*) In an address before the American Geographical Society, Samuel Franklin Emmons gives a complete account of this second ascent. See Journal of American Geographical Society, Vol. IX. 1879. Pages 53-65.


The third ascent of Mt. Rainier was made by P. B. VanTrump, serving as guide; James Longmire, who was serving as packer and who was prevailed upon to accompany the party to the summit, and a third man, Mr. C. B. Bagley (**) who had come to the Puget Sound region with the express purpose of climbing Mt. Rainier. It was on the return from the ascent, which was negotiated without difficulty, that Longmire discovered the mineral springs about which he was to construct the first permanent settlement in the area that is now included in Mt. Rainier National Park.


(**) This information was derived from Len Longmire, grandson of James Longmire. Also see Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 12, 1834.


In a very interesting book, published in 1887 by the Biddleford Journal, Biddleford, Maine and written by Theodore Garrish, the writer unearthed an account of what is undoubtedly the first ascent from the north side of Mt. Rainier. Two men accompanied Theodore Garrish in this ascent though he neglects to give their names. Starting from Tacoma they journeyed to Wilkinson on the Northern Pacific Railway where they obtained the necessary supplies for their journey to the mountain. Over the trail that was built from this point by the N. P. R. R., the three adventurers traveled to Mowich (then called Crater) Lake and thence into the alpine region which is known as Spray Park. They attempted to ascend the mountain from this point but were forced to turn back at 11,000 feet. They had supposed that they were climbing on the main mountain but were merely on a spur on the flanks of Rainier. After resting a few days they crossed the Carbon Glacier and made camp at a point which was probably above the present Mineral Mountain. From this place they made an attempted ascent but as one of thee party gave out near the summit they were forced to return. The next day a second attempt was made and the three men succeeded in reaching the crater where, to their surprise, for they were not aware that any previous ascents had been made, they found "a walking stick protruding from the snow". Later they were to find a "piece of lead with four names inscribed upon it" (*) near one of the vents inside the crater rim. Thus was completed the first recorded ascent from the north side - the party having made the climb by means of the Winthrop and Emmons Glaciers.


(*) In his bock, "Life in the World's Wonderland", Biddleford Press, Biddleford, Maine, 1887, Theodore Garrish fails to give the names upon this plate.


Following the ascent just described, we tread upon more familiar ground, in this regard, for many of the people who climbed Rainier since that time were either well-known northwest personages or else accompanied qualified guides who were known locally. On August 15, 1888 Major E. S. Ingraham led a party of nine to the summit. In this group was P. E. VanTrump, who was again making another visit to the top of Rainier, and John Muir, famous naturalist for whom Camp Muir was named. It was on the sheltered pumice slope where the government cabins now stand that the party spent the night on their way to the summit, and the name Camp Muir was given to this placed by Ingraham on that day in honor of tine famous naturalist and writer.

Other ascents of note are tabulated below:

On August 10, 1890, Miss Fay Fuller of Tacoma, Washington reached the summit and thus became the first woman to accomplish this task. Len Longmire guided the party which, in addition to Miss Fuller, included Rev. Smith and several others.

1891, July 30 - On this date Mt. Rainier was climbed for the second time by a woman. This party included Mr. Len Longmire (who served as guide), Miss Sue Longmire, who was then but 13 or 14 years old, Miss Edith Corbett, a school teacher of the Yelm region, Mr. Elcain Longmire, Dr. Stafford and Mr. Hans Polson of Puyallup, Mr. Edward Allen, the son of Prof. O. D. Allen an early settler in the upper Nisqually Valley and several others . (This information was obtained from Mr. Len Longmire on August 14, 1937).

1892, August - P. B. VanTrump, Dr. Riley and George Baily scaled Rainier via the Tahoma Glacier on the west side. This was the first ascent from the west side.

1893, August 18 - Jules Stamphler made his first ascent of Mt. Rainier. Jules Stamphler was for several years a guide on Mt. Rainier during which time he made over 130 ascents.

1894, July 18 - A party of 14, guided by Major E. S. Ingraham and including three women - Miss Helen Holmes (then 15 years of age), Miss Annie Hall and Miss Bernice Parke, reached the summit of Mount Rainier. This was the third time Mount Rainier was scaled by women. (See Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12, 1894)

1896, July 24 - I. C. Russell, Bailey Willis, Otis Smith and two men who accompanied this U. S. G. S. party as packers, named Ainsworth and Williams, negotiated the ascent by means of the Winthrop Glacier. They returned by way of Gibralter route and were, therefore, the first to cross from one side of the area to the other by way of the top of Mt. Rainier.

1897, July 27 - Ascent via the Gibralter route by the Mazama Club of Portland. It was this ascent that resulted in the death of Professor Edgar McClure of the University of Oregon near the rock that today bears his name. McClure had reached the summit, had made a barometric determination of the elevation of Mt. Rainier and was returning to Paradise Valley after dark when he fell from this promontory.

1913, August - The U. S. G. S. party under the direction of C. H. Birdseye made the ascent of Mt. Rainier for the purpose of completing the topographic map of the region begun under the direction of F. E. Matthes in 1910. In addition to Mr. Birdseye on this ascent were W. O. Tufts, O. G. Taylor and S. E . Taylor. The determination of the elevation of Mt. Rainier made by these men (14,408) stands today as the accepted elevation of the mountain.

The foregoing pages do not, by any means, outline a complete record of ascents of this old ice-clad volcano. Only those of particular note are included. The accounts of many interesting ascents have to be omitted, due to lack of space in this publication. In recent years many people have reached the summit of Mt. Rainier, the majority reaching their objective by means of the Gibralter route which was pioneered by Stevens and VanTrump in 1870. During the winter of 1936-67 a portion of the narrow ledge along the face of Gibralter Rock fell away so now, in all probability, th route used by the first two men to stand upon the crest of Mt. Rainier has passed into history. It was necessary to establish a new route from Camp Muir during the early part of the summer of 1937.

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