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The Moutaineers, Tacoma Branch

Written by Wilma Peterson

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2012 Fall issue

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One Hundred Years, a Thousand Hikes and Counting...

The Tacoma Branch of The Mountaineers celebrated its Centennial in 2012. It was organized on March 19, 1912, due primarily to the efforts of Asahel H. Denman, a lawyer with a love of photography and the mountains. He was assisted by John B. Flett, a botany professor and J. Harry Weer, a wholesale grocery executive. Fifteen members met and a short constitution and by-laws were adopted. Officers were elected with A.H. Denman becoming the first president. Committees were appointed, including the "Local Walks" and "Program" committees.

The Mountaineers was the third mountain club on the Pacific Coast. The first was the Sierra Club of California, founded by John Muir and friends in 1892. The Mazamas of Portland, Oregon, was organized two years later in 1894. Fay Fuller, first woman to climb Mount Rainier in 1890, was a founding member of The Mazamas. On the Mazamas Summer Outing at Mount Baker in 1906, photographer Asahel Curtis and other members proposed forming The Mountaineers. It was organized in Seattle that year with the purpose to explore, study, preserve and enjoy the natural beauty of the Northwest.

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Summer Outings have been a regular part of the Mountaineers’ calendar since 1912. These images were taken by Asahel Denman. We share them with you with thanks to Tacoma Public Libraries’ Northwest Room.

Local Walks

Local Walks often involved taking a streetcar or crossing The Narrows by boat. The following are excerpts, taken from the Mountaineer Bulletin, April 1912:

“May 12, 1912. Tacke car at corner of Ninth and Commerce Streets leaving at 8:50 a.m. for American Lake; thence on foot along shore of American Lake to Lake Sequalitchew, where we lunch; thence around Lake Sequalitchew to Steilacoom; about 12 miles walking; bring lunch and cup. Leader, Allen C. Mason.”

“May 26, 1912. Take steamer CREST from Municipal Dock at 9 a.m. for Gig Harbor; walk to Henderson Bay, thence to Hale’s Passage, returning by steamer TYRUS; arriving in Tacoma about 6 p.m. Total fare 40 cents. Walking distance 8 miles, very pretty through woods and in sight of water. Bring lunch and cup. Leader, Prof. John B. Flett.”

Club Outings

The first Tacoma Outing in 1912 was a five-day trip for 22 Moutaineers to Mt. Beljic, in the southwest corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, to condition those who planned to participate in the official Summer Outing. The Summer Outing with Seattle members was three weeks – from July 20 to August 10, 1912 – on the north side of Mt. Rainier. Members took the train to Nelson Siding (about 2 miles east of Easton on I-90) and hiked cross-country over Naches Pass to Summerland, Grand Park and to the Carbon River, returning on the train from Fairfax.

The Mountaineers held a Summer Outing each year to different areas for a 2-3 week trip. Some of the outings were led by Tacoma members. Pack horses carried duffle bags (one for each person) containing their tent, sleeping blankets or sleeping bags and clothing. There was a camp cook and helper, a large tent for cooking, pots and pans and tubs for washing dishes.

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A five-day winter outing to Mount Rainier National Park was led by A. H. Denman. “On December 28, 1912, 50 members, 35 from Seattle, 15 from Tacoma, left the Milwaukee [Railroad] at Ashford, waded or snow shoed to the National Park Inn at Longmire.” One person had a pair of skis; it was the first time skis were used in organized recreation in the Pacific Northwest. In about 1917, this annual event was moved to Paradise. The Tacoma Mountaineers continued the winter outing to the park until January 1, 1930. The membership in 1917: men 36, women 53; total 89.

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Annual Traditions

The Tacoma Mountaineers acquired a miner’s cabin near the Carbon River entrance of Mount Rainier National Park in 1926. An addition to it was constructed, and members often stayed there when hiking and climbing the 24 Irish Cabin peaks in the area. Since the 1930’s, it became a tradition to have a dinner there on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. With the demise of Irish Cabin in 1978, the tradition continued at other locations.

Other traditions that continued for many years included summer backyard picnics, a fair in September started during WWII to show victory garden produce and held for many years at Neta and Elwood Budil’s large backyard. A Salmon Bake was held annually in October on the beach of the Pioneer Sand and Gravel Company (now Chambers Bay Golf Course ) until 1968. From 1983-1990, Stanley and Helen Engle chaired this event at location along the Nisqually River, and then in their garden for a decade. In 1967, a tradition of midsummer festival potlucks began in the Engle’s garden and continued through 2011.

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The Tradition Continues

In Point Defiance Park, along Five Mile Drive, is a new sign for the Mountaineer Tree. It was named for the Tacoma Branch of the Mountaineers in 1949, due to the efforts of Carl Heaton. The Douglas fir tree is 200 feet tall, 24 feet in circumference and about 450 years old.

The Tacoma Branch was the first in The Mountaineers to have their own clubhouse. It was constructed in 1956 in Old Town, Tacoma, on land donated by Leo Gallagher, who joined in 1918. Most of the construction of the original building was done with volunteer labor by members at work parties. On March 21, 1957, the organization held its first meeting in the new facility. A climbing pylon was constructed in the backyard. This wall still stands today, and has a plaque that reads “Assisted by an able and dedicated crew, this Mountaineer Climbing Pylon was built by John Simac 1962-1972.”

During the year of Tacoma Mountaineers’ Centennial (2012), members celebrated the Grand Opening of its new two-story Tacoma Program Center, located at 2302 North 30th Street in Old Town, on September 20, 2012. This was made possible by donations of members and through the large bequest of Brunhilde (Bruni) Wislecenus.

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The Tacoma Branch of The Mountaineers celebrated its Centennial in 2012 with the dedication of their new Clubhouse, built on the site of the original 1955 building.

Monthly meetings are held on the third Thursday. At 7 p.m. there is an orientation show of the programs and courses offered by the Tacoma Mountaineers and a program at 8 p.m. with a speaker. Climbing continues to be a primary activity. The Basic and Intermediate Climbing courses began in 1947. A Hiking Appreciation Course started in 1967. Other activities and courses are backpacking, hiking, conservation, scrambling, first aid, snowshoeing, skiing, sea kayaking, sailing, bicycling, singles events, wilderness navigation, avalanche awareness, folk dancing, photography and family activities.

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Thank you

Thank you to the Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Libraries for supplying the photos in this article. They come from photo albums that chronicle the Tacoma Mountaineers' Summer Outings of 1912 and 1915.

About the Author

Wilma Peterson and her husband, Larry (now deceased) became members of the Tacoma Mountaineers 55 years ago. They hiked year-round, and climbed the six "major peaks" in Washington State. Mrs. Peterson, who still hikes regularly, served as the Mountaineers official historian, is a JCCM member and neighbor. The Petersons bought their house on North 30th Street (two blocks up the hill from the Cabin) in 1965.