|The Mountaineers Archives - Overview of WSHS.1998.39||Home|
By Lynn Anderson, WSHS Head of Collections, August 1998
During the summer, the WSHS received a wonderful collection of 362 artifacts including climbing and skiing equipment, clothing, camping gear, and accessories. Most of these items were owned and used by members of the Seattle Mountaineers, Founded in 1906, this organization which is head-quartered at 300 3rd Avenue West, has more than 15,000 members today. Most of the skis, alpenstocks, tents, boots, pitons, and other equipment were collected during the 1970s, but there was never adequate space for storage and exhibition. The Mountaineers wanted to place this unique collection in a place where it could be preserved and available for both research and exhibition. Many of the artifacts will be displayed in the "Sunrise to Paradise" exhibit about Mt. Rainier which opens in March 1999.
After the collection was transported to Tacoma, staff began the painstaking task of cataloging, cleaning, marking, and storing each item. The work was done by college students: Michael Gallagher, Christina Watt, and Barbara Frame, who work in the Collections Department through the work study program under the supervision of Curator, Amy McKune. This was completed in 3 month's time and then each record was entered into the Museum's collections management database, ARGUS. Curators plan to interview some of the original donors and older Mountaineer members in order to gather additional information about the history of use of the equipment. This will be helpful since there are almost no books published on the subject of climbing equipment.
The artifacts collected by The Mountaineers represent a long and diverse history of Northwest climbers and their exploits both in the Northwest and around the world. Some of the earliest equipment date from around the turn of the century all the way up to climbing aids from expeditions to the Himalayas and the Yukon region in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the earliest pieces of gear in the collection is a metal plate that was carried by Carl E. Morford during an expedition to Mt. Saint Elias in Alaska during 1897. Morford was an athlete at the University of Washington in 1897 and was recruited with several other UW athletes to be packers with Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi. He scratched a mountain scene on the base of the plate.
There is a pair of ladies' hiking boots from the early 1900s. They were worn by Georgia Renean, a member of the Mountaineers in 1915. They are the regular, high-ankle boots worn by women of her day which were adapted for climbing and hiking with the addition of caulks (metal spikes), hammered into the soles for extra traction. There are other items that are associated with "firsts" for women climbers. These include 12-point crampons worn by Dora Keen who became the first woman to climb Mt. McKinley around 1912. Margaret Hazard, an early and avid Mountaineer member, donated her ice axe, reputed to be the first axe used by a woman in Washington state.
Although the Mountaineers gave women the chance to experience nature outside the social constraints of the early 1900's, for some it wasn't enough. In 1921, Miss Mabel Vanderpool, a Seattle resident, wrote the Mountaineer president Professor Edmund S. Meany, a letter protesting the rule that forbade female Mountaineers from wearing knickers or trousers until they reached the starting point of the hike. This rule was supposed to protect the women's modesty from the immoralities of the city. Apparently, Miss Vanderpool placed more faith in the city dwellers, saying "we can loose our modesty just as easily and surely in trousers beyond the city limits as in the same trousers within those limits; and if the latter, humans are humans the world over and I have found them to be even more susceptible to the lure of 'the Devil and all his works' in the small town than in the city." Prof. Meany replied that since the women in the club had made the rule any changes made to the rule would be at their discretion. He referred the "letter, without comment, to Miss Celia Shelton, a member of the board."
Some equipment in the collection is associated with Mt. Rainier National Park. Dee Molenaar, a well-known member of the Mountaineers, donated a pair of boots that belonged to Hans Fuhrer, a guide on Mt. Rainier from 1919-1925. They were the last pair nailed by Fuhrer before his death in 1956. Nailing was a term for the application of metal caulks and sole protectors to the smooth leather soles of climbing boots. The added metal provided extra traction that was not equaled until the advent of rubber, lug-style soles that were developed in the 1950's.
This collection also includes several items used by the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The 10th was put together as a special mountaineering group used to secure the Alps for the Allies during WWII. The Army recruited skiers to be trained as soldiers, many of whom came from the Pacific Northwest. The group trained at Mt. Rainier for a year before they were transferred to their permanent home in Vail, CO. The 10th proved to be very successful, one of the more notable successes came from the capture of a large number of German soldiers who had been hiding out at the base of a mountain that had been previously thought untraversable on skis.
In 1953, a third American attempt of K2 was led by Dr. Charles Houston. Also on the climb was Peter Schoening, an active climber in the Northwest area, and Dee Molenaar. During the climb there was an accident while attempting to lower an injured member of the party. Five men slipped and nearly fell to their death. A simple ice axe is all that kept them alive. Schoening had set up a Beckey belay to hold the injured climber in place. Moments later another climber slipped, setting into motion a chain reaction that ended with five men being held precariously onto the side of the mountain, with all their weight on one line and the ice axe. Schoening later donated the axe to the Mountaineers.
In a letter accompanying the donation, Molenaar supplied the story about the first time he and Schoening met. Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s as a summer ranger at Rainier, Molenaar was responsible for checking the equipment of those wanting to climb the mountain. As he was checking Schoening's equipment for a climb up Rainier, he noticed that the metal point at the bottom of the shaft was "rounded like a ball bearing". He decided not to remark on the excessive wear and allowed Schoening to continue with the axe. After the accident Schoening told Molenaar that he used this same axe in the belay on K2.
The collection of climbing, mountaineering, and hiking equipment that the Mountaineers were able to put together also include items that have connections to Seattle based businesses. Some of this equipment came from companies which were getting started when the Mountaineers began to supply them with a local market. The items range from down bags made by Ome Daiber, the first known down parkas made in the United States by Eddie Bauer, Trager Trapper Nelson packs invented and produced by Trager Manufacturing Company and items from the founder of REI, Lloyd Anderson, who was an active Mountaineer member. Anderson donated many items that spanned his long association with the club, the most noticeable a large collection of carabiners and other climbing hardware.