She Went West and Climbed Mt. Rainier

image In 1924, the 23-year-old woman climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Edith kept a photo album, and wrote captions in white ink. She called herself Edy. I previously blogged about her mother, Jenny, whose childhood was marked by over-protection: Jenny’s parents hovered over her, and protected her so much that she felt stifled. That’s what parents do to the remaining child when the elder son leaves to seek his fortune and is never heard from again. Jenny wouldn’t let her daughter’s dreams be stifled the way she herself was stifled. So when Edy announced she wanted to go west, Mom told her daughter, “Go, go.” And Go she did. Including climbing to the top of a volcano.

The album is a record of Edy’s western sojourn. She worked at a Veterans Hospital. There’s a photo of Edy in uniform standing behind a man in a wheelchair. Lots of pictures of friends, of cars, picnics. Photos of a horse (“Chief”)  When I first paged through this album, though, I was amazed at these 8 pages of photos of her trek to climb Mt. Rainier. It takes a lot of pluck and stamina to make a climb like that.


The Mt. Rainier National Park web site describes the climb:

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active volcano. …. Reaching the summit requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. Climbers must be in good physical condition and well prepared. [Read More at NPS site]


Each year, thousands successfully climb it. What were the numbers like back in 1924? Edith Walsh made the climb on August 2-3, 1924. It’s a two-day trek up, according to accounts I read on the web. The first leg goes from the base camp to Camp Muir, a shelter area, and from there hikers go to the summit, and then down again. The certificate says they reached the summit at 9:30 am, so I figure it was an early trek from Muir camp, to the top, and then down the whole way.

The photo album made it into my possession—along with some other photos—to scan before a family reunion. Edith was my grandmother. (Click any of the images to view high res versions)

Here is the group that went up that mountain. My grandmother is the woman front and center with the white inked X marker. I do not know if she hatched this idea to climb Mt. Rainier with her buddies from the other photographs in the album. No one else besides “me” is identified in these photos, so I suspect not.


I assume from these photos of the group that the Mt. Rainier Summer Club climbing expedition brought along a guide and a photographer. Perhaps my grandmother bought these pictures after the fact? Or maybe a set of pictures was part of the entire package.

In this “Time Out” shot, my grandmother is the second person on the right. Look at how steep the terrain is. It had to be, in order to gain 9000 feet in elevation over a 12-hour span of time. I’m impressed with Edy’s good physical condition—at 23 years old, she’s young and strong, and I know that her education was in physical education. So she was in good shape. I wonder, though, if she took shorter hikes to get herself into condition for this climb.


Battling the elements—the sun on the ice requires eye protection, and this photo is one where they’re putting some kind of protective lotion. By grease paint, I assume that white zinc stuff, but I’m not sure, as there are no photos of that sort. Looking at the photos—especially people wearing hats while Grandma wore a headband (she had lots of hair, so maybe a hat wasn’t necessary?)—I wonder what the temperature was up there. In this one Mt. Rainier climb account  (July 27 of last year, so within a week of the time of year my Grandma went), John Leo says the forecast was “temperatures of around 50 at Camp Muir, and it was in the 70s lower down”  (if the topic of Mt. Rainier intrigues you, or if you wish to see color photos of the same area, go, read, view.)


Muir Camp is a shelter that’s a good way up the mountain. Since Edy’s climb took place over a couple of days, I’ll assume that the group stopped at Muir Camp for the night, and got an early start the next morning for the completion of the climb. The certificate says they reached the summit at 9:30 am. (Oh, that John Leo link above? His hike was a day hike just to Muir Camp. The page begins with a huge topo map showing the trail from the base to Muir Camp. You can see the way from Muir Camp at the top.


Edy labeled this next photo “A Break in the climb.” Other accounts speak of crossing ice fields—the top edges of the glaciers on Mt. Rainier. If you can imagine that photo as showing the steep slope of the incline, it’s no wonder they needed to stop to catch their breath for a bit.


image Crossing a crevasse. What’s a crevasse? I see the ladder, I see the one pole hanging down as the climber clambers up that ladder. It looks as tho the poles have short cables that help in situations just like these. But what’s a crevasse? This is a crevasse:
image A deep crack in the glacier surface. Oh, okay then… that photo of Edy’s climb has a bit more drama. Somewhere underneath that ladder is a long descent. And of course, as they clambored over, they looked down into the abyss, double-checked their footing and hand-holds. I can just see her breath quicken a bit, and feel the urge and strength in her legs and arms as she climbs over.

There’s no group shot at the top, none of the triumphal “we did it!” photo. Here is a photo taken below the summit, at the edge of the crater (that link to the topo map is helpful). I can’t tell whether this is a picture of triumph or fatigue.



Arrow pointing out Mt. Hood, looking south, just over the Oregon border. Try as I might, lo these 80 years later, all I see is a bare smudge. I’m sure that she saw it, that day, and maybe when she sat to show her album to friends, she makes up for the photograph. She gestures wildly, her eyes glowing as she tells her listener, “It was amazing, to see that mountain peak peeking above the cloud layer. We were so high, the air so crisp, and the view breathtaking.”  [google image of Mt. Hood]

The visitor peers closer at the smudge. In a voice of disbelief, the visitor asks “That?!” and tries and fails to match it with the fevered look in Edy’s eye. Edy, utterly confident in the visage of her mind’s eye, nods. Edy doesn’t notice the disbelief, and she continues on.

She recounts the story of the descent, and the group crossing an ice bridge—it was narrow from her perspective, with a drop off on either side. It was only after they’d crossed it, that she saw the hollow underneath.


Now, I’ll indulge here in a little bit of photoshop trickery, seeing as how I just painted a picture of the unbelieving listener. Undiscernable smudges are great mountains to the south. And here, 80 years later, is monochromatic sepia. Warm tones do not a cold snowy trip make. Yeah, sure, Edy knows nothing of global warming; she speaks of being warmed by exercise—it was 12 hours worth of climbing to reach the summit, and her tale is filled with the challenge and plodding and of the camaraderie of egging one another on.

But the imagination fails to enter in.

How about if we change the color cast a bit? Edy’s granddaughter knows a thing or two about color in the atmosphere, having written some books on a 3D software application. I apply that knowledge to this image, in order to re-imagine the trip. Does this help?


When Edy speaks of the chill when the wind blew, and the dazzling brightness of the snow, do you believe her now?

image Here is a group shot during the descent, as the group skirts around the edge of a glacier. They’re low enough, I suppose, that the glacier tapers off, or the trail edges off the snowy surface. You can see a lot of mountain above, so they’ve come a ways down.

I wonder about fatigue, about aches in legs, jarred knees from downward slope, about blisters and sore spots, and that toe that keeps letting you know it’s there and not happy. About ‘are we there yet’ attitude. Or it could all be hunky dory, the release and freedom that accompanies knowing you’re on the downhill leg, you climbed this peak. You set out, you did it, and now you’re well on your way back.

When Edy returned, she was given an official certificate. It’s a thing of pride for the young woman. For her granddaughter, years later, it’s a set of clues, a date, a time.


Grandma never told me the story of that climb, as far as I recall. Oh, she might’ve alluded to it in conversation of the “When I was young” days—Grandma, Mom and I went on a road trip just after I graduated from college. She slowly plodded along the outdoor trails in the Rocky Mountains, as we wandered around the Garden of the Gods. I do recall her wheezing self-deprecation as she called herself a fat, old grandma. But if she mentioned her Mt. Rainier peakbagging adventure, it didn’t register with the 22-year-old granddaughter. It’d take more than another 22 years for Edy’s photo album to make it into the granddaughter’s hands.

… .

For modern context: Another Mt. Rainier climb adventure (found while researching Crevasses), with many color photos.

Peakbagger’s description of Mt. Rainier

USGS’s Visit a Volcano page on Mt. Rainier. Image, Map.

[This post was composed as my entry in the Carnival of Genealogy. Theme: Independent Spirit. See All Carnival Entries]


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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 01, 2008 in • Personal HistoryPhotographs
8 CommentsPermalink

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Absolutely fabulous, Susan!!! All I can say is, WOW! What an adventurer your grandmother was. She most certainly had an independent spirit!

Jasia  on 07/02  at  10:47 AM

Wow! What an incredible story and wonderful pictures. A grand adventure at any time but more so in that time period. Just goes to show, you never know what lies beneath the surface.

Becky Wiseman  on 07/02  at  11:28 AM

Hey! That’s our Gramma! Thanks for doing such a nice job, Susan. Adding a little blue to those sepia tones brings it closer to the here and now. How bout those western women?! Independent cusses!

Rob Kitchens  on 07/03  at  06:30 PM

Wow!  Go Grandma K, Go!  Amazing legacy of tenacity and strength!  What an adventure!  Thanks Susan for sharing!

monica  on 07/04  at  07:37 AM

Jasia, Becky: Thanks. What’s fun is the discovery of these images, and then, through the net, visiting other sites and stories to flesh out the details and understanding of what the photos mean.

Rob: Glad you came by. BTW, I’ve another essay on the other side of the family,  featuring images from Doris’s  album.

Monica, you might find the other essay interesting, tho it’s not about a direct relation. It is about Montana. Oh, and the foto album w/ Grandma? The genes do tell, the genes do tell, and I see Connie in Grandma, big time. (to everyone else, this is way insider baseball. nothing to see here)

Susan A. Kitchens  on 07/04  at  09:57 PM

That’s an incredible story & so cool that you have the album with pictures to go along with it!  Thanks for sharing!

Wendy  on 07/05  at  05:46 AM

Hi Susan
Your grandma was quite a woman! It’s a great story to tell, and I’m happy to know that the story & pictures of our trip up helped you fill in the blanks of Edy’s adventure. I’m still in awe of those who do it in 2 days as she did: up to Muir, then a very short night’s sleep and up in the pre-dawn hours to summit and then go the 9000 ft back down in 1 day. I was 15 years older than she was, and my knees barely forgave me for spending 1 extra night at Ingraham Flat to enjoy the accomplishment and rest before making the long descent. Great adventure and great story for your family to have. Best, Lynn

Lynn  on 07/09  at  10:24 AM

Beautiful post!! And such a good info. Thanks. ….

Jack  on 01/30  at  11:33 PM

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