Such words as
"foolhardy" and "unwomanly" were used to describe 47 bravely
bloomered lasses who in 1906 took decorous delight in skittering up and down
the icy sides of Mt. Baker, a formidable peak in the Washington Cascades. But
some admiration was expressed too. Few women in those days even ventured out of
their kitchens, much less scaled dangerous peaks. It was the era when women,
still encased in one of history's most uncomfortable and action-inhibiting
costumes, were just beginning a timid entry into sedate sports like lawn tennis
and croquet. Not many women in 1906 were the stuff of which mountaineers are
made, but this daring group of bloomer girls was undaunted by the mores and
limitations of the rest of their sex.
The climb was
made by a mountaineering club in Portland, Oregon, named the Mazamas, after a
mountain goat. It was their 13th annual outing and the most difficult assault
of their history. But their stern Chinook motto, "Nesika Klatawa Sahale [We
Go Up]," promised a determined ascent.
photographers, Charles Finley Easton and Asahel Curtis, hauled cumbersome glass
plates up the mountain to record the historic event, thereby giving the sport
of mountain climbing for females a great impetus. The pictures showed the
bloomered, pneumatic-bloused lady Mazamas waving jaunty ice axes from dizzy
heights. And the intrepid women became the talk of the Northwest.
There were 71
male Mazamas on the expedition, aiming (as were the ladies) to make the first
climb of the 10,750-foot mountain's perilous northeast face. A few of the men
made it; none of the women did. But their very presence on the mountain was a
joyous victory over convention and the wilderness.
A frontier train
deposited a vast quantity of dunnage and foodstuffs at the logging-and-mining
settlement of Glacier. Some twenty rugged miles above was the chosen Mazama
campsite at Galena Chain of Lakes. "Social amenities took flight," one
of the climbers reported, as the mile-long procession of Mazamas struggled till
late at night to reach Galena from Glacier. The next morning the Mazamas
awakened to see a feathery display of hats protruding from the ladies' sleeping
bags. Everyone had gone to bed weary and fully clothed. However, all were
"restored to a state of sublime tranquillity" by unsalted mush eaten in
the smog from a cookstove pipe that "smoked most foully until extended by
empty coffee cans." They found a way up Mazama Dome and spent hours sliding
fearlessly down its 1,000-foot snow field in tin washbasins, using cedar poles
On Coleman Peak,
highest pinnacle between camp and the summit of Mt. Baker, the Mazamas cut
steps in the ice to provide footing. Catherine Montgomery, now a retired school
supervisor of Bellingham, Washington, asked a male climber if she might cling
to his coattails, since heights made her dizzy. "If you suffer from
dizziness," said the man coldly, "why did you come?"
still exults in the justice of her matter-of-fact reply: "It's a
calamity—like being bald." That night at the campfire the gallant removed
his derby. To her delight, he was bald as an egg.
If the men
expected the ladies to be an encumbrance, they were surprised. The damsels
gloried in the wilds. A Wellesley graduate, Mrs. R. D. Hann, bathed nude each
morning among the ice chunks in a body of water now called Hann's Lake. And
although the other women responded to the frequent visitations of bears with
shrill squeals of "Bears in camp!" there was no panic. Even a small
forest fire that approached within 200 yards of base camp didn't faze the
On the day of
the official climb 33 Mazamas, eight of them women, roped themselves together
and without the aid of crampons climbed across a glacier. After crawling along
a ridge, they pressed on toward Baker's summit. At Pumice Stone Pinnacle,
called "Patience Knob," not far below the summit, the chilled, thrilled
group waited five hours hoping their reconnoitering party would report that
ascent was possible. But the precipice, slanted at about 65�, barred all but
trained Alpinists. The disappointed 33 returned to high camp at the foot of
Coleman Peak, "puzzled—but not defeated."
days gentlemen Mazamas made the ninth, tenth and eleventh known ascents of Mt.
Baker. The map of the mountain bears permanent imprint of the Mazamas. A falls,
the glacier on the northeast slope, an alpine park, the Sphinx (a rock
formation within 400 feet of the summit), the Dome, two lakes and a crater are
named "Mazama." In the fifty years since the bloomer girls' attempted
assault of Mt. Baker, most of the peaks in western U.S. and Canada have felt
the beat of Mazama boots. But historians agree that the decision of the 33 to
turn back before reaching Baker's summit was not due to the presence of ladies
on the expedition. Says Will Pratt, Whatcom County (Wash.) auditor, who in 1906
was a runner for the news services: "Those girls would have attempted
anything. Women aren't like that any more."