First

Posted by Ken Campbell December 17, 2009 0 Comment 810 views

Have you heard the one about the real first ascent of Mount Olympus?

The tale begins with the July 1907 issue of Steel Points magazine, in its own words, “a wee bit of a magazine, published at Portland, Oregon, occasionally by William Gladstone Steel, a crank who doesn’t know any better than to love the mountains, lakes, streams and forest, and who for thirty years has been seeking and classifying information pertaining to the mountains and the Pacific Northwest.”

An article in this issue, written by Oregon historian George H. Himes, makes the claim that a party of early settlers and explorers made it into the interior of the Olympic peninsula as early as 1854. Not only that, this group of prominent Olympia pioneers was also, according to Himes, the first to summit Mount Olympus. To wit:

“The first ascent of Mount Olympus was made in the summer of 1854, and it is believed during the month of July. A party composed of Col. Michael T. Simmons, F. Kennedy, Eustis Hugee, a surveyor, Henry D. Cock, B.F. Shaw, woodsmen, and four Cape Flattery Indians, one of whom was named Captain Jack, went out on a private exploring expedition, and at length found themselves in the vicinity of Mount Olympus. The matter of making the ascent was discussed and finally Shaw and Cock decided they would make the attempt, which was successfully accomplished the following day.”

Aside from the nagging feeling that some of the individuals mentioned by Himes sound painfully close to joke names (Hugee? Cock? Really?), it’s a pretty interesting hypothesis. George Himes appears to have been a legitimate historian of his time, and much of the material in the Steel Points issue checks out, authenticity-wise. There are problems, however, with the dates of the purported expedition, inasmuch as they don’t completely jibe with the schedules of the alleged participants. Beyond that, just the liklihood of this august group making such a trip together, utterly unreported in the media of the day – for whom Olympic exploration was a persistent subject – stretches the credulity muscles to their tearing point.

I have no new information to add, except that I can’t help but think about the accounts of the O’Neil expeditions in the late 1880’s. As I read the account of their explorations in the Olympic backcountry (and it was all backcountry then), I was struck by how many times they came across signs of other white men where none were to have been before. There were no true trails perhaps, but the region was hardly inaccesible. Doubtless, hunters and trappers made unofficial forays into the interior that went unpublicized. The name Wickersham came up quite a bit, as I recall. It seems reasonable to suggest that there is at least a chance that O’Neil and his crew were not the absolute first to get deep into the Olympic high country.

It seems odd to me though, if the 1854 expedition really did take place, why it is that Michael Simmons himself never mentioned the trip? I’m just saying.

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