All Over The Map: Forgotten centennial of distinctive Mount Rainier monument

Sep 24, 2021, 6:28 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2021, 7:47 am

University of Washington professor – and distinguished Northwest historian and author – Edmond Meany said it best 100 years ago this week: “These ceremonies will soon be forgotten, but this monument will endure.”

Meany was standing on Mazama Ridge near Sluiskin Falls along what’s now the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park. The occasion was the dedication of a stone monument commemorating the first known ascent of the Cascade peak – currently known as Rainier – which had taken place in August 1870.

The monument is a big bench made of stones gathered nearby and held together with concrete. A few of the stones are engraved with the names of the first two climbers, Philemon Beecher Van Trump and Hazard Stevens – son of Washington’s first territorial governor Isaac Stevens.

Also engraved in the stone is Sluiskin (which is pronounced “SLEW-skin” by most, but also pronounced “suh-LEW-skin” by the Cowlitz Tribe), the name of the Indigenous man who guided Van Trump and Stevens on their climb. The monument is in the spot where Sluiskin waited for most of the day – base camp, essentially – while the two climbers made the summit.

A MyNorthwest reader from Tacoma named David Winfrey shared photos of the monument, which he saw for the first time on a recent trip to Paradise Inn.

“The sky was clear and the mountain was showing all the way to the summit from this point,” Winfrey wrote in an email. “I looked up and just could not even imagine somehow getting up there and down in one day, let alone at all. I tried to imagine what must have been going through these guys’ heads, there must have been some sort of fire in their bellies to make them even want to do such a thing.”

That first climb is a fascinating story, of course, but the backstory of the monument is also worth telling.

Mount Rainier National Park held a 48th anniversary event for that first climb in August 1918. Hazard Stevens was there and was in his late 70s; Van Trump and Sluiskin had already passed away. While visiting the mountain for the event, the elderly Stevens was taking a walk to admire Stevens Glacier. Along the trail, he pointed out to someone the campsite where Sluiskin had waited in August 1870. Someone who was there with Stevens in 1918 had the bright idea to mark the spot with stones, and a small cairn was built right then and there.

Hazard Stevens died about seven weeks later. By the next summer, two famous local outdoor clubs, Seattle’s Mountaineers and Portland’s Mazamas, had decided to build the monument. Plans were to dedicate it by the 49th anniversary of the first climb on Aug. 17, 1919, but there were delays in getting permission from park management. Finally, on Sept. 22, 1921 – that’s 100 years ago this past Wednesday – the stone bench was dedicated.

Edmond Meany led the dedication ceremony of the monument at Sluiskin Falls. He was president of the Mountaineers, and Hazard Stevens had been an old friend. Meany had composed a poem in tribute to Stevens, which he read aloud at the 1918 event, and read again in 1921.

In formally dedicating the stone bench, Meany said:

“We have built this monument to the memory of those who, from this place, made the first ascent of this great mountain and led the way for others who love the beauty and the glory of the high places of earth. I now dedicate this memorial to the service of those who may come this way. These ceremonies will soon be forgotten, but this monument will endure. Always, when members of The Mountaineers and of The Mazamas come to this place they will pause and from their hearts breathe new dedications.”

Special thanks to David Winfrey for sharing his photos, and to Kristina Ciari of The Mountaineers for rapidly tracking down the club’s annual report from 1921, which had details and a photo of the dedication.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: Forgotten centennial of distinctive Mount Rainier monument