This day in history

Posted by Ken Campbell January 13, 2009 0 Comment 421 views

On January 13th, 1890, the boys from the Press Party began their first push into the Olympic wilderness. The expedition had been on the go for over a month already, but still hadn’t gotten past the last settler’s house in the Elwha Valley – hardly what you’d call exploring. (No matter how daring and intrepid you may think you are, if you are boldly going where many others have been before, that’s not exploration.)

The men had constructed a heavy, flat-bottomed barge to transport their extensive supplies up river. They named her Gertie. The plan was to haul Gertie up the river and into the interior, a plan that was abandoned after a few hard-won miles and several sinkings. The Elwha isn’t much suited for barge travel.

I’ve never understood why the winter was seen as the right time to send the exploring party on their way in the first place. I suspect it had more to do with politics and the race to be the first to cross the range than it did with optimum conditions. When the Press Party got their traveling roadshow underway, there were other groups who were likewise gearing up for similar attempts later that year. Coming in second was not an option and, therefore, a winter traverse was the only solution.

The Press Party eventually made it to the other side after months of circuitous travel and many dead ends. they were the Gilligan’s Island of explorers, stretching what is now a three-day hike into months of hardship in the deep snows of the Olympic mountains. And it all began 119 years ago today, with the first tug on the ropes that started their ill-fated barge on its way upriver.

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