Mountains and Mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest


The Mountaineers Activities

Crossing a stream, 1921

Headquartered in Seattle, The Mountaineers eventually created six other branches in Washington State. Original activities consisted of hiking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, stage productions by the Mountaineers Players and conservation efforts.

The Mountaineers established a climbing course that became a model for other outdoor clubs in America. Begun in 1935 under the leadership of Wolf Bauer, it introduced climbing techniques developed in Europe. By 1960, the Mountaineers had authored an authoritative text for climbers, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills which has seen national and international use. Special Collections has committee records, summit registers and manuscript material from Mountaineers climbs and climbing courses.

Two students from the first climbing class were Mary and Lloyd Anderson. The Andersons realized the limited selection of climbing equipment available in Seattle and high prices made it difficult for the students to properly equip themselves. Lloyd Anderson had ordered equipment directly from a European dealer. When other fellow Mountaineers saw what he had, they also wanted to place orders and Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) was formed. At first the business was conducted out of the Andersons' home but eventually grew to be a co-operative with a small space in the Mountaineers’ club rooms and then to its own retail space in Seattle. REI provided climbing, skiing and outdoor gear of all types.

Skiing and snowshoeing were popular winter time activities. The Mountaineers introduced skiing to the region in the 1920s. Special Collections has film footage and photographs illustrating early skiing equipment and techniques. The organization built a series of lodges, beginning with the Snoqualmie Lodge, designed by Carl Gould, for hosting Mountaineers members throughout the year in their outdoor pursuits. Mountaineers member Dwight Watson was an avid skier and climber. Also an enthusiastic photographer and filmmaker, Watson documented backcountry skiing, climbing and the beauty of the northwest with his cameras. Likewise, Mountaineer member Marion Hessey and her husband Charles (Chuck) Hessey were skiers and filmmakers who documented Crystal Mountain and other areas of the Cascades before development. Their films were critical in helping establish North Cascades National Park and Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.

The highlight of The Mountaineers' year was the annual summer outing. As many as 100 members signed up each year for the 2-3 week venture to various locations in the western United States and Canada. Pack horses were used to move supplies into a base camp from which hiking and climbing adventures were pursued. Special Collections has a large Mountaineers Photograph Album Collection, films and other documents relating to the summer outings. These outings continued until 1980, when they were discontinued due to the damage that a large group of campers could wreak on their beloved wilderness.

Sitting around campfire, 1951
Sitting around campfire, 1951

The Mountaineers were involved in more than outdoor activities in the mountains. On a local outing in 1909, a group of Mountaineers discovered what is now known as the Rhododendron Preserve. In 1915, the Mountaineers purchased 74 acres of this land and eventually built the Kitsap Cabin. Theatrical productions, originally started as small skits performed at the Kitsap Cabin for fellow Mountaineers, became so popular that full length plays were performed for the public and the Mountaineers Players were born. The Players established their Forest Theatre in 1926 and have been producing several plays a year ever since. The Mountaineers Players are one of the oldest, continuously operating community theater groups in the country, performing in one of the oldest outdoor theaters in North America. Special Collections has film footage, photographs and other documents pertaining to past productions.

The Mountaineers have always included conservation as one of their goals since the beginning of the organization. They played an integral part in the establishment of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park and continued protection of already established conservation areas. The Mountaineers have also been instrumental in the establishment of environmental policy in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. More information on the Mountaineers’ role in environmental issues can be found in the U.W.’s subject guide Conservation and the Environment in the Pacific Northwest.

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