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Hank Reasoner - Personal Communication

Phone conversation, 19 December 2001
by Lowell Skoog

At the time of this conversation, Hank Reasoner was 85 years old. He has lived in Whatcom County his whole life, with the exception of his service in the Navy and Air Corps in World War II. He served in Borneo in the Pacific near the end of the war.

Hank is one of the only surviving members of the original Mt Baker ski patrol. To start the National Ski Patrol, Minot Dole recruited members from the National Ski Association. The Mt Baker Ski Club was an NSA member organization. Hank was a casual member of the ski club, and Bob McBeath (now deceased) recruited him to help start the ski patrol. Hank was appointed to the National Ski Patrol (NSP #272) by Minot Dole. Hank gave the NSP qualifying examination to Dr. Otto Trott. Dr. Trott had been in the German army and was a medical doctor, so he taught members of the Mt Baker ski patrol much more than just emergency first aid.

The 1941 ski ascent of Mt Shuksan began with a party of four. They started by following Shuksan Arm. They bivouacked at the east end of the arm where they came up against the cliffs. The next morning they descended from the arm below the cliffs to reach the White Salmon Glacier. Walt Dyke and another fellow whose name Hank could not remember decided that the route looked too difficult and time-consuming so they backed off. They had jobs in Seattle that they needed to return to. One could not afford to jeopardize a job in those days by not showing up on time.

Hank was skiing on a pair of 6ft-9in Attenhofer wood skis with no metal edges. They had emergency packs with a bivouac tent and primus stove but no sleeping bags. They ascended the White Salmon Glacier (Hank called it the "Hanging Glacier") to Winnie's Slide, which was too steep to ski up, so they carried their skis and kicked steps straight up it. After eating lunch they continued up the Curtis Glacier to Hells Highway. On the steep section of Hells Highway (leading to the Sulphide Glacier) they belayed each other with secure anchors as they zigzagged back and forth on skis. Hank recalled ascending a steep gully up Hells Highway, "like the inside of a teacup."

They continued to the summit pyramid ("Angels Staircase") and left their packs on a rock before scrambling to the summit at dusk. Returning to their packs they laid their skis on a rock like a bench and "upholstered it with the rope" to spend a very comfortable night.

The next morning was beautiful, with no wind, and they skied down their ascent route. The snow had become soft in the sun but there was no avalanche danger. They had studied ski mountaineering, and Otto Trott had an intuitive feel for hazards thanks to his experience. But Hank emphasized: "You were on the mountain and on the slopes in the mood the mountain was in. We never forgot that."

Hank thought there had been other ski ascents of Mt Shuksan from Baker Lake, but that was a much more gentle side of the mountain with "no real challenge to it." He didn't know whether such ascents preceded his 1941 ascent of the White Salmon Glacier with Dr. Trott. (I think it's unlikely, since roads reaching close to the Sulphide Glacier were not completed until the 1960s.)

I asked Hank whether their route ascended the Hourglass (as asserted in a newspaper account) but he said it did not. The Hourglass was topped with a cornice and was not a feasible route at the time. They skied by it on their way up Hells Highway.

Hank had previously made a ski ascent of Mt Baker with Gage Chetwood in May 1940. In those days you had to walk practically all the way from Glacier through the timber. Chetwood's parents had a grocery store, which enabled him to pay for ski lessons from Otto Lang. He became an excellent skier and would pass along the tips he learned from Lang.

Hank wanted to stress that during the Mt Shuksan ski ascent the weather conditions were about as perfect as you could get. They assessed each slope to decide how best to tackle it. They decided that zigzagging up the steep slope of Winnie's Slide on skis was not an option, because cutting the slope could cause slides, so they made a fall-line ascent on foot.

Phone conversation, 24 January 2002
by Lowell Skoog

Hank called to thank me for sending him a videotape of my Snowy Range talk. He said he had watched it several times.

He said that in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Mount Baker area was popular with Canadians because there were no good alternatives across the border. As tow operator for Ski Lifts, Inc., Hank would honor Canadian money 'at par' to attract more customers. On some weekends he would bring in $500, not bad when a ticket cost just a dollar or two.

In our last conversation, Hank mentioned that during the 1941 ski ascent of Mt Shuksan, he and Otto Trott kicked steps straight up Winnie's Slide, rather than climbing on skis, because the snow was too steep and hard. I asked whether they skied down that section. He said yes. They stopped to rest and "restore their blood sugar" at the top of the slide during the descent. Then they skied it. He recalled that the slide was softening in the sun, had a pretty good runout and wasn't too long. He also said that Winnie's Slide and "Angels Staircase" (on the summit rock) were the only places where they took their skis off during the ascent.

Hank noted that conditions were perfect and they didn't try to use skis where they were inappropriate. He and Otto were comfortable with each other on the climb and had a mutually understood attitude about safety. He recalled advice that an old Swiss once gave him: "You climb the mountain in the mood it's in, not in the mood you're in." Otherwise, added Hank, "the mountain will kick your butt."

Hank said he didn't have much money in those days and didn't travel much to ski. Mostly he stayed around Bellingham and skied in the Mt Baker area. He did recall, however, that he was a ski patroller at the 1940 Silver Skis race in which Sigurd Hall died. He was stationed at Anvil Rock.

Phone conversation, 11 March 2002
by Lowell Skoog

Hank and I had another conversation prompted by my upcoming talk at the Mountaineers. Hank said that Hans Ott had a job as a mechanic for Pan Am. Walter Dyke had a job at the U.W. as a physicist. Since jobs were precious in those days, they turned around and headed back to town rather than spend the night on Mount Shuksan.

Hank said that he and Otto Trott had an understanding that they would turn around if conditions weren't right for the ascent. They roped up for the ascent of Hell's Highway. Hank described the final part of the climb as "like the inside of a teacup". It was extremely steep and they gave each other ice axe belays. Hank felt they made the ascent in a safe manner. They took their skis off to ascend a short section on Winnie's Slide and skied all the rest.

During the bivi they got into their blizzard tent and supported it with their heads. They took their boots off and put their feet in their rucksacks. One man was supposed to stay awake to adjust the vent to maintain fresh air in the tent. Hank said that Otto promptly fell asleep and Hank gave him grief about it.

Phone conversation, 11 April 2002
by Lowell Skoog

Hank mentioned that he knew Milana Jank. Miss Jank was from Germany and promoted herself as an adventuress. She set herself up as a guide around the Mount Baker Lodge. Hank remembered finding some cooking gear stashed in the hills with her name on it and a note saying in no uncertain terms to leave it alone. He remembered her as a diminutive woman, very Teutonic, who made sure you knew who she was.

Written communication, 12 April 2002

Hank sent me a marked-up copy of the Margaret Willson article from the Bellingham Herald (1-22-1981). He wrote that the portion of the ascent described as "the Hourglass" was in fact Hell's Highway. "The rest of the account is reasonably accurate," he wrote.

Conversation, 11 February 2003
by Lowell Skoog

I finally met Hank when I did my slide presentation for the Bellingham Mountaineers. He said that the skis he used on the 1941 ascent of Mt Shuksan did not have metal edges. He and Otto Trott used waxed climbers. The climbers were affixed to the skis using a sort of pine-tar klister.

Written communication, 19 February 2003

Hank sent me a letter following my February 11, 2003 presentation for the Bellingham Mountaineers. The letter describes other ski mountaineering trips and adventures that he did in the early days:

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Last Updated: Sat Nov 28 15:13:12 PST 2009