Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Thought in passing

It's probably clear with the Mt. Rainier NP photo guide and early history of the NP, I've managed to find and collect a fair amount of material. Granted my research hasn't begun to approach the level of research Aubrey Haines did with his extensive research on the history of mountaineering in the NP, and the later work of historians on mountaineering and summit climbs, but I have their books to reference and some of the materials they used with my research.

And so from the beginning of the project looking at the early (1880-1900) pre-NP history of Mt. Rainier (designated a NP in 1899) I saw an interesting view about the 1896 expedition. Since I started the research last year with the recent history materials I was curious why the 1896 expedition wasn't mentioned in history materials with and after Dee Molenaar's 1971 book, "The challenge of Mount Rainier", which describes the history of summit climbs.

It's like it vanished from history, but everyone I know both in the mountaineering and scientific communities with Mt. Rainier and the NP knows about the expedition. It's given it's due in Aubrey Haines' 1962 book, "Mountain Fever, Historic Conquest of Mount Rainier", but that's the last time it's mentioned in mountaineering history book, articles and other materials. Or at least that I've found to date.

So while collecting early stuff on Mt. Rainier and the NP, anything pre-WW II, and especially pre-WW I, I've found the expedition is often mentioned as members of the team have had landmarks named after them, eg. Willis Wall and Russell Glacier, and they named some landmarks. There doesn't seem to be a lack of effort to not only recognize but also acknowledge their work as both a scientific achievement of the time and instrumental in the effort for the NP designation.

What's lost in history seems to have been the effort of the scientific community in the work to get the law passed designating Mt. Rainier NP. They were the third leg and the most important leg of the trio of efforts, the other two being the mountaineering and recreation community and the local commerce and citizen groups, and it was the weight of the National Academy of Science and the US Geological Survey that carried the day to convince Congress to pass the law in 1899 after almost a decade of trying by other groups.

And key in the scientific effort was the 1896 expedition, described in the 1898 report of it along with the scientific importance of Mt. Rainier to the nation and science. And the expedition the team has severa accomplishments of the period which have been lost in the recent history.

They were the first to do a traverse of the northern side of Mt. Rainier about treeline. They did the summit climb up Emmons Glacier, a rarely used route by climbers, camping overnight at Steamboat Prow. And they repeated the northern traverse from the camp along Winthrop Glacier back to the camp on the Carbon Glacier after their descent to Paradise and return to the base camp along the eastern side of Mt. Rainier.

And they did the whole two-week expedition with Bailey Willis' 10-year old daughter Hope, except she didn't do the summit climb. She was scheduled to do the climb but Israel Russell, the climb leader, scratched her the morning of the climb. He later admitted to Bailey she should have gone and could have easily done the climb, even better than two of the team itself, seasoned scientist and camp helper. Hope stayed at the camp at the 7-8,000 foot level along Winthrop Glacier.

What I suspect, and it's just a guess, is that more recent mountaineers and mountaineering historians have decided their climb was incidental to their expedition and wasn't done in the spirit of climbs then and even now. Their climbing route wasn't documented. They didn't relish in their accomplishment of the climb and the summit - although those historians have overlooked the team members' personal notes on this last point.

And they didn't look to the mountaineering community for support or recognition. You see, Israel Russell, Bailey Willis and George Otis Smith had spent several summers exploring the Washiington Cascade Mountains on geologic expeditions, including summers in and around Mt. Rainier. To them the climb was part of the work and the job. They did personally see how important it was in their life, but not the way climbers do.

After all they didn't spend days staying at Paradise for recreation and then for a summit climb. They spent two weeks exploring the geology and glaciers for science. They didn't do the summit climb for the privilege of standing on the summit. They went there to see what was there and collect rocks (yes, they took rock sample from around the crater rim). It wasn't a personal achievement so much as a scientific one.

And so I think recent mountaineering historians, begining with Dee Molenaar, have simply decided it wasn't part of mountaineering history of Mt. Rainier. Or at least it seems such since it's absent from their histories of mountaineering on Mt. Rainier. And it's why I though it worthy to refresh history and renew their importance. And being a retired USGS person too, I feel slighted by their oversight of the USGS's work and achievements.

But it's just an observation and thought in passing.

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