Nature Notes

Vol. VIII February, 1930 No. 2

Historical Notes: Lieut. A.V. Kautz

You who have climbed Mt. Rainier, or who have viewed its rugged cliffs and glacial escarpments from the more comfortable lower altitudes would find much of interest in the account of the first attempt to reach the summit of this great volcanoe. With the exception of Dr. Fraser Tolmie's trip to a point near the base of "The Mountain" in what is now the Carbon River District, no white man (so far as is known) had ever approached Mt. Rainier and the enormuous task necessary in reaching a point within striking distance of the peak itself was exceeded only by the effort of the climb itself.

And so Lieut. Kautz - a young American officer stationed at Ft. Steilacoom - started out on July 8, 1857 with four companions and an Indian guide, Wapowety, to conquer two obstacles, the untracked forest and the great mountain itself. The party ascended the Nisqually valley to the snout of the glacier, scaled this ice wall and finally gained the alpine meadow above. There they camped after eight days of traveling and on the ninth day started their final assault at the summit. Up the cleaver that now bears the name of Wapowety, in honor of the Indian, and along the glacier which today we know as the Kautz Glacier, they went. One by one they dropped out until Kautz himself was the only one struggling upward. It is not definitly established how high he succeeded in going but it was no doubt very near the top -- although not actually on the summit -- when he was forced to return on account of approaching storm and darkness.

Thus, even though Kautz is not given credit for being the first man to stand upon the crest of Mt. Rainier, his heroic attempt in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles and with the most meager equipment and supplies necessary for such a hazarduous and adventuresome journey never fails to excite the highest regard for his courage, and perseverance. His feat is a high spot in the history of Mt Rainier National Park.

ice axe and rope

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