Mountaineering Youth

Publication Year: 1943.

Mountaineering Youth

Norman Bright

ONE article could not possibly describe the climbing done every year in Washington by scouts and boys of scout age. This piece is about boy climbers, but it is also about Washington and her great wilderness areas—future playground of the nation. In orientation, allow me to indicate some of the climbing opportunities available to the youth of every town in the state. Later I should like to present three 15-year-old boys with whom I have climbed in this great northwestern wilderness.

In addition to its own great snow peak, Mt. Rainier, every town has access to innumerable minor peaks as well, where boy- scouts, mountaineering clubs, and the public in general may obtain recreation within a few miles of their own city limits.

Starting north of Portland on the Washington bank of the Columbia, Longview climbers trek up 9761-ft. St. Helens, volcanic peak of ethereal beauty known in Washington Indian legend as the pure snow maiden whose suitors were the braves now known as Rainier and Adams. Fifty or 60 miles to the N., scouts from my home town, Chehalis, and from her twin city, Centralia, may choose between St. Helens, Adams or Rainier, all within a 70-mile radius. Every clear day Olympia youth living in the shadow of their state capital dome view Rainier’s great bulk only 55 miles E.S.E. Tacoma’s playground is Rainier. Its city limits are only a scant 25 miles airline to the Mount Rainier National Park boundary, and views of the city are dominated by this majestic snow sentinel. Columbia Crest, highest ground in Washington, is only 40 miles as the bombers fly from downtown Tacoma. Members of Mountaineers, Inc., and other Seattle climbers from their central location on Puget Sound, may ferry to the Olympics or choose among the climbing areas in the vicinity of (1) Snoqualmie Pass,

Carbon River Entrance, Mount Rainier National Park, and

Stevens Pass. Everett Mountaineers, affiliated with Mountaineers, Inc., Seattle, are farther from the climbing and skiing on Mount Rainier, but have primary claim on 10,436 ft. Glacier Peak, volcanic snow king of a wilderness which should be preserved for future generations in a Glacier Peak National Park. Students from Western Washington College of Education at Bellingham (where the mountains meet the sea) find their city fairly crowded into the bay by mountains which rise above the unbroken wilderness extending far to the E. Their climbing program includes Mount Baker, 10,750 ft. monarch of the region and the exciting rock and ice of Shuksan, 9038 ft. companion peak.

Here in my home mountains—of the numerous climbs made annually by young climbers—the writer wishes to select three accomplished by his own boy companions as examples of adventure and achievement open to boys in a Shangri La where pioneer climbs are still a matter of course.


Fresh from the track fields of Europe, as member of the 1935 American track team to France, I found myself back in my old stamping grounds teaching English at Fremont Union High School not 10 miles from Stanford University, where I had studied during the previous three years. In one of my classes was Norm Doyle, a rangy towhead with blue eyes.

Norm and I formed one of those rare teacher-student combinations that has lasted through the intervening years. Together we hiked the California coast range from Monterey to Half Moon

Bay. Many a Friday afternoon found us assembling our gear in a Fremont classroom, getting an early start for a weekend of camping in Big Basin or along the ocean beaches. We exchanged books on climbing and arctic exploration. Norm soon became the high school authority on Arctic expeditions and began compiling an Arctic library. When Bradford Washburn invited me to accompany him on his Mount Lucania (17,150-ft., fourth highest peak on the continent) expedition, Norm was as thrilled as I. While we wrapped pound packages of Santa Clara Valley prunes and apricots for Lucania we worked out plans for the first of three expeditions we were to make together during the following five years. It is with the first of these, executed in late summer 1937, this story deals.

Norm was just 15 when he reached the top of West Peak, treacherous, seldom-climbed summit of Mount Anderson in the eastern Olympics. The climb was the climax of a 10 days’ backpack trip from Lena Lake, where Tumwater Council once had their wilderness camp. In the days preceding we had made several climbs which, along with carrying 42-lb. packs along high Olympic ridges, served to put us in shape to accomplish our major objective, the climb of West Peak.

The two other members of this West Peak expedition were Fred Almos, another 15-year-old Sunnyvale, California, schoolboy and my sister Sarah. Fred, now a six-footer, is fighting with the R. C. A. F. somewhere in England. He had been one of the party from the inception of the idea during a Fremont Freshman English class. Sarah had been my companion on countless climbs throughout our normal school days at Bellingham and later.

Anderson’s West Peak had been climbed twice before. First, by E. B. Hamilton, a unique figure whose ardent love for the wilds, with the knowledge that he was soon to die, caused him to elect to spend a great many of his remaining hours ranging the Olympics. Usually travelling cross country, he carried a huge pack, which included a bulky and heavy set of camera equipment. I have found his calling card, a photographic exposure card on the summits of many peaks throughout the range. The second ascent was made 6 years later, when, after many attempts to interest others in the venture, I followed Hamilton’s route from the Eel Glacier up that evil-looking, axe blade of a ridge and finally stood alone on the summit of West Peak. I did not know as I examined the summit cairn, and experienced a thrill of admiration for the man who had placed it there on that lonely throne and then had scratched the inscription, “E. B. Hamilton, Chelmlis, August 1930” on a couple of slate slivers, that he had died in Arizona only a few months before.

Yes, it was a third ascent—but on such a peak! Viewed from across the valley of the Quinalt two days before as we topped a pass on a ridge of Mount Lacrosse, its curved grey ridge presented an awesome spectacle. This sudden first sight of the peak had deeply affected each climber as only the view of a longtime objective can do.

Fred had remained at the forest service shelter at Anderson Pass. Sarah, Norm and I stood at the base of the curiously curled rock at the base of West Peak. How evil, even menacing, it appeared ! Its ridge, knife-edged in the extreme, dropped sheer on the left thousands of feet to the ice of Hanging Glacier. And so steeply it descended on the right a slip would have meant sure death. A steep snow slope reached several fingers of glare ice up along its 60° slope.

As we paused to mentally tighten our belts for the assault on the ridge, I unsheathed my movie camera for some action shots.

East Peak, which we had climbed earlier in the day, had not been easy. There had been steep ice where only steep snow should have been. Standing on the East Peak slopes kicking steps in the ice without benefit of crampons, ice-axe or rope had been nerve- wracking. Now this monstrous ridge presented itself.

Norm broke the silence with, “Well, we can’t tackle it any sooner!” and started up the first pitch. “Did we want to climb this after all?”, at once a question and. a cry of dismay echoed by all who have gotten within sight of the peak, was Sarah’s reaction to the ridge.

Norm’s long reach enabled him to move up easily to the first shale step. Without hesitating he straddled the narrow shale and worked his way up to the first resting place. What Sarah lacked in reach was made up in nerve. The movie shot of her doing that pitch by sheer strength and acrobatics caused my mother at its first showing to cry out in alarm. But the shot most thrilling to me is one of Norm on the summit looking out from his first mountain triumph with the far-seeing eyes of youth—seeing more than the view from the peak—seeing beyond the horizon more distant peaks to conquer.


Perhaps Gordon Flint’s ascent of Rainier, August 11th, 1941, on his 16th birthday is the reason for my writing this. A season’s climbing seemed to provide a heterogeneity of material from solos in the Olympics and Cascades to the organized climbs of the Mountaineers, Inc. Consequently, I finally decided upon the three stories of the adventures of three boys all of whom had begun climbing at the age of IS or earlier.

During the summer of 1938 I was again in Alaska with Bradford Washburn exploring in the Chugach Mountains. After that first ascent of Saint Agnes (13,250 ft.), highest in this previously untouched range, I was not to climb another great peak until my ascent of Rainier in July, 1941. This climb was so keenly satisfying that I determined to attempt a second ascent within a month, this time by a different route and with members of my Chehalis scout troop.

It might not be out of place to say a few words for the scout leaders and scout mothers who have started boys out in mountaineering. Incidentally, so many Eagle scouts are members of Mountaineers, Inc. that they consider forming a climbing fraternity within the club composed solely of Eagles. Though I speak here of what has been done in Chehalis particularly, similar programs exist in scout troops all over the west. Many fine climbers trace their early interest in mountaineering to the program of camping and outdoor training of the Boy Scouts of America.

February, 1941, found me at work in my home town, where for six months I had the satisfaction of being scoutmaster of one of the best troops in the council. I do not accept the credit for the high records of accomplishment achieved by Troop 20, Chehalis. The pace was set by dynamic Rufe Kiser, University of Washington mile star, and later maintained by Bob Adamson of Chehalis who, to quote his own words, “hardly ever spent more than five evenings a week with the troop.” I just rolled along on their momentum with frequent assists from Mrs. Anderson, mother of Bob and of three other Eagle scout sons. She deserves a plaque in National Scout Headquarters for her inspired service to Chehalis youth. Aided by her tireless assistance, in addition to the Scout Mothers Club, plus Rufe’s inspired policies, I experienced the happiest, most productive half-year of scouting I have known before or since.

When Rufe took over Twenty he specified that the mothers should allow their boys to go on all the hikes. That became the prerequisite for membership in the troop. If Junior didn’t like outdoor stuff there were other troops in town! Among other things Rufe started a troop at the Washington State Training School where he was working during his Chehalis residence, ran both troops well. The Scout Mothers Club was inaugurated at his suggestion, a happy idea every scout troop should copy. I had only to outline my hike plans for the month and they were as good as accomplished. On various treks twice a month during my three- day leaves Chehalis scouts, 25 or 30 strong with their scoutmaster, assisted by explorer scouts such as 15-year-old Gordon Flint, took over the forests and peaks as far afield as Point Success on Mount Rainier. Merchants vied with each other to furnish the trucks, gas and oil—even drivers for these expeditions. Nothing like it has been seen prior to the U.S.O.

Managing these forays into the wilderness was not always a Sunday school picnic even with Flint’s help. Yet, with patrol organization, there was rarely any trouble that could not be handled by a little group pressure. For instance, when an obstreperous tenderfoot with antisocial tendencies started screaming and cursing and wound up biting the ear of a brother scout to whom he had taken an intense dislike, the boys of his patrol voted to dunk him three times in frigid Johnson Creek. This was May. Washington’s streams were ice water. Johnson Creek was too cold for swimming though a few boys had tried it. Nevertheless, a thoughtful scoutmaster turned his back while group discipline took place. The results were marvelous.

A high spirited gang of boys piled out of a borrowed pick-up truck at Paradise Valley on an August evening, started hilariously preparing a cabin supper. That was the day on which Leon Brigham, Jr., lost his life on the other side of the mountain. The boys will long remember Rainier, 1941, not only as their first attempt, and for some, conquest, of the summit of the state but also on account of the adventure it provided. As it turned out, of the four boys, Gordon Flint, Bob Quick, Dan McDonald, and Don Lawler, only Gordon and Bob proved capable of the summit climb. Dan succumbed to muscle cramps early in the trip. Don was not only inexperienced but just barely 14.

However, Flint and Quick were well conditioned. During my previous three-day leave we had climbed St. Helens twice. Both made Point Success in good style though Quick experienced a bit of mountain sickness at the Kautz icefall.

Curiously enough we had more difficulty reaching 10,000 ft., the elevation of our camp, than on the climb from that point to the summit. Our difficulty arose from confusion in our minds at the start caused by two different people advising us in rapid succession, each recommending a different route. In crossing the Nis- qually we headed for the wrong gully and wasted three hours and considerable energy on what proved to be an impossible route for the party. We then gave up the attempt to follow directions now so hopelessly garbled, ascended the Nisqually a mile, crossed the Wilson, reached 10,000 ft. on the ridge below the snowfield shaped like and called “The Turtle” above which is located Camp Hazard.

It was after sunset. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Already Dan had had several attacks of muscle cramps, caused, no doubt, by the unusual exercise or perhaps by the exertions of attempting to scale the walls of the Nisqually. The attacks were becoming so severe, it was evident we should not be able to reach Hazard at 11,500 ft. where were located the R.N.P.S. sleeping bags which head guide Clark Schurman had kindly given us permission to use so we sought shelter on a gelid cliff and waited for the moon to come up. Close contact and constant shivering kept us from freezing. The increasing cold two hours later made it imperative to seek a more protected location. We roped up quickly so as not to freeze temporarily unmittened hands. Hiking slowly so as not to stimulate perspiration we reached the summit of a broad rock-strewn ledge. There we set about the two hour job (the longer we worked the longer we kept warm) of building our night’s bivouac shelter. A circular rock wall four feet high enclosing a sand floor, Flint subsequently dubbed it “Frigid-Air.” A blaze of kindle sticks kept us warm and heated tea for us while we arranged ourselves for the remainder of the night as best we could in our pack-sacks and extra clothing.

Clouds gathered and a summit attempt seemed inadvisable. When they began to dissipate at 6 A.M., Flint convinced me that we should make a reconnaissance climb to Hazard. In spite of the conditions I acquiesced. Had Flint not insisted that we take everything necessary for a climb, particularly the crampons for which there was little use on the easy snow slopes below the icefall, we could not have profited from the improved conditions at Hazard. His straight thinking turned failure into success.

Leaving Frigid-Air at six (climbers generally get off from Hazard by four) we reached the high camp under the icefall at 8.15. Lingering looks at the Park Service sleeping bags cached in the rocks aroused in each of us the temptation to remain and satisfy our night’s longing for the comfort we had had to forego.

The icefall and the route past Wapowety Cleaver where we paused for a can of fruit juice was absurdly easy. Merely following steps hacked in the ice by our recent predecessors we had only to conserve our energy and hope that the favorable winds might hold back the cloud cotton hovering beyond the dome of the mountain.

Doing the rest step for 100 paces with a minute or two rest in between brought us to the summit of Point Success just as the winds changed and the clouds moved in. Slowly climbing against time and the wind we had made five thousand feet in five hours. We were disappointed that the view was obscured and that we had no time to hike the half mile to Columbia Crest, only 250 ft. higher, across a little dip in the smaller crater now obscured by swirling mists.

That is all, except that Flint became 16 years of age the moment we reached Point Success, and, oh yes, scouts from Troop Twenty this summer conducted their own climb of Mount Adams.

“I’m falling!” My companion had slipped from his steps on the 35° snow slope we had been traversing below the serrated ridge of the rugged S. peak of Mount Constance. Several hundred feet below, the slope terminated at the brink of one of the spectacular cliffs rising from the valley separating the S. and N. peaks of the mountain. Turning my head I was shocked to see him 30 ft. below completely out of control, gaining momentum rapidly as he sped downward. He turned over twice attempting to get both hands on his ice-axe which swung from one hand absolutely useless to him. With no means of executing an effective arrest, he did not succeed in appreciably slackening his speed and was moving at a terrific rate when he shot over the edge and disappeared from sight.

As I write this now (September, 1942) three months after the event, my mind is gripped by the sheer horror of that moment high on Constance, one of the most rugged and inaccessible peaks of the eastern Olympics. It does no good to conjecture of the possible terrible consequences of that slip. The simple narration of the facts of the incident is sufficient to convey the degree of my emotion.

Neither does it help any to attempt to rationalize. Obviously falls are hazards of climbing. Anyone is liable to slip. And David Harrah had climbed for several years before that day on Constance. He was even a member of the Mountaineers, Inc., and was one of their keenest junior climbers, making all the climbs his school schedule allowed. The point is, at the time of the accident, we were travelling unroped.

David fell. There was nothing I could do. I do not remember during his swift passage down the slope whether or not I had called out to him to kick his toes into the slope or if it would have helped if I had. There was no sound as he shot from view over the brink of the cliff.

“Are you there?” I called. Words cannot express the shock I suffered. “I’m hurt!” Thank God! “Can you hang on?” “I’m hurt!”

I found him where he had come to rest in a clump of mountain shrubs. His face was in a grievous condition. In passing over a projecting rock three middle teeth had been torn from his upper jaw, leaving a gaping hole. A wound in his lower lip the shape of an inverted V, the point of which bisected the lip, allowed it to suspend in ragged flaps exposing the lower jaw. There he lay, injured and bleeding, three teeth gone, several others so badly damaged they were later removed, his lip severely damaged and his leg an agony of torture. Yet, his first words to me serve as an epic example of that exhortation of the Mountaineers, Inc.: “You shall acquire a sense of humor that will tide you over the trying places.”1

With gallant effrontery, out of a battered mouth from which no consonants such as t’s and d’s were to emerge for some time due to the absence of those upper middle teeth, he summoned the crack, “Well, Norm, ’s a goo(d) (t)hing we ha(d) (t)hose s(t)eaks las(t) nigh(t) !” D. H. could not have made a kinder, more thoughtful and consoling remark to me that sorrowful moment.

How bad was the leg I wondered, as I sank my ice-axe to the hilt in the snow slope, tied a bowline around his waist and attached the rope to the iceaxe. Could he walk? If not, I should have to leave him and go for help. A light snow commenced to fall. It would, I knew, be most dangerous to him in his condition to have to spend the night above the timberline. Shock and exposure might prove fatal.

“Do you think you can walk?” “I don’t know.” Fortunately no large blood vessels had been severed. The blood barely oozed from the wounds. However, activity would increase its flow.

“My glasses are gone.” Fifty feet below, at the lower extremity of the steep couloir in which David’s hurtling descent had ended, lay his hat, on the very edge of the cliff. Perhaps his glasses were nearby. Sensing my intention, he begged, “Please don’t look for the glasses,” adding with terrible emphasis, “If anything happens to you, I haven’t a chance of getting out of here.”

As I picked up the cap and turned back to him I suddenly feared that heavy bleeding might commence before I could reach him. Thinking how Whymper after a bad fall during a lone scramble on the Matterhorn had saved his own life by using snow to stop such bleeding I called to David, “Put a handful of snow in your mouth.”

In a moment the bleeding ceased completely and I applied a compress and jaw bandage. I tied myself into the rope leaving only 10 feet between us and put the remainder into my pack. Helping David to his feet, I commenced kicking big flat bucket steps to save the leg any unnecessary strain. Mentally considering the factors of the problem, the only solution was to get D. H. back to the comfort and shelter of Miner Karnes’ cabin, from which we had started at six, as soon as possible. David was able to walk though the leg injury, first diagnosed as a strain, later turned out to be a bone chip. The actions of this 15-year-old were heroic in the extreme.

“Surely is too bad to spoil your vacation this way,” he remarked. Poor David! He would be forced to give up his first great trip— the annual Mountaineers’ outing.

As we paused to rest at the point from which he had fallen, David slipped his little camera out of his parka, made the necessary adjustments to allow for the weather conditions, and snapped a picture of me ahead on the rope. The picture, composed surprisingly , well, measures accurately the degree of the slope. It was approximately 35°.

Before we regained the ridge David was wondering how expensive this was all going to be for Dad. He did not conjecture upon how proud Dad was going to be of a son who had gone through a real test of fire and displayed throughout the ordeal resources of strength few realized he possessed.

When we reached the ridgetop, I was forced to leave him in a hollow in the rocks with only an extra parka as protection from the falling snow while I sought an easier return route. The first gully I descended was choked with great bands of bright red rock, no doubt heavy with the ore for which Miner Karnes has spent half a lifetime searching. Almost two hours later, after a punishing scramble down cliffs and rockslides, I returned heavy hearted. I had not even been able to locate the pass at timberline.

We should have to return over the serrated ridge, gendarme after gendarme, the way we had come. It involved some fairly stiff rock climbing. During my reconnaissance I had made note of every possible bivouac spot. Not a 100 ft. from where D. H. lay, just beyond the peak of the next gendarme, was a more or less protected spot in an angle of the rock where partial shelter might be obtained. Several wind-dried snags would provide firewood.

David raised his head as I approached. Much depressed at failure to locate an easier route, I told him the truth, “We shall have to return along the ridge the way we came. How far do you think you can make it ?” “I can make it to timberline,” he said as he rose, shivering violently. Strong words! His actions were stronger. Throughout our subsequent descent which took twelve hours, David’s courage never flagged.

We had to stop every time we lost the track and search the rocks for a nail mark or the snow for a bootprint. Descending a vertical cliff by tiny holds I held David’s feet in place with my hands guiding them down step by step. It was still daylight when we reached our pass at timberline. The exercise had warmed him and stopped the shivering; possibly it had counter-balanced any effects of shock.

“Do you suppose I could eat some lunch here?” he asked. Feeling that his hunger was a good omen and hoping that taking food might not be injurious I consented. He was able to accomplish the feat of lunch only by placing the morsels of food between his back teeth and by tilting his head back under a bottle of pop allowing the liquid to trickle down his throat.

The remainder of the descent was an endless torture. A trail in name only, a mile above the road we lost it completely and were forced to do two hours of bushwhacking through typical Washington jungle. Anyone familiar with the jungle growth along the Dosewallips River will appreciate the effort required to drop down through crisscrossed logs in complete darkness only to have to haul oneself out again, to walk logs, swing down over cliffs on boughs of vine maple, to fight devil clubs, slip on boulders, fall and rise and keep going, on and on and on. When we reached the road David had no emotions left, so cruel had been the effort to make each step.

At the cabin David drew the bandage below his chin, stepped toward the mirror. “My God, this can’t be I!” he exclaimed. Dad Karnes helped me to make D. H. as comfortable as possible before I left at earliest dawn on the run down the river road to telephone out for help.

The Forest Service put through my calls without delay. David’s father said he would take the next ferry to Port Townsend in spite of the fact that David thought he ought not to leave his civilian defense duties in Seattle. Doctor Schaill of Port Townsend, just going into surgery when the call came, said he would be available on David’s arrival.

A kindly farmer and his wife drove me back along the Dosey Canyon road to get David ready and transport him to the canal road at Brinnon where he was transferred into a waiting patrol car which was equipped with a stretcher. What his father will not soon forget was the request D. H. made of him when they met in the surgery at Townsend: “I owe Norman a bill of nine dollars for my share of the food. Will you pay it for me?”

Mr. Harrah stepped outside to consult with Doctor Schaill. A nurse who meant well applied some kind of sulfa powder as she voiced her feelings that D. H. should have spent his vacation at lower altitudes. His reply pleased me greatly and made a splendid quotation to end the story, “As soon as I can, I’m going to return to Constance and complete the trip. It’s grand country,” he said. And he meant it. Thanks to Doctor Schaill’s skillful diagnosis and the fine medical treatment he received, David is now completely healed of his injuries. His determination to continue with his climbing plans regardless of misfortune doubtless hastened his recovery.

In a recent letter D. H. describes first rate climbs he has made during the past month with other fine young members of the Mountaineers.

Because I refuse to console myself with the rationalization that the accident resulted from risks everpresent in mountaineering, I repeat, had we been roped at the time, the accident should not have happened. Furthermore … “You shall not underrate a mountain trip … You must overwhelm the mountains, not the mountains you. You shall set yourself a goal that is equal your ability but also be able, on the other hand, to renounce that goal and turn back if necessary

1From The Mountaineer’s Ten Commandments, translated, condensed and supplemented from Louis Trenker’s books by Wolf Bauer.