In early December 1959 catastrophe struck the Mazamas when their magnificent mountain lodge burned to the ground. Several items survived the blaze, including six dining room chairs, an upright piano, and a carved mountain goat. An investigation found that a wiring short in the caretaker's quarters caused the blaze. The loss of the lodge brought to a head a controversy that had been brewing for years between two Mazamas factions.
On one hand was a group advocating for a new clubhouse. Starting in 1955, a vocal group of Mazamas began pushing for a permanent home. A survey of the membership that year showed three-quarters of the members supported the idea, but only if the club could afford it. After the fire, the "Clubhouse Now" advocates argued that the Mazamas should abandon the idea of rebuilding the lodge and concentrate on a new headquarters immediately. On the other hand was a group of members who advanced the idea that the Mazamas was more of a social club with mountaineering interests. They based their case on the fact that more members attended the various outings, hikes, and events than ever went mountain climbing. They believed that a new home on the mountain was more important than a permanent home in town.
As the antagonism grew between the two groups, the Executive Council took action and surveyed the membership. An amazing 66% of the membership favored rebuilding the lodge as soon as possible. The council took the results as a mandate. They disbanded the Clubhouse Building Committee, closed down its fund-raising activities, and moved forward on rebuilding the lodge. The move broke the opposition and a few of the ardent clubhouse advocates resigned. The new, and current, Mazama lodge opened 18 months after the fire with a ceremony that featured open-pit barbecue and fireworks.
1966 - 1977: Chouinard Piolet Ice Axe
1966-1977: Chouinard Piolet Ice Axe ca 1970, O2000.378.001 Brian Holcomb Collection
Yvon Chouinard is a craftsman and a diligent student of his craft. In the 1950s and 1960s, he studied pitons and then redesigned them to be more efficient. He traveled to Europe to study ice climbing techniques and then adapted the ice axe with revolutionary results. His innovation was simple yet profound: "He drooped the pick on the ice axe so that when swung it would stick in the ice rather than shatter it, as all ice axes had done before" wrote Doug Robinson. The result was the ability for a climber to make a direct pull up holding the shaft. Before Chouinard's innovation, a traditional ax pick was usually straight and a downward pull resulted in the axe popping out of the ice. Using one of the new curved tools in each hand, a climber could advance up steep ice rapidly, placing the axes, pulling up, removing a tool and inserting them higher up. Robinson noted that "ice climbing suddenly jumped to vertical and beyond."
As a result of Chouinard’s technical advancements, Mazamas and mountaineers around the world, were safer and more confident in their mountaineering. Ice climbing, as a stand alone activity, also grew in prominence due to Chouinard's advancements.
1978-1989: “A Climbers Guide to the Smith Rocks”
1978-1989: “A Climbers Guide to the Smith Rocks,” Vol XLIV, No. 13, Dec. 1962.
On January 1, 1960 three Mazamas, Vivan Staender, Dave Bohn, and Jim Fraser, made the first ascent of Monkey Face at Smith Rock. Later that year, the Oregon State Highway Department created Smith Rock State Park. In 1962 the Mazamas published the first ever guidebook to the area, "A Climber’s Guide to the Smith Rocks." Together, these three events helped establish Smith Rock as an Oregon climbing destination and put it on track for national prominence.
Early climbers at Smith focused on peak-bagging and pinnacle climbing. Longtime Mazama George Cummings pioneered both Rattlesnake Chimney and Western Chimney in 1963. Over the next several years, Cummings, Dave Jensen, and a host of others established many of the routes still in use today. The decade ended with Tom Bauman and Kim Schmitz climbing Picnic Lunch Wall in 1969, an event that marked the crowning jewel of big-wall climbing at Smith.
The 1970s marked the golden age of climbing at Smith Rock. Aid climbing still dominated sport while free climbing was coming of age. Smith Rock might have remained off the radar for many if not for the efforts of Jeff Thomas. "During a prolific period in the mid-to-late 1970s, Thomas dominated Smith climbing like none before him; his name became synonymous with Oregon free climbing." He established grade 5.11 and redefined Smith Rock climbing. For the better part of the decade, he pioneered a steady stream of new routes.
Rock climbing at Smith Rock changed rock climbing in Oregon and within in the Mazamas. From the Mazamas beginning, rock climbing was something that was done as a part of mountaineering as a whole. It was a means to ascend rocky mountain outcrops while wearing boots. The development of rock climbing at Smith Rock helped the Mazamas embrace rock climbing as a sport. Climbing went from a fringe subculture activity to a widespread and accepted sport. Besides, the nearness of Smith Rock and Horsethief Butte allowed for the growth of all the Mazama educational classes. And without the easy access to both Smith and Horsethief, the Mazamas Advanced Rock classes would have been difficult, if not impossible.
1990-2001: La Sportiva climbing shoes