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Field Division of Education
Mount Rainier: Its Human History Associations
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I. The First Approach and the First Discovery of Glaciers, 1833

It was a representative of the British Government, George Vancouver, who first recorded the discovery of Mount Rainier and gave to it the name. Likewise, it was a subject of Great Britain, Doctor William Fraser Tolmie, who was the first white man to approach the great mountain and to climb its slopes far enough to ascertain the existence of glaciers on its summit.

Dr. Tolmie was born at Inverness, Scotland, on February 3, 1812. He was educated as a naturalist at Glasgow, medicine being one of his studies, and botany being his special subject of investigation. In 1832, Sir William Hooker, the great English botanist, was instrumental in securing a position for Tolmie with the Hudson's Bay Company. This company had, from time to time, a number of scientists in its employ, and in this way did much for the advancement of knowledge. Tolmie arrived off the coast of Oregon on April 30, 1833. His first assignment was to help establish Fort McLaughlin at Milbank Sound. From the last of May until August, 1833, he aided in the founding of Nisqually House. It was during this period that he made his celebrated trip to Mount Rainier.

The details of his expedition are given in Tolmie's diary. It is an account of the first approach to the mountain and the first recorded observations of glaciers on its upper slopes. On August 27, 1833, he writes that he had obtained the consent of the chief factor, Mr. Herron, to make "a botanizing excursion" to Mount Rainier. The Indians having been told that medicinal herbs were to be collected, sent five of their number to accompany Tolmie. Setting out for the Puyallup River (spelled Poyallipa by Tolmie) on the 29th, the party traveled up-stream for three or four days, passing through a wood of cedar and pine.

On September 3, 1833, Tolmie, accompanied by one of the Indians, climbed to the summit of the peak which now bears his name. From there he could see that "the snow on the summit of the mountain adjoining Rainier on the western side of Poyallip is continuous with that of the latter, and thus the S. Western aspect of Rainier seemed the most accessible. . . . By ascending the first mountain through a gully in its northern side, you reach the eternal snow of Rainier, and for a long distance afterwards the ascent is very gradual, but then it becomes abrupt from the sugar loaf form assumed by the mountain. Its eastern side is steep on its northern aspect; a few glaciers were seen on the conical portion. . ."

The hundredth anniversary of Tolmie's approach to Mount Rainier was celebrated at Mount Rainier National Park in 1933. Prof. Meany says, "It is pleasant to note that the new map of Mount Rainier National Park, published by the United States Geological Survey, shows the peak he climbed and the creek flowing near it bearing the name of Tolmie." (Meany, 1916, 6. Tolmie's diary printed, pp. 6-12)

On leaving Nisqually House in October, 1833, Dr. Tolmie served as surgeon for Ogden's expedition to the Stikeen River (1834). During the next two years he was stationed at Forts Simpson and McLaughlin. He was surgeon and trader at Fort Vancouver from 1836 to 1840, when he returned to England. In 1843 he again came to Fort Nisqually as superintendent of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company and remained there until 1859, when he moved to Victoria, B. C., where he died, December 8, 1888.

II. First Attempted Ascent of Mount Rainier, 1857

After Dr. Tolmie's expedition to Mount Rainier, and after the expressed desire of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1841) to investigate the volcanic cone at the summit of the mountain, there is no further record of any interest in scaling the peak until the late '50's. Lieutenant August V. Kautz (later a general in the Civil War), while stationed at Fort Steilacoom during the Indian wars, wished to make the ascent. None of the other officers cared to accompany him, since the enterprise seemed coupled with danger. "Information relating to the mountain was exceedingly meagre." As far as was known "no white man had ever been near it, and Indians were very superstitious and afraid of it." (Meany, 1916, 75).

Accompanied by four soldiers, Kautz and the post doctor of Fort Bellingham started from Fort Steilacoom July 8, 1857. They followed the direct route to the southern slope of Mount Rainier, since that appeared to be the best approach to the summit. On the first day Kautz and the doctor made a detour to the Nisqually Indian Reservation, where they picked up their Indian guide, old Wah-pow-e-ty, who was reputed to know more about the upper courses of the Nisqually River than any other man of his tribe. The night was spent at a Mr. Wrenn's place, located at the eastern limit of the Nisqually plains, ten or twelve miles from the fort.

The next day the Indian trail through the dense forest was followed for thirty miles to a camp in the Mishawl Prairie, where Lieutenant Kautz had stayed fifteen months before while leading a few soldiers in pursuit of Indians. Beyond this point lay entirely unknown country. The horses were left here in care of two of the soldiers while the rest of the party continued on foot.

For five days the party toiled over ridges, through almost impenetrable forests, and along the gorge of the Nisqually before reaching the foot of the Nisqually Glacier. On the 6th day they traveled some distance on the glacier. On the following day they 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." The party was now at the end of its strength, and since night was approaching, they had to return to camp before "the points higher" up could be scaled. No attempt was made the next day because of depleted provisions. Kautz says, "We were much disappointed not to have had more time to explore the summit of the mountain. We had, however, demonstrated the feasibility of making the ascent." (Meany, 1916, 87).

The results of hardship, lack of food, and exhaustive muscular exertion caused the members of the party to become so emaciated that they did not recover their strength for months. Kautz concluded that "we are not likely to have any competitors in this attempt to explore the summit of Mount Rainier. . . . When American enterprise has established an ice-cream saloon at the foot of the glacier . . . attempts to ascend that magnificent snow-peak will be quite frequent." Thirteen years passed before the summit was successfully scaled. (Meany, 1916, 93).

Meanwhile, the slopes below the glaciers were becoming more and more known to pioneers. One group of explorers, led by Packwood and McAllister of Pierce County, examined the country along the Nisqually and across the southern slope of the mountain to Cowlitz Pass (Packwood Pass), searching for a trail to the Upper Columbia gold mines. Government surveyors also explored this route for a railroad.

A glacier and a creek have been named in honor of Lieutenant Kautz, while the Wapowety Cleaver, overlooking the Kautz Glacier, bears the name of his Indian guide.

III. The First Successful Ascent of Mount Rainier, 1870

General Hazard Stevens, son of the first governor of Washington Territory, was fired with an ambition to scale the heights of Mount Rainier for some years before he accomplished it in 1870. In 1867 he made an agreement with his equally ambitious friend, Philemon Beecher Van Trump, to make the attempt. Smoke from forest fires prevented them from immediately carrying out their purpose. In the summer of 1870 the atmosphere was clear, and preparations were made for the expedition. Edward T. Coleman, an English artist and tourist, reputed to have had experience in climbing the Alps, joined the party. James Longmire, who had helped to survey a road by way of Cowlitz Pass some years before, was engaged as guide as far as Bear Prairie, where he promised to obtain an Indian to lead them the rest of the way.

Leaving Olympia on August 8, 1870, and following the course of the Nisqually River, Bear Prairie was reached five days later. The band of Indians that were accustomed to make their summer camp at the headwaters of the Cowlitz had departed, but after a fatiguing search, the party was fortunate in finding a lone Indian and his family. The Indian's name was Shiskin, and he agreed to show the way as far as the summer snow line.

For three days the Indian led the party up the ridge between the Nisqually and the Cowlitz, reaching the head of what is now known as Paradise Valley. Their base camp was made at Shiskin Falls, named after their Indian guide.

The final ascent was made by Stevens and Van Trump. "Before daylight . . . Wednesday, August 17, 1870, we were up and breakfasted," says Stevens in his account of the journey, "and at six o'clock we started to ascend Takhoma." (Meany, 1916, 116). They followed up the ridge, "a very narrow, steep, irregular backbone," and after eleven hours of unremitting toil, the summit was reached.

It was bitter cold and if Van Trump had not discovered jets of steam issuing from crevices in the rock, it is probable that the two men would have frozen to death. They spent the night in "a deep cavern, extending into and under the ice, and formed by the action of the heat."

Upon their return to camp, Shiskin appeared astonished as well as glad to see him. He had not expected them to return. The "Boston men," he thought, had been foolhardy to attempt scaling the icy glacier, especially after he had warned them of the dangers to be encountered. "Takhoma," he said, "was an enchanted mountain, inhabited by an evil spirit, who dwelt in a fiery lake on its summit. No human being could ascend it or even attempt its ascent and survive." There were crevasses and precipices, and even though the traveller escaped these, furious storms would arise to drive him off his feet. Shiskin had promised to wait for them at the hills. If they did not return within three days, he then would go to Olympia and report their death. He had begged for a paper which would prove to the white people that his story was true.

"Mr. Van Trump made several ascents after that first one, and in 1905 General Stevens also made a second ascent. He searched in vain for the relics he had deposited at the summit thirty-five years earlier. The rocks that were bare in 1870 were under snow and ice in 1905. The names of both Stevens and Van Trump have been generously bestowed upon glaciers, creeks, ridges, and canons within the Mount Rainier National Park." (Meany, 1916, 94-5).

At the anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain in 1918, General Hazard Stevens, the only survivor, took part in the celebration. The campfire ceremony was performed on the night of August 16, near Paradise Inn at the head of Edith Gulch, in full view of the route taken during the original event. The General led the procession from the Inn, carrying the flag given to him in 1870 by the women of Olympia. It was fastened to the original alpenstock used on the climb. He recited the experience of 48 years previous, and William P. Bonney gave the famous Chinook plea made by Shiskin in his attempt to dissuade Stevens and Van Trump from climbing the mountain. (Reproduced in Meany, 1916, 132-4).

D. B. Sperling, head guide, led the anniversary ascent over the same route followed 48 years before. Stevens and Professor E. S. Meany went to Stevens Glacier. On their return, with the aid of a party of tourists, they raised a cairn of rocks to mark the site of the camp where Shiskin had watched while Stevens and Van Trump conquered the summit of Mount Rainier.

IV. Second Successful Ascent, 1870, by S. F. Emmons

A second successful ascent of Mount Rainier was made after the return of Stevens and Van Trump from the mountain. S. F. Emmons and A. D. Wilson of the United States Government Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel were the first scientists working under the government to explore the mountain itself, to cross its glaciers, and to scale its summit. This was done in October, 1870.

Emmons sent a report of the geological and topographical work he and his colleague were able to accomplish before the storms of winter to his chief, Clarence King. King published Emmons' letter in the American Journal of Science for March, 1871. This letter gave a brief description of the topography and the glaciers of Mount Rainier. It is important as the first description made by a scientist. Incidentally, it may be noted that Emmons called the mountain "Tachoma."

Emmons shows the greatest enthusiasm over what he called the White River Glacier. "It is peculiarly appropriate that that glacier should bear the name given it on the official map of the United States Geological Survey - Emmons Glacier." (Meany, 1916, 135).

Samuel Franklin Emmons was born at Boston on March 29, 1841. He died March 28, 1911. He was one of the great American scientists.

V. Later Ascents of Mount Rainier

The present study has not brought to light any further ascents of Mount Rainier during the decades of the 70's. During the 80's Dr. Bailey Willis, now of Stanford University, did considerable exploration work on the mountain, especially on its northern slopes. Van Trump, of the first party to climb its slopes, made another ascent in 1883. In 1887, Fred G. Plummer mapped the southern slopes. John Muir, in company with Major E. S. Ingraham and six others, reached the summit in 1888. On this trip Muir discovered a sheltered pumice patch in the midst of glaciers where the party camped. Ever since, this spot has been called Camp Muir. Major Ingraham made annual visits to Mount Rainier after 1888, and has scaled its topmost peak seven times, "and has spent as many nights in its crater. It was he who gave to a number of the prominent features of the park their beautiful and enduring names. . . . A glacier on the mountain bears the name of Ingraham." In the summer of 1896 I. C. Russell was befriended by Ingraham at the Camp of the Clouds, after spending a shivering night in the crater. As a reward for his kindness, Russell put Ingraham's name on one of the beautiful glaciers.

During the '90's there were one or more successful ascents of Mount Rainier every year. The first woman, Fay Fuller, reached the top in 1890. Van Trump continued to make ascents in 1891 and 1892. As the years pass, larger and larger parties came to the mountain. The Mazama Club made an expedition in 1897, and the Sierra Club in 1905. Other mountain clubs have made pilgrimages from time to time.

Mount Rainier National Park was created on March 2, 1899, and since that time, the number of visitors to Mount Rainier has increased so that individuals other than prominent people are not recorded. Tourists from all over the world visit the mountains and many climb to the summit every year.

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