The Mazama Library and Historical Collections has for over 40 years collected artifacts, documents and photographs from the organization's exploits and adventures around the Pacific Northwest. In honor of the Mazamas 123rd Anniversary, we present an abridged history using 10 objects from the Mazama Library and Historical Collections.

1894 - 1905: Cooper Spur Photo

Cooper Spur party nearing summit of Mount Hood, July 19, 1894.

Taken on the afternoon of July 19, 1894 by Charles C. Lewis, the photograph captures the climbers enthusiasm and embodies the spirit of the Mazamas. In the photograph, George Williams holds an alpenstock with upraised arm. For many years the original photograph hung behind the counter of his drug store in Hood River. After he passed away, the Mazamas acquired the photograph. Early reproductions of the image removed the climber bent over the snow cornice due to the indecent nature of his pose and the position of the fixed rope. The members of the Cooper Spur party became part of the 153 men and 38 women who gained the summit that day to found the Mazamas.

1905 - 1915: Vest Pocket Camera

Vest Pocket Camera, O1986.111.003 Kirk Mulder Collection

More than first ascents or daring climbs, photography captured the public's imagination and drove early interest in mountaineering. The development of smaller and cheaper hand-held cameras in the late 1880s introduced a new form of personal photography that focused more on action and less on the landscape.

Photography was one a few 'professions' deemed acceptable for Victorian ladies and female climbers who were key to the growth of mountaineering photography. Women mountaineers exhibited their photographs in galleries and exhibitions, helping to increase public interest in mountaineering.

The 1901 Mazama Annual features four pages of advertisements for cameras, highlighting the growing importance of photography to the Mazamas and mountaineering. The rise in the number of photographs in alpine journals, including the Mazama Annual, points to the increasing value that mountaineers placed on photographs to help tell their story. By the end 19th century climbing and photography had become interconnect

1916 - 1929: Monthly Bulletin

Issue No. 1, May 1923, featuring the prospectus for the 13th Annual Outing

By the early 1920s membership in the Mazamas had reached 600 and the organization was starting to experience growing pains. More members meant more activities and multiple means of communication. The organization was printing and mailing separate schedules, prospectuses, event flyers, meeting announcements, and election materials all at increasing cost.

In 1922 Harold Babb proposed establishing a Mazama monthly. The goal was simple: one convenient location to publish all the upcoming events and news members needed to stay up to date. The first issue of the Mazama Bulletin, as it has been known ever since, appeared in May of 1923. Interest and demand was high. The June issue held an announcement that subscriptions would be opened to non-members at a cost of $.50 year in response to demand.

The establishment and wide distribution of information about the Mazamas via the Bulletin, helped issue in an era of membership growth that would hold until the onset of the Great Depression in the fall of 1929.

1930 - 1941: Climbing Committee

Minutes from the first climbing study group meeting, May 1933.

In 1933 a movement that had been building for several years for more and better climbs came to a head. The Local Walks Committee was struggling under organizing 53 weekly hikes and dozens of mountain climbs. The council formed a study group to take charge of all mountain climbs except those associated with the Annual Outing. The idea stirred strong feelings both for and against the new endeavor. One member of the study group proposed an amendment to the bylaws creating a real Climbing Committee, a move the Executive Council deferred to the upcoming Annual Meeting. The new climbing study group caught on with the membership and by June the pressure was intense enough that the council granted "temporary" status to the new committee. Unconvinced, many old-timers voiced concern for such a revolutionary change to the organization's climbing philosophy and procedures. The new committee worked hard to establish goals and guidelines governing climb leader qualifications and sponsored climbs. In the limited time granted them, the committee engineered 12 successful climbs and generated great enthusiasm within the rank and file membership for their accomplishments. As a result, the bylaw amendment making the committee permanent passed at the Annual Meeting with ease.

The origin of the Climbing Committee gave rise to much of the modern Mazamas. All the current education programs grew from the original goal of training and outfitting climbers. The Mazama Climbing School, a precursor to today's Basic Climber Education Program, began to instill new climbers with the foundational knowledge and skills to be safe on the mountain. Intermediate and advanced courses were added to enable established climbers to learn more advance skills. Thanks to the establishment of the Climbing Committee, the number of official Mazama climbs increased steadily year after year from a dozen or so to the nearly two hundred yearly climbs offered today.

1942-1953: Carabiner

U.S. Army Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command carabiner, ca 1950

World War II was a boon to mountaineers. Military scientists developed nylon, and the army experimented with making ropes from the new materials. Nylon, they soon discovered, was less likely to break, stronger when wet, and provided better stretch than the hemp ropes in use at the time. In 1939 Vitale Bramani, an Italian climber, developed a new sole for boots that he named for himself, Vibram. The soles gripped better on slippery surfaces and lacked the cold conducting hobnails then in widespread use. The Army's famed 10th Mountain Division worked with ice axes, pitons, hammers, tents, and sleeping bags, many of them US designs based on European products. The war generated a surplus of military gear of all types. Especially important were mountain boots, ropes, pitons, hammers, and carabiners (then known as snap links).

When World War II ended, Mazamas returned home and the pent up desire for mountaineering burst forth like a wave. Wartime rationing ended in August of 1945 and the first postwar automobiles rolled off a Detroit assembly line in October of 1945. Soon the road up to Government Camp was crowded again. Climbers and mountaineers benefited from improvements in the quality of mountain and cold weather clothing, equipment and food. The simple karabiner, adopted by the airborne forces to secure parachute static lines to safety cables inside the airplanes, were produced in large quantities of good quality metal. After the war, the surplus carabiners benefited the entire climbing community.

1954 - 1965: Mountain goat

Carved by Carl Sakrison, ca 1930, Mazama Lodge

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

La Sportiva climbing shoes, ca 1998, O1998.345.026, Terry Becker Collection

The history of indoor climbing walls begins in 1964 in a hallway at Leeds University in the United Kingdom. Don Robinson noticed that climbers would end the climbing season strong in October only to return the next spring out of shape, out of practice, and prone to accidents. He replicated the most common climbing moves on a brick wall and soon climbers had not only mastered his simple routes, but were inventing new routes and games. By 1987 the fascination with indoor climbing had spread to the United States. During a climb of Aconcagua, Rich Johnston struck on the idea of creating a place for climbers to stay in shape after work and during the winter. Later that year he and a partner opened Vertical World in Seattle, the first indoor climbing wall in the United States. A year later the Portland Rock Gym opened in Portland.

By the early 1990s, indoor climbing was catching on with Mazamas of all ages and abilities. Indoor gyms offered a safe, warm, and dry environment for climbers to stay in shape, hone their skills, and try new techniques. The gyms became a place to meet people, and a singles scene developed. Families started hosting birthday parties at climbing gyms, introducing a younger generation to the sport. Come spring, many Mazamas were in shape and ready to hit the crags at Smith Rock, Beacon, and beyond. The indoor climbing walls helped rock climbers stay in shape and rock climbing to evolve from a sport for bold, skilled climbers toward a sport accessible to everyone.

2002-2017: “Statement of Philosophy and Criteria”

2002-2017: “Statement of Philosophy and Criteria,” New Mazama Clubrooms, Nov. 14, 1995, MA01.09.01, Executive Council Records, Mazama Library and Historical Collections.

Over the past 123 years the Mazamas have had several homes. Early on the members met in various halls and meeting rooms. The Executive Council held meetings in members homes and offices. Between 1914 and 1956 the Mazamas rented office space in several buildings around town. In 1957 overcrowding and lack of parking prompted the organization to move to 909 NW 19th and Kearney.

Efforts over the years to buy a building for the office and growing library never got off the ground. There was often an event or incident, such as the lodge fire, that drew attention and funds away from the effort to build or buy a new facility. For fifty years the Mazama stayed in the 19th Avenue building, remodeling and renovating the space to meet the demands of a growing membership.

In the late 1990s the need for more space arose again. A small working group formed to research a new space. In November of 1995 the Executive Council circulated a “Statement of Philosophy and Criteria” outlining the needs of a new headquarters space. In 2005 the focus shifted to an old church and former fraternal brotherhood hall on SE 42nd Ave. In 2007, after some renovations the Mazamas moved in. The Mazama Mountaineering Center has given the organization the solid foundation it needed to grow into the non-profit educational organization it is today.

Created By
Mathew Brock


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