American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mazama Centennial, 1994

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  • Publication Year: 1994

Mazama Centennial, 1994. (Editor’s Note: Because the Mazamas are celebrating their Centennial, we are placing this report here. The regular annual report also appears below.)

At four P.M., July 19, 1994, exactly one century will have elapsed since the Mazamas of Portland, Oregon, bravely endured a stormy afternoon to conduct a formal meeting of organization on the summit of 11,245-foot Mount Hood. The club has planned many activities to commemorate this event and to recall the rigors of getting 193 men and women, mostly novices, to the summit of a major glacial peak.

Once organized, the club had an ambitious infancy. In 1894, heliography, the art being used by the U.S. Army of transmitting Morse code with mirrors, was the central theme. Transmission of signals was planned between parties who were to climb Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Jefferson, Diamond Peak, Mount Hood, and of course Mount Adams, where a large outing party assembled. The only success was reception of signals between Hood and Adams; the other points were not received because of smoky atmosphere and failure of parties to reach some of the summits as scheduled.

Mazamas on the outing of 1896 climbed Mount Pitt (now Mount McLough- lin) and visited little-known Crater Lake. William G. Steel, a chief founder and the first president of the club, was in the midst of political maneuvers to get Crater Lake accepted as a national park. He invited several important luminaries from Washington D.C. to view the wonders of Crater Lake and deliver lectures to the Mazamas at the outing campfire programs. Later acceptance as a national park saved Crater Lake from despoliation. Steel’s political role was parallel to John Muir’s campaign with the government to save Yosemite as a park.

This was the dawning of a new era for mountain clubs. Following years took the Mazamas to peaks never before visited by such groups—Mount Rainier in 1897, Mount St. Helens in 1898, Sahale Peak in the North Cascades in 1899, and Mount Jefferson in 1901. 1905 was a significant point in mountain club history, when the Mazamas invited the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Club to join their second outing at Mount Rainier. Some notable guests were W.E. Colby of the Sierra Club, and General Hazard Stevens who had made the first ascent of Mount Rainier. In addition to small pilot climbs, a combined Appalachian-Sierra group placed 56 on the summit, and a party of 37 Mazamas were successful. The dangerous passage around the base of Gibraltar Rock caused its share of accidents, including one by the prominent Mazama Charles Sholes, and a more serious one by the Appalachian Club’s eminent member and editor, Charles E. Fay. Fay injured his knee so severely that he was not able to enjoy serious ascents in the Canadian Selkirks later in the summer.

The true import of this 1905 Mazama outing, however, was the emphasis placed on technique and safety after the climbers had all returned to their homes. Dr. Charles Fay had arrived at the outing with a fellow member of the American Alpine Club, John H. Cameron. Cameron had made many ascents in the Canadian Rockies and had learned his techniques from the Swiss guides who worked there. Upon returning to his home, he wrote a personal letter to Charles Sholes, which was deemed to have such value, that it was published in the 1905 Mazama under the title Shall American Climbers Adopt European Methods? Cameron had been appalled by the long lines of alpenstock toting, innocent beginners, tied in ropes of 8 to 10. He felt that each person should carry an ice axe and be in the charge of a professional guide. Mr. Cameron certainly jogged the thinking process of climbers within the Mazamas, Sierra Club, and Appalachian Club, but the change was not rapid; forty years later, large parties were still climbing with alpenstocks, even in the Alpine Club of Canada parties. And the institution of private guiding never did enter the realm of mountaineering clubs; they continued to train and use their own leaders.

Like all mountain clubs born a century ago, the Mazamas have effected great changes since nine novices with alpenstocks might toil up a mountainside on one rope, following one experienced leader who carried an ice axe. The Annual Outing, once the only means for approaching and climbing mountains, has been replaced by many smaller and more specialized outings, and climbing parties routinely travel to a peak, climb it, and return home within a two-day weekend. The use of a little hardware and some modern belaying techniques enable parties to routinely ascend both rock and ice slopes once considered unclimbable.

In so many respects, the factors of climbing mountains prior to 1900 were little different than those found on an ascent on the same peaks today. There are the crevasses to avoid, the steps to kick up steep snow, the couloirs and aretes to negotiate, and the fact that a climber is either too hot or too cold. But much has changed, too. We no longer arrive at the mountain with horses and wagons, the alpenstock is gone, sunblock protects the skin instead of greasepaint or nothing at all, clothing and food and equipment are lighter in weight, boots and soles and crampons bite the snow and grip the rock better, and techniques have been engineered for vastly greater margins of safety.

The three great sectional mountain clubs who joined efforts on Mount Rainier back in 1905 have all stayed alive. The Sierra Club, however, has discontinued all ascents which use a rope, probably in fear of our dreadful national trend toward litigation. We may all ask, as we peer into the future with wrinkled, questioning brow, “Is this what lies ahead for all of us in the mountaineering community? Will mountaineering, one of the noblest and cleanest of all forms of outdoor activity, be driven from existence by the rapacity of the few lawyers who seek only to steal the harvest of other peoples ’ hard work?”

Another question many Mazamas are beginning to ask, “Will the government lock us out of the wilderness? Will we be so restricted by limits and

permits, that all the spontaneity and freedom will be taken from us by regulators?” This is an especially agonizing problem for those of us who have spent most of our lives doing what we could to protect the mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts from the spoilers and the trashers. Now, will we be locked out, too?

Meanwhile, the Mazamas, now an organization of about 2,700, enters its second century with several important goals, hoping that its activity and spirit of adventure will be as much alive in 2094 as they are in 1994:

To keep mountaineering as our primary purpose.

To maintain our active secondary purpose of hiking, mostly near the city.

To maintain our struggle to preserve mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts.

To further academic research in mountain-related sciences.

Jack Grauer, Historian

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