SI Vault
 
BLOOMERS ALOFT
Dolly Connelly
August 15, 1955
In 1906, when most women were kitchenbound, these brave girls defied custom and Mt. Baker
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 15, 1955

Bloomers Aloft

In 1906, when most women were kitchenbound, these brave girls defied custom and Mt. Baker

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

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.

Two professional 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 as rudders.

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?"

Miss Montgomery 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 girls.

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."

On following 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."

1
Related Topics
  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
Catherine Montgomery 1 0 0
Coleman Peak 1 0 0
Portland (Oregon) 89 0 0
Bellingham (Washington) 4 0 0
Asahel Curtis 0 0 0