UW Archives perserve Mountaineers photo albums (gallery)

The photo is black and white. Two climbers pose for a photo on a glacier on Mount Rainier. It’s like many old mountaineering photos, except both climbers are doing perfect headstands.

In another photo, a string of nearly two dozen adults are lined up on the snow, prepared to slide down a mountain in the gleeful manner of kids on a sled.

And so it goes, through 128 albums and 16,000 photos taken from 1907 to 1951. Mountaineers crossing crevasses, Mountaineers cooking breakfast, posing for summit photos or sitting around the campfire.

It’s all part of a large collection at the University of Washington Archives.

At the center of this collection are 128 photo albums that bring the history of the Mountaineers, a club based in Seattle devoted to outdoor pursuits, to life. They are lovingly crafted, many with hand-written captions in beautiful handwriting.

Many of the albums illustrate the Mountaineers summer outings, a tradition that started in 1907.

A selection of albums from the collection have been digitized and are available to view online. Some of the Mountaineers newsletters and pamphlets are also online.

The collection of photos was nearly tossed out at one point, said Sheila Mitchell, Mountaineers project subject specialist.

“You’d be surprised how many of the items here have a story like that,” she said.

Luckily, a member of the Mountaineers suggested the collection instead be donated to the library.

See a selection of photos from the collection.

Mitchell has an intimate knowledge of the photos. She helped create the detailed finding aid for the collection, describing each album. Mitchell is a member of the Everett branch of the Mountaineers, so she had a special interest in this project.

While researching the project, she discovered that in 1907 on the first summer outing, the Mountaineers wanted to ensure a high level of fitness for their hikers. They would need it, after all, to explore the wilderness of the Olympics for three weeks on foot.

Mountaineers had to prove that they were capable of the trip by taking a conditioning hike on Mount Si. Now, more than 100 years later, Mountaineers members still often use Mount Si as training for climbing something bigger.

The Mountaineers was founded in 1906 with the dual purpose of preserving natural places and offering a way for people to visit those places. There were 151 charter members, more than half of them women.

Also interesting, at a time when few women had college degrees, four of the female charter members were physicians.

“Women mountaineers constituted an important contributing membership to the club and are very prominent in many of the early photographs of the Mountaineers outings,” according to the UW archive’s description of the collection.

“The photos are not just the history of The Mountaineers,” Mitchell said. “It’s who we are as a people here in this region and this environment. The Mountaineers had a large role in preserving wilderness. … It’s a piece of history here in the Northwest,” she said.

“In a larger context, these photos give the history of mountaineering, skiing and mountain rescue in the Seattle area, and the Mountaineers became a leader nationwide.”

See the collection

You can see more photos online through the UW’s archives, http://bit.ly/19K1Qge. For the full collection, visit the UW Archives in person.

Upcoming event

Hear Schelleen Scott-Rathkopf speak on Nov. 2 at the Everett Mountaineers annual banquet. Scott-Rathkopf traveled to Mount Everest with a documentary and expedition team to try to learn what happened to climbers who disappeared on the mountain in 1924. The expedition found the body of one of the climbers, offering many new clues to the disappearance. Scott-Rathkopf will share personal photos and tell her story. Tickets are $34 and must be bought in advance at EverettMountaineers.org.

About the club

The Mountaineers are a nonprofit group that teaches people skills for life beyond the city. They offer courses in climbing, scrambling, hiking, snowshoeing and much more. There is a branch in Everett. Learn more at www.mountaineers.org and everettmountaineers.org.

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