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First Atop Volcanoes

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Geography & Geology

Five volcanoes rise above the Cascade Range in Washington State and all are popular among mountaineers.  Together, they account for thousands of ascents each year.  But for each of these peaks, there was a first success; a first party of men standing at the summit looking out at the earth from a perspective no one had seen before.  In the case of Washington’s volcanoes, each of these firsts happened long ago — in the nineteenth century — before mountaineering had matured as a sport; when it was more an expedition than a recreation; and when climbing gear, clothing, and supplies were far more cumbersome than any modern mountain guide would recommend.  Climbing’s not a walk in the park today.  It certainly wasn’t then.

Volcanoes add an interesting element to the usual mix of climbing.  Geothermal vents and summit craters have fascinated mountaineers from the start.  On the very first ascent of Mt Rainier, Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump spent the night warmed by the heat rising up from the volcano below.  Six years later Stevens wrote: “As we were crossing the crater on the snow, Van Trump detected the odor of sulphur, and the next instant numerous jets of steam and smoke were observed issuing from the crevices of the rocks which formed the rim on the northern side. Never was a discovery more welcome! Hastening forward, we both exclaimed, as we warmed our chilled and benumbed extremities over one of Pluto’s fires, that here we would pass the night, secure against freezing to death, at least.”

Today is the anniversary of that historic ascent of Rainier in 1870.  By coincidence, it’s also the date two years earlier that four men first summited Mt Baker.  Today’s WA-List honors those two climbs and the first of Washington’s three other volcanoes.  They are listed in the order they were topped.

FIRST ASCENTS OF WASHINGTON VOLCANOES

Volcano Elevation
(in feet)
First Ascent Date First Climbers
1. Mt St Helens 9,677 1853 Aug 27 Thomas J. Dryer, John Wilson, Mr. Smith, Mr. Drew
2. Mt Adams 12,276 1854 late summer A.G. Aiken, Edward J. Allen, Andrew J. Burge
3. Mt Baker 10,778 1868 Aug 17 Edward T. Coleman, John Tennent, David Ogilvy
4. Mt Rainier 14.411 1870 Aug 17 Hazard Stevens, Philemon B. Van Trump
5. Glacier Peak 10,541 1897 early summer Thomas Gerdine, Sam Strom, A.H. Dubor, Darcy Bard

NOTE: The pre-eruption elevation of Mt St Helens is given here, since that was its height in 1853.  Since 1980, the peak stands 8,364 feet.  I tried to determine the name of the first climbers atop Mt St Helens after the 1980 eruption, but failed.  It was likely someone with the USGS.

SOURCES: You might find bits of this data in several places. I’ve seen several of these names and dates so many times I didn’t really need to check my notes for them, but I assure you that I verified the facts before publishing anyway!  Refer to Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide (3 vols.) for excellent climbing routes and history.  Beckey, by the way, has more than a dozen first ascents himself.  The Cascades Volcano Observatory (http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/) also has written accounts by some of the climbers listed here.

PHOTO of Mt St Helens (before the 1980 eruption) by Jim Nieland, US Forest Service.

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One Response to “First Atop Volcanoes”

  1. Joan Says:

    It would be interesting to know the gear these climbers had with them and what they used on their feet.