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A Note on Mount Olympus, Cascades


Following the publication in last year’s A.A.f. of the early climbing records of Mount Olympus my attention was called by Dr. J. M. Thorington to the fact that in the 1932 and 1940 A. A. C. booklets Belmore Browne had included in his list, "1907: Olympus (first ascent).” This was puzzling, for Belmore would never have claimed anything he had not done; on the other hand his name does not appear in the detailed account by L. A. Nelson in The Mountaineer, September, 1907. Recently I had an opportunity to talk with John E. Doerr, Superintendent of Olympic National Park about it. He passed the inquiry on to his assistant, Charles E. Browne (not related to Belmore), who made the following report:

"According to Belmore Browne’s article, 'The First Ascent of Mount Olympus,’ in Recreation, 1908, 28:5, pp. 195-200, his party of five climbed Mount Olympus in the summer of 1907, some days before the party of eleven led by L. A. Nelson. In writing about their return from the climb he mentions this other party. 'In Geyser Valley we met a mountaineering club ascending the Elwha River for an attempt on Olympus. The main party failed on the big mountain owing to unfavorable weather conditions, and at the foot of Humes Glacier a young woman fell and was seriously injured. This shows the necessity of a rope in all serious climbing. When the main party returned, a small number of men remained and succeeded in climbing Olympus, and also the western peak, which they say is higher than the main mountain. They also transferred our records from the tin can in which we had placed them to a rubber bag.’

"It would seem that the only reason for not considering Browne’s climb as a first ascent would be the fact that they climbed Middle Peak which is now known to be slightly lower than West Peak. They described, photographed, and named the West Peak as Olympic Peak; the East Peak was also photographed and titled Mount Brainard. Belmore Browne, Professor H. C. Parker, and Walter G. Clark were members of the Explorers Club; they named a pass in the ridge that separates the Humes Glacier from the Hoh Glacier as Explorers Pass.

"Incidentally, the elevation of Mount Olympus (West Peak) shown as 7954 in Mr. Farquhar’s article in the American Alpine Journal should be changed to 7976 feet. This new elevation figure (7976) is based on data given us by the U.S.C. & G.S., Department of Commerce.”

Happily, Mr. L. A. Nelson is still available for comment, so I sent the correspondence to him at Portland, Oregon, and promptly received a reply under date of March 1, 1961: "The letter from John Doerr forwarding Charles Browne’s report is correct, but I will add more data on the way in which The Mountaineers met Belmore Browne and his party and had a very fine visit, but rather meager data from them. Will Humes was packer and guide, brother of Grant Humes, both living on the Humes ranch about 20 miles from Port Angeles, on the Elwha River. Will told me that they climbed the Middle Peak but decided against the West Peak. That settles that point.”

So it appears that the first ascent of the West Peak (highest) was made by The Mountaineers, led by L. A. Nelson, August 13, 1907; and the first ascent of the Middle Peak (slightly lower) was made by Browne, Parker, and Clark a few days earlier. As for the East Peak (also lower), two ascents were made by The Mountaineers, August 12 and 15, both led by L. A. Nelson. An old paper was found on the summit of the East Peak, which proved to be from Shelton, Washington, and of a date in August, 1899 (The Mountaineers, 1907, 1:3, p. 83).

Mr. Nelson continues: "Later, on inquiry from two men, Mr. Dodson and Mr. Ripon, who were making a map survey and timber type check of the Olympics, they told me their cook, Jack McClone, climbed the East Peak and left a paper on the summit—which clears up the East Peak record.” He adds, "It really pays to ask questions of the right people if one wants the answers, and Humes, Dodson, and Ripon had the answers.” And I conclude by saying that L. A. Nelson, one of the greatest (and most enduring) of Northwestern mountaineers, also has the answers.

Francis P. Farquhar