Bainbridge Island's Yeomalt event celebrates historic Rainier climb
By JERRY ELFENDAHL
Bainbridge Island Review Contributing Writer, Columnist
March 1, 2012 · Updated 4:12 PM
I was just weeks old when I received my first letter via the postman. Its envelope wore a three-cent stamp.
Its message from the Seattle Mountaineers congratulated me on being born to a mountaineering family.
My parents saved it until I was old enough to read, climb and pay dues.
As a grade school student at John Muir School, we sang our school song, “Climb The Mountains.”
A small window above a dresser squeezed into a tiny south-side closet on the top floor of our hillside childhood home gave us a view of “The Mountain” – Mount Rainier – affectionately referred to also as Tahoma.
I used the dresser’s drawers to climb to that window. With binoculars, I could scan every glacier, crevasse, cloud formation and strawberry ice cream sunset to set me dreaming about The Mountain.
Just blocks away, we climbed not The Mountain, but “Cheapskate Hill” beyond the left field fence to watch baseball played by The Rainiers.
On good days within the ballpark, The Mountain loomed over the right field wall. The Mountain beckoned high beyond Rainier Ave. where below our schools, library, grocers and all were located.
And on Independence Day nights, we’d stare at The Mountain to try to see Lloyd Anderson’s fireworks launched from its summit.
Our basement was full of skis, ice axes, crampons, ropes, backpacks, cardboard boxes of climbing gear, a bin full of sawdust to shovel into the furnace, and stories.
One was about a night spent in a cave on top of The Mountain. I heard about it again 65 years later from Lloyd’s widow, Mary.
“Yes, Lloyd used to climb Rainier every July Fourth,” she said. “One year he and your Dad went up and a storm clouded the summit. A lady friend and I went to a city park near our home in West Seattle to watch for Lloyd’s fireworks with binoculars.
“We couldn’t see the fireworks and were worried. It was late at night and a policeman asked ‘What are you doing?’
“‘We’re looking for my husband!’ I replied.”
“‘What?’ The officer said. ‘Where is he?’
“‘Oh, he’s on top of Mt. Rainier!’
“‘Yeah, right, ladies. You’d best take your binoculars and get on home now!’”
A freak storm had engulfed The Mountain and Lloyd, Dad and others escaped the weather in a warm ice cave venting from the dormant volcano. The summit cleared for the descent the next day.
Dad taught mountaineering for Olympic College on Green Mountain in 1938, and at Mount Si where among his students was Mary Jane “Benji” Benham Cunningham, Robinwood, Winslow, who ascended The Mountain at age 17.
I was 15 in 1955, when I finally realized my dream, the youngest of a group of Explorer Scouts who joined a Seattle Mountaineers’ ascent led by Lloyd.
Some of these old Scouts will be getting together on Monday night, March 5, at Yeomalt Cabin.
One of their classmates, Phil Bartow, in 1981, led, with Jim Whittaker, one of the most remarkable climbs of Mount Rainier. With the blessing of Lummi spiritual leader Joe Washington, Bartow ascended the summit with 11 climbers – seven blind, two deaf, one epileptic and one an amputee – to the summit during the International Year of the Disabled.
Bartow will share the climb’s award-winning film, “To Climb A Mountain,” with personal slides and inspirational stories of that venture.
Scouts of all ages and genders, disabled and outdoor educators, prospective and old Tahoma climbers, are asked by the park district to bring a donation for the cabin and or a dry log for the fireplace for the 7 p.m. program.
Jerry Elfendahl is an island historian
Park District hosts presentation on historic climb
One of Mt. Rainier’s most remarkable ascents will be featured at 7 p.m., Monday, March 5 at Yeomalt Cabin when climb leader Phil Bartow shares an award-winning film, rare slides and inspirational stories of the 1981 ascent by 11 climbers with a variety of physical challenges: seven blind, one deaf, one epileptic and one with an amputated limb.
Admission to Monday’s event is by donation of cash or dry logs for the fireplace.
For more information, call 842-2306, ext. 115 or visit www.bartowassoc.com/pelion.