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Mt. Hood Fans Celebrate Pittock's First Climb 150 Years Ago

150 years ago Monday a small group of men completed what’s thought to be the first climb to the summit of Mt. Hood. Henry Pittock and four friends ascended what is now the most popular mountain in Oregon.

Native Americans could have climbed to the summit long before 1847.  But Pittock’s ascent is considered the first documented climb to the summit.

Colin Fogarty spoke to the man who wrote the book on the history of Mount Hood, about that first expedition.

Mt. Hood Summit

You’ve heard of Henry Pittock.  You know, Pittock Mansion in Portland’s west hills. In the 19th century, Henry Pittock owned the Oregonian.  But before he owned the newspaper, he worked there.  And at the age of 22 , he and a group of friends climbed to the very top of Mount Hood.

Jack Grauer documented the climb in his book the Complete History of Mount Hood.  

Jack Grauer:  “They were a bunch of young men.  They got to the summit and gave nine hearty cheers, I think it was, and then planted a flag.  And they went through a ritual. And then they saw some rocks around and started throwing some rocks off the north side.  So they spent a little time doing that.  A bunch of boys.”

One of Pittock’s friends wrote a letter to a newspaper recounting the tale — but it did not mention him by name. Jack Grauer says that’s because Henry Pittock’s boss at the Oregonian was Thomas Dryer.  And he claimed to have climbed to the summit of Mount Hood three years earlier.

Jack Grauer:  “Now Thomas Dryer is close relative of an ogre.  This man, if you see his face, he has a very sour, dour expression.  Like he’s angry at the whole world.  And I think he was.  I think that was his nature.  And Pittock worked for him.  Well, Pittock didn’t dare write a story because that would have meant his job, you see.”

Grauer says he knows Dryer didn’t reach the summit because he failed to describe the sheer cliff on the other side.

Jack Grauer:  “When you reach the summit of Mount Hood, you [gasp].  It’s a real experience because you look over the edge and its about 3000 feet straight down.  It’s the same vista you had then as you have now.”

Pittock waited seven years to write about his first expedition to the top of Mount Hood.  By that time, he owned the Oregonian and had climbed the mountain several times.

Jack Grauer says mountaineers back then had no protection for their eyes or their skin

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Mt. Hood
•Thousand of climbers have made the trek up Mt. Hood since the first recorded ascent in 1857. Learn more about the history of the climb in this audio slideshow.

Jack Grauer: “They’d go up there and they’d be absolutely blind for several days. And they’re skin was burned bright red.  That’s a pretty serious condition when you’re burned that badly.  This is not easy to get over.  It takes several weeks to get over that.  So I’m sure they road back to Portland on their horses in great pain.”

Jack Grauer: “People in those days usually went to the mountain in a suit of clothes.  A shirt and tie.  I mean a suit coat.  Why they did this, I don’t know.  But perhaps they didn’t have any other clothes.  And later on when women were climbing not very many years later they were dressed in long skirts.”

Grauer not only wrote the history of Mount Hood. He’s also climbed it 40 or 50 times as part of the mountaineering group, The Mazamas.  The first time he went up was in 1947 and over the last 60 years, he’s seen mountaineering change dramatically.

The gear is very different. There’s also a lot less snow on Mount Hood now.  And he’s worried about what that means for climbing.

Jack Grauer: “It looks to me like we’re going to get to the warming point where the snow will be all melted out of the crater.  And when that happens, we’ll have a rock wall, which will be virtually unclimbable not because it’s so steep, but because it’s so rotten.  If grabbed a rock and used it as a handhold or a foot hold it could peal right off.  You wouldn’t trust it.  You wouldn’t trust it for hardware.”

But Grauer remains enthusiastic about Mount Hood.  No, he says the haze isn’t any different than when he first started climbing.  And he doesn’t mind all the people, not one bit.

Grauer is still writing updates for the Complete History of Mount Hood, from those first documented climbers to today.

Jack Grauer: “I think one of the most interesting things about what you see from the top of Mount Hood is what you see now and what they saw then.  And what they saw then was a lot of fiction.  For example, they saw Mount Shasta.  And they saw Mount McLaughlin down to the south.  You can’t see those things.  They saw the Pacific Ocean.  Well you can’t see it.  It’s a lot of fiction”

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