Mountaineer snowshoers admire the Tatoosh Range from Paradise Valley in 1919-20. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 7.
Mountaineer snowshoers admire the Tatoosh Range from Paradise Valley in 1919-20. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 7.
  Written in the Snows  
  Across Time on Skis in the Pacific Northwest  
  By Lowell Skoog  
A Far White Country
  Part 3  

 
 
T he Mountaineers Discover Winter

In 1905, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul Railroad announced that it would build a line from Evarts, South Dakota to Puget Sound over the Cascade Mountains. Rail traffic to the Pacific Northwest had grown so dramatically that the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railroads were glutted. Even the fiercely territorial James J. Hill welcomed a third, competing line to pick up some of the load.

The Milwaukee Road chose Snoqualmie Pass for its Cascade crossing. Snoqualmie Pass had been a historic wagon route in the 1870s and 1880s, but the opening of the Northern Pacific Railroad over Stampede Pass in 1887 ended the era of wagon transportation over the Cascades. The Milwaukee Road completed its line over Snoqualmie Pass in the spring of 1909, just in time for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Around the time the trains started rolling over the pass, the old wagon road was improved for the A-Y-P’s New York-to-Seattle auto race. Like the earlier lines over Stampede and Stevens Passes, the Milwaukee Road initially crossed Snoqualmie Pass on a surface track. The station at the summit was called Laconia. Except for the severe winter of 1909-1910 the Milwaukee Railroad was kept open throughout the winter.

In February 1912, four members of the Mountaineers club stepped off the train at Laconia Station into ten to twelve feet of snow. Charles M. Farrer, George E. Wright, Irving M. Clark and Edward W. Allen donned snowshoes for the first time and spent three days camping and traveling to the head of the Snoqualmie River (the valley that would later hold the Alpental ski area). Upon their return, Allen wrote a short but enthusiastic trip report for the club’s monthly Bulletin. This began an association between the Mountaineers and Snoqualmie Pass that persists to this day.

Since the club’s founding in 1906, the Mountaineers had been organizing winter outings to the foothills of the Cascades. As Lulie Nettleton wrote in the 1913 Sierra Club Bulletin: “Since snow—fluffy, exhilarating, real snow—does not come to Seattle, Seattleites must seek the snow. Consequently it has become the annual custom for the Mountaineers to go back to the hills and spend New Year’s enjoying winter sports usually confined to colder lands.” Several of the club’s earliest winter trips were made to Index and Scenic Hot Springs along the Great Northern Railroad.

Mountaineers wait at Rockdale Station below Snoqualmie Pass in 1918. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.
Mountaineers wait at Rockdale Station below Snoqualmie Pass in 1918. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.
  Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge in 1914. The lodge was built near Lodge Lake, on the opposite side of the Cascade Crest from today’s ski areas. Photo: The Mountaineers Archives.
Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge in 1914. The lodge was built near Lodge Lake, on the opposite side of the Cascade Crest from today’s ski areas. Photo: The Mountaineers Archives.
  Fairman B. Lee fetches water for the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
Fairman B. Lee fetches water for the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
Waiting at Rockdale Station. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.   The Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge in 1914. Photo: The Mountaineers Archives.   Fairman B. Lee fetches water. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.

During a summer outing in the Olympics in 1913, the Mountaineers decided to build a lodge in the Cascades that would be usable by club members throughout the year. They sought a location that could be reached by train in a few hours from the city, provide trips of a day or several days’ tramping, and make possible the enjoyment of winter sports. After scouting several locations, they chose a site just west of Snoqualmie Pass, on a knoll 500 feet above the Milwaukee Railroad tracks. “Big Lake,” a quarter-mile from the lodge site, would later become known as Lodge Lake, after the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge. The lodge was finished during the summer of 1914 and the club began using it immediately.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Road had been struggling to keep its surface line over Snoqualmie Pass open in winter. Following the hard winter of 1912-13, the railroad began working in earnest to complete a tunnel route. The tunnel would run two miles from Rockdale Creek, west of the pass, to Hyak, near the northern tip of Keechelus Lake, east of the divide. The Snoqualmie Tunnel opened to trains early in the winter of 1915, just as the Mountaineers were beginning to use their new lodge.

To reach the lodge, the Mountaineers rode the Milwaukee Railroad from Seattle to Rockdale Station at the west portal of the Snoqualmie Tunnel. Leaving the train, they walked a mile of uncleared track (the old surface railroad) to Lodge Creek then climbed a snow-covered trail to the lodge. Schedules weren’t very tight in those days, and the railroad allowed trains to stop to pick up passengers alongside the tracks. The drawback was that lodge users might have to wait for up to three hours in blowing snow or driving rain for the train to appear. That was the sacrifice to be paid for a weekend in the mountains.

The Mountaineers improved trails in the area and organized snowshoe trips from the lodge. They held an annual snowshoe carnival on Washington’s birthday which included races across Lodge Lake and other festivities. They cut trees above the lake to clear a 300-foot skiing and tobogganing course. Skiing slowly grew, but it remained less popular than snowshoeing throughout the 1910s. In the 1918 Mountaineer, Celia Shelton wrote: “The masters of the gentle art of skiing take on a superior air, and let it be known that the lowly snowshoe has no caste at all in the world of winter sports. A trip to Snoqualmie Lodge is usually enough, however, to establish the snow-shoe solidly in favor as a very present help in trouble, with skis holding first place in the popular opinion on Lodge Lake and the toboggan course.”

Snowshoers (and at least one skier) gather outside the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge during a Washington’s Birthday outing in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
Snowshoers (and at least one skier) gather outside the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge during a Washington’s Birthday outing in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
  Snowshoers race across Lodge Lake in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
Snowshoers race across Lodge Lake in 1919. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.
  Snowshoers climb Silver Peak with Granite Mountain in the background, 1918. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.
Snowshoers climb Silver Peak with Granite Mountain in the background, 1918. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.
Snowshoers gather on Washington’s Birthday, 1919. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.   Snowshoers race on Lodge Lake in 1919. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 58.   Snowshoers climb Silver Peak in 1918. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 62.

Clayton Crawford expressed the feelings of many Mountaineers when he wrote of the lodge: “Every trip to the Lodge and every contribution of time, labor, or money seems to make the members fonder of it.” Describing the charms of winter, he wrote: “Big Lake freezes into a field for snowshoe races and other sports of winter outings, the landscapes are symphonies in white and dark green, moonlight turns the forest to fairy land, and the Lodge seems more inviting than at any other time of the year; the great fireplace, filled with logs that blaze defiance to the cold outside, warms the heart as well as the body, intensifies Mountaineer good fellowship, invites the singers to do their best, the storytellers to be most brilliant and all to dream of happy Lodge days past and happier still to come.”

Winter in Paradise

During the 1910s, the Tacoma Mountaineers turned their attention to Mount Rainier as a winter destination. Over the New Years holiday of 1912-13, the Tacoma branch of the club organized its first winter outing to Mount Rainier, under the leadership of A.H. Denman. With Seattle and Everett members joining in, fifty people attended this outing. Lulie Nettleton wrote: “Since the average resident of this mild climate is not equipped for deep snow, the sudden demand for cold-weather articles had caused a rush upon Alaskan outfitters, and calls upon friends from colder regions.” Equipped with Alaskan mukluks, Canadian and Alaskan snowshoes, and a few Norwegian skis, the party rode the Tacoma Eastern Railroad to Ashford, then walked 12 miles to the National Park Inn at Longmire. Most of the party had never used snowshoes before, and one member wrote that at night the lobby of the inn resembled a repair shop.

Most of the party stayed close to Longmire during their snowshoe wanderings. Six, including Lulie Nettleton, pressed on through a severe storm to Paradise. She recalled: “[We] stood spellbound in an unreal world. [...] Paradise Valley is charming as a home of mountain flowers and exquisite verdure, but as we saw it, robed in a mantle of snow a score of feet in depth, it attained a dignity and majesty that will make it stand alone in the gallery of mountain memories.”

Model T Ford in front of the Longmire Springs Hotel. During the 1910s, automobiles gained access to Mount Rainier in summer. Winter visitors typically arrived by train. Photo courtesy Gary Bisgaard.
Model T Ford in front of the Longmire Springs Hotel. During the 1910s, automobiles gained access to Mount Rainier in summer. Winter visitors typically arrived by train. Photo courtesy Gary Bisgaard.
  Mountaineers travel by sleigh from the National Park boundary to Longmire during the Mountaineers New Years outing to Mount Rainier in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.222.
Mountaineers travel by sleigh from the National Park boundary to Longmire during the Mountaineers New Years outing to Mount Rainier in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.222.
  Snowshoers gather outside the Paradise Inn during the Mountaineers winter outing in 1919-20. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 7.
Snowshoers gather outside the Paradise Inn during the Mountaineers winter outing in 1919-20. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 7.
Model T Ford next to Longmire Springs Hotel in summer, 1910s. Photo courtesy Gary Bisgaard.   Mountaineers travel by sleigh to Longmire, 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.222.   Snowshoers at Paradise Inn. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Album 7.

Milnor Roberts and his sister Milnora attended this outing, but there is no record of them using skis. The only skier whose name is remembered was Olive Rand, a young woman who apparently borrowed a pair of skis in a misguided moment. Her skis were described as “two lanky slabs of wood, with turned-up ends and a pair of simple loops for harness which quite failed to keep the runners straight or, for that matter, to keep them on her feet at all.” Milnor Roberts and his UW colleague Joseph Daniels edited an evening newsletter for the outing called The Daily Slush. In honor of the skiers in the group, they prepared a “consummately scientific” article entitled, “Erratic Movements Observed in the Constellation of Skis.” Roberts was master of ceremonies at the New Years Eve program, which included a vaudeville performance, limericks and dancing, and a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight.

The Mountaineers returned to civilization to find newspapers reporting that they had been lost in the storm and that a search party ought to be summoned. After dispelling these stories, A.H. Denman and others began planning their return. In 1913-14, the party was considerably smaller, but the trip was highlighted by an overnight stay at Paradise. The men slept in John Reese’s cabin and the women slept in the nearby ranger’s cabin. For the 1915-16 outing, Thor Bisgaard, now a member of the Tacoma Mountaineers, offered ski instruction to any member who might be interested. He persuaded Norman Engle to buy a pair of skis from the departing Norwegian consul and had a pair made for Harry Weer by a Norwegian in Spanaway. They had a difficult time getting a blacksmith to make ski bindings, since none were available to copy. Bisgaard taught his students the basics of skiing at Paradise, and at the end of the outing he and Engle skied all the way from Reese’s Camp to the Ashford train station, a distance of about 18 miles. The outing was Engle’s first time on skis.

1916 brought important and lasting changes to Mount Rainier. In 1915, Stephen Mather, an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior who would become the first director of the National Park Service in 1916, convinced a gathering of Seattle business leaders to form the Rainier National Park Company and build an inn at Paradise. The group included Thomas H. Martin, David Whitcomb, Everett Griggs and others. Construction of the inn started in the summer of 1916 and the inn was prepared to open in the summer of 1917. Also in 1916, members of the Mountaineers persuaded Mather to erect a shelter hut at Camp Muir. The hut was designed by Mountaineer architect Carl F. Gould, who had been in Milnor Roberts’ 1909 ski party and who also designed the Mountaineers Snoqualmie Lodge.

Miss Winslow enjoys skiing during the Mountaineers New Years outing to Paradise in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.251.
Miss Winslow enjoys skiing during the Mountaineers New Years outing to Paradise in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.251.
  L.A. (“Little Big Chief”) Nelson skis near the Paradise Inn during the Mountaineers New Years outing of 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.295.
L.A. (“Little Big Chief”) Nelson skis near the Paradise Inn during the Mountaineers New Years outing of 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.295.
  Snowshoers climb near Alta Vista with Panorama Point above. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Mount Rainier lantern slide #27.
Snowshoers climb near Alta Vista with Panorama Point above. Photo: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Mount Rainier lantern slide #27.
Miss Winslow enjoys skiing at Paradise in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.251.   L.A. Nelson skis near the Paradise Inn in 1916-17. Photo: Washington State Historical Society, WSHS.1999.120.7.295.   Snowshoers climb toward Panorama Point. Photo: UW Libraries, Special Collections, Mountaineers Collection, Mount Rainier lantern slide #27.

For their New Years outing of 1916-17, the Mountaineers made special arrangements to stay at the new Paradise Inn. The inn would not formally open until summer and the Mountaineers were its first informal guests. Food and other provisions were transported to the inn ahead of time, and 68 Mountaineers tramped to Paradise after a night spent at Longmire. During their first evening at the inn, the group offered a moment of silence in memory of P.B. Van Trump, one of the first men to climb Mount Rainier, whose death had been learned that day.

Over the next two days, Mountaineer parties ventured to Sluiskin Falls, Cowlitz Rocks, McClure Rock and the new stone hut at Camp Muir. This was the first time Camp Muir had been reached on snowshoes and one of the earliest visits in winter. Party members not making these trips spent the days tobogganing, snowshoeing, and skiing on the lower slopes of Alta Vista behind the Inn. Thor Bisgaard once again attended the outing as “skiing chief.” New Years Eve included the usual festivities, which featured “a Gypsy chorus done in scarfs and bandannas, a Hungarian dance by Miss Winslow in costume, [...] and a skirt dance achieved with distinction by Dr. Nichols to the accompaniment of a paper-and-comb orchestra.” On New Years Day, the party tramped out to Ashford in 7-1/2 hours.

Writing in the Mountaineer Bulletin, Kathryne Wilson described Paradise as “a new Mecca for winter sports.” Due to the difficult access, Paradise would not truly become a winter resort for at least a decade, and the Mountaineers would largely have the valley to themselves through the early 1920s. But the first tentative step had been made to establish Mount Rainier as the center of winter sports in the Pacific Northwest.

An Ideal Winter Outing

For the traveler who drives to Paradise on Mount Rainier in a few hours from Puget Sound, it is hard to imagine the time and effort that was required to get there in earlier times.

In the 1910s, it was common in winter to hike 12 miles from the train station at Ashford to Longmire. Ferne Holden, writing in 1916, described the walk as an experience to be savored: “You know how the mountain road winds in and out, ever revealing a newer enchantment. More and more lavishly had the hand of Nature bedecked the woodlands until we found ourselves in a veritable wonderland.”

From the hotel at Longmire, another six-mile trek reached Paradise. The route followed the Paradise River trail instead of the government road over Ricksecker Point. In 1913, Lulie Nettleton described the snow-flocked trail as follows: “Fallen stumps and twisted branches were changed to white monsters, sea-serpents, and shapes of prehistoric creatures, with here and there a white robed nun to give us confidence. The trail was blind because the snow-drifts came above the blazes on the trees.”

1919: Piper & Taft Sporting Goods ad from the Mountaineer Annual.
1919: Piper & Taft Sporting Goods ad from the Mountaineer Annual.

After the Paradise Inn was constructed in 1916, it became a haven for the few who visited the area in winter (many of them members of the Mountaineers). Days were spent hiking on snowshoes or learning to ski on the slopes behind the inn, where deep snow muffled “shouts of applause as some ski expert darted past like a bird on even wing, or some novice, starting bravely, plunged headlong with skis all awry.”

Writing of her first experience at Paradise in 1924, Elizabeth Wright Conway described the close of such a day: “Dusk was dropping silently, suddenly, and our education in the technique of skiing would have to be continued into another day. One figure after another glided gracefully towards the Inn—black shadows slipping over a gray background of snow. [...] Braced against a wind-swept tree, we stood for a moment drinking in the silence; then tossing our heads in defiance we whirled off into the darkness, erect, confident, exhilarated. A mountain cold and forbidding, storm clouds in the offing, wind-swept ridges, held no terrors for us, for within two fires roared in the fireplaces, and steaming soup awaited us in the dining-room.”

Life in the city was temporarily forgotten. “The world was at our door,” wrote Conway, “but for all we knew or cared there need have been no world. We were a group apart, a little world unto ourselves. [...] As I contemplated tomorrow’s trip back to civilization I found myself regretting less the leaving of the Mountain than the separation of the crowd. For there is a mystery about days spent together in the open, a cementing of friendship that years of casual city acquaintance cannot accomplish.”

The Mountaineers left Paradise longing to return. For most of them, the New Years outing was the only time they would set foot on Mount Rainier during the winter. They cherished those memories, and to their friends back home they bid, “Oh, you lonely left-behinds, we wish the same to you!”

 
 
Continued
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