• On this day: Fay Fuller becomes the first woman known to reach the summit of Mount Rainier

    By: Charles Hamilton , Historylink.org

    Updated:

    Friday marks the 128th anniversary of Fay Fuller becoming the first woman known to summit Mount Rainier. 

    The first people to ever summit Mount Rainier were Hazard Stevens and Van Trump. They reached 20 years earlier than Fuller, in June 1870. 

    The following is a recap of the event in a historylink essay written by Charles Hamilton.

    On August 10, 1890, journalist, schoolteacher and Yelm resident Fay Fuller (1869-1958) becomes the first woman known to reach the summit of Mount Rainier. Two months before her 21st birthday, and dressed in an "immodest" climbing outfit of her own devising, she reaches the summit with a party that includes pioneer climber Philemon Beecher Van Trump. Her enthusiasm for climbing will continue in a lengthy journalism career in which she will found a number of mountain climbing clubs and champion women climbers. Mount Rainier's Fay Peak is named for her.

    Those Who Reach the Heights

    At 4:30 a.m., Fuller awoke at Camp Muir, blackened her face with charcoal and donned goggles to lessen the sun's glare. Her climbing outfit included heavy flannel underwear, a thick blue flannel bloomer suit, woolen hose, heavy calfskin boy's shoes with caulks, and a small straw hat. She later commented that "bloomers were unknown and it was considered quite immodest" (Tacoma Public Library).

    She and her four colleagues faced difficult climbing conditions, but Fuller refused assistance, and was quoted as saying if she could not achieve the goal without help she would not deserve to reach it. Her party finally arrived at the summit, Columbia Crest, after 4:00 p.m. She described standing at the top as "a heavenly moment; nothing was said ... words cannot describe scenery and beauty, how could they speak for the soul! Such sensations can be known to only those who reach the heights" (Tacoma Public Library).

    Fuller had been invited to join a climbing party led by Philemon Beecher Van Trump, who, with General Hazard Stevens, had been the first to make a verifiable ascent to the highest point on the mountain in 1870. Fuller had first visited Paradise in the summer of 1887, when, from the snowfield past Panorama Point, she reported that she was delighted by a full view of the mountain and made it her goal to someday "climb to the summit of the great peak" (Tacoma Public Library).

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    In August 1890, Fay Fuller was invited to join the Van Trump family on an outing to Paradise. Van Trump gave Fay permission to join a Seattle climbing party, headed by Reverend Ernest C. Smith, for an attempt at the summit. On Saturday, August 9, 1890, the Smith party climbed to Camp Muir.

    Coming Down

    After the party reached the summit the next afternoon, it was too late in the day to risk descent. The party decided to spend the night in an ice cave created by steam vents, despite the "disagreeable" sulfur smell from the vents.

    Facing gale winds, the party started down on Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. Their descent was slow, and they spent five days at Paradise resting and recovering. According to Fuller, despite the use of charcoal blackening "our lips, noses and almost all our faces were swollen out of proportion ... for several days the pain was intense" ("Fay Fuller").

    After Fuller became the first woman to stand on the summit of Mount Rainier, her father, Edward N. Fuller, who edited several Tacoma newspapers, expanded her previous duties as city reporter, and gave her a column called "Mountain Murmurs." The column specialized in mountaineering and social events that happened at Paradise and other mountain locations. Fuller contributed to the growth of interest in mountain climbing in the Pacific Northwest, and helped found several climbing clubs.

    In 1900, Fuller left Tacoma and continued her journalism career in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. She continued to champion mountain climbing for women after she met and married lawyer Fritz von Briesen. She died in California on May 27, 1958.

    Fay Peak, elevation 6,492 feet, approximately six miles northwest of Mount Rainier near Mowich Lake, has been named in honor of Fay Fuller.

    Click here to read the full historylink essay by Charles Hamilton


    Sources: Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein, The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 2011); "Nixon Arrives Here, Sees Wins for GOP in 5 States," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962, p. 1; "Here's Pat Nixon," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962, p. 6; "Beaming Nixon and Family Receive Cheers at Fair," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10, 1962, p. 10; "Nixon Certain of Victory in California Race," The Seattle Times, August 9, 1962, p. A; "Nixon Visits Seattle Girl Kept at Home by Ailment," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 11, 1962, p. 14; "Nixons Split up for 2nd Fair Visit," The Seattle Times, August 11, 1962, p. A.

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