Just hanging around Mount Rainier

Just hanging around Mount Rainier


Majestic Mount Rainier has long been one of Washington’s top recreational hotspots. The 14,411-foot peak and its namesake national park attract campers, hikers and backpackers, as well as mountain climbers of all abilities, from novices to world-class athletes who ascend Rainier’s technically challenging north side in preparation for expeditions on Himalayan peaks.

This State Digital Archives photo, taken around 1950 by Bob and Ira Spring, shows Seattle native Walter Gonnason, who was rappelling down the face of Pinnacle Peak, with Rainier in the distance to the north. According to the State Archives’ January newsletter, Gonnason made many expeditions to peaks and glaciers around North America. He also played a small role in a long-fought controversy over the credibility of one of America’s most famous explorers.

In 1906, famed Arctic explorer Dr. Frederick A. Cook claimed to have to have been the first man to summit Mt. McKinley in Alaska. His testimony was later challenged by fellow explorers and the authenticity of the photos he took called into question. Fellow explorer Belmore Browne flatly rejected the claim that Cook scaled the peak from the dangerous north side, in the mere twelve days Cook claimed. Brown later proved that Cook’s McKinley photos were of a different peak 20 miles away. Cook was disgraced, and his claims to have been the first to the North Pole were also called into question. Gonnason was one of a small but adamant group of defenders of the Cook legacy. In 1956, he organized an expedition to scale the mountain following the exact route laid out by Cook. Although the expedition failed to reach the summit, Gonnason still maintained that Cook had been victim in a great miscarriage of justice. This is just one of the great stories one can find while exploring the Washington State Archives.

Care to see more of the Digital Archives’ Mount Rainier photos? Just check out its General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005.

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