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Across the Olympic Mountains: The Press Expedition

Across the Olympic Mountains: The Press Expedition, 1889–90, by Robert L. Wood. Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers and the University of Washington Press, 1967. 220 pages, 24 photographs, 9 maps. Price: $5.95.

The central mountains of the Olympic peninsula remained an area of mystery and legend long after the rest of the west was won. Statehood had been granted, and 100,000 people, more or less, lived on the shores of Puget Sound. Still the mountains were unexplored. Bob Wood, who spent the greater part of a decade researching and revising this account, has done a splendid job of bringing to life the explorations and the men who took part in them.

James H. Christie was uniquely fitted to pierce the mystery of the Olympics, and the men he gathered for the task were described by the Seattle Press as having an “abundance of grit and manly vim”, qualities that were to be sorely tried during the ensuing six months. By starting at the onset of winter, the Press party managed to be the first to cross the Olympics, but by the time their account was published in the following July the range was alive with prospectors and large parties under the leadership of Judge Wickersham and Lt. O’Neil. Still, the party’s account provided the first generally accurate information on the topography of the mountains, and a great many of the place names that they assigned are still in use.

The book is a story of hardship and adventure, perseverence in the face of overwhelming odds. Indeed, crossing the Olympics in winter is only infrequently done today. Enough knowledge of the exploits of the Press Expedition has remained well-known for the party to become a part of the legend of the mountains. Bob Wood’s contribution has cleared up most of the questions, and at the same time enhanced the party’s reputation. The next time we have one of those frequent reports of the location of some long-forgotten camp at the base of a tree with the overgrown but still discernible and distinctive Press party blaze, we can check this volume to determine whether Barnes, Hayes, and the rest of that notable band might really have been there.

George R. Sainsbury