Mountains and Mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest

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Early Climbing and Tourism at Mt. Rainier

Feeding a bear
Feeding a bear, 1925

Mt. Rainier is an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Referred to as "The Mountain" by most locals, Mt. Rainier has attracted many people to its slopes and summit. In the early years it was also known as Mt. Tacoma or Mt. Takohma, the Native American name for this volcano.

The first summit attempt was made in 1833 by Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The first successful climb was in 1870 by Philemon Beecher Van Trump) and Hazard Stevens. Everett T. Smith attempted to summit the northwest side of the mountain in 1886 and 1887 but was turned back by bad weather. In 1888, John Muir climbed the mountain while on a tour of the region. Photographs of this trip, including the first photographs of the summit, were taken by Arthur Churchill Warner , a professional photographer in Seattle, and a member of Muir’s climbing party. An early collection of accounts of climbs on Mt. Rainier was published by Harry M. Myers. A climber himself, Myers collected documentation of his and others' early ascents of the mountain between 1905 and 1935. The first successful winter climb in 1922 included Charles Perryman, a local Selznick News cameraman with no climbing experience. All four members of the party reached the top and film footage of the climb is available in Special Collection's Moving Images Collection.

The Mountaineers, as a club, climbed Mt. Rainier many times. Most of these climbs were part of the annual summer outings the club sponsored each year. In the years when The Mountaineers chose Mt. Rainier as their outing destination, these trips usually included a trip around the mountain and a summit climb. Special Collections has summit records, letters, papers and photographs documenting these trips. The Mountaineers were also instrumental in the continued maintenance and protection of Mount Rainier National Park.

Paradise Inn with cars, 1923
Paradise Inn with cars, 1923

In 1971, Dee Molenaar, a local climber and geologist, published The Challenge of Rainier, a book based in part upon his experience serving as a summit guide (1940-41 and 1947) and National Park Service Ranger (1950-1952) at Mount Rainier. Selections for the papers of Dee Molenaar (22) can be found in the Pacific Northwest Documents Database.

Mt. Rainier was more than a climbing attraction. It became a popular recreation destination. The park was promoted by the Rainier National Park Company, owners of the Paradise Inn and other concessions in the park. Many pamphlets, booklets and photographs promoting the attractions and facilities in the park are displayed in the U.W.'s Pamphlet and Textual Documents Collection and Rainier National Park Mountain-Glacier Wonderland Collection. Frequently, local photographers were hired to take photographs to promote the National Parks. Lawrence Denny Lindsley (24), grandson of Seattle pioneers and founders, Louisa (Boren) and David T. Denny, spent much of his professional career photographing in and around Mount Rainier National Park.