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Volcanoes and History
Cascade Range Volcanoes - "Volcanoes and History"

First Ascent of Mount Hood, Oregon
August 8, 1854

(in dispute as "first ascent" with an 1857 climb, see notes below)

Excerpts from: Littell's Living Age, 1854, "First Ascent of Mount Hood, Effects of a High Elevation Up the Human System.", Vol.VII, p.321, 1854.

We give to-day an interesting account of the first ascent of Mount Hood, a snow-capped peak in Oregon, estimated to be 18,361 feet high, even more lofty than Mount Shasta, and heretofore unexplored. The narrative is given by the editor of the Oregonian [Thomas Dryer], who started on the 4th of August, with a party of gentlemen under the guidance of captain Barlow, an old mountaineer, to ascend the peak. ...

About sunset the wind abated and the clouds below disappeared. The moon rose ... and shone with unusual brightness -- and the night [August 7] was beautiful, although the weather was quite cold. Before 12 o'clock the thermometer fell to the freezing point, and in the morning when we emerged from our frost-covered blankets, we found our tin cups about one-third full of ice from the water left in them over night.

At this point we though we could discover through a telescope, smoke ascending from the extreme pinnacle. It had not previously been supposed that Mount Hood was at this time volcanic.

On the morning of the 8th, the party left camp in high spirits, determined to reach the summit. The animals were pushed at double quick time up the side of the mountain, as far as it was safe or practicable to take them, where they were quickly stripped of their burdens and picketed. In a few minutes all were off for the top; each took some provisions and were provided with well made creepers, iron socket mountain staffs with hooks, ropes, etc., etc., -- the same kind that we used in ascending Mount St. Helens last year, and which we found indispensable for climbing snow covered mountains.

We commenced the ascent upon the southeast side, by first traversing a sharp narrow ridge between the headwaters of Dog River [Hood River] on our right and a tributary of the De Chutes on the left. This ridge was attained by first crossing a chasm of about 500 feet in depth, formed by the water of the last named stream. After two hours hard climbing, we stopped to refresh. We then continued the ascent, and in a little while our naked ridge was lost in the mantle of snow which now lay spread out before and on either side of us.

After attaining a high altitude, we found the snow lying in waves similar to a "chopped sea;" therefore, we had to rise at almost every step, from six inches to two, three, and sometimes four feet! The sun had softened the top of the snow sufficiently to make a slight indentation by the boot.

Thus we continued to ascend for several thousand feet at an angle of almost 50 degrees, when the rarefied atmosphere began to exhibit its effect upon all, but more especially upon Judge Olney, Major Hallar, and Captain Travillot. -- Soon Major H. could go no farther, in consequence of dizziness in the head, which affected him seriously. After a while, Captain T. found the blood starting from the surface, was also attacked with a like dizziness, when he prudently declined going further. After a few rods further up, the ascent became more steep -- by theodolite 70 degrees -- where Judge Olney was reluctantly compelled to halt, in consequence of the singular effect of the air upon him. From this point, we were compelled to make steps by kicking the toes of our boots several times into the snow. By following close to the edge of a large ledge of rocks lying perpendicular with the mountain, where the sun's reflection from the ledge had softened the snow, enabled us to get comparatively a good foothold. Our friend Lake followed close upon our heels. The Indian who had now a good pair of creepers, and a good mountain staff, seemed determined to go up as far as the "Bostons" could; although he could not be induced to lead the way or even go between us. For nearly two hours there was nothing said, except an occasional warning from us to Mr. Lake to "close nannage," and the response of -- "all right!" -- "go ahead!" -- "we'll come it!"

Finally, at 2 1-2 o'clock P.M. we attained the summit on the southeast side. We found the top similar to that of Mount St. Helens -- extremely narrow, lying in a crescent shape; Mt. St. Helens facing the northwest by a crescent, while Mt. Hood faces the southwest. The sharp ride on top runs from the southwest to the north, making a sharp turn to the west at the north end. The main ridge is formed of decomposed volcanic substances of a light reddish color, with cones from 20 to 50 feet high at intervals of a few rods. These cones or rocks are full of cracks or fissures, as if they had been rent by some convulsion of nature at a remote period. Between these cones there are numerous holes, varying from the size of a common water bucket down to two or three inches in diameter. Through these breathing holes -- as we called them -- and through the crevices in the rock, there is constantly escaping hot smoke or gas of a strong sulphuric odor. In passing over the ridge for near half a mile, we discovered a large number of these breathing holes; through some the heat was more intense than others.

We did not carry up a thermometer; therefore, we could not get the exact degree of the heat; but from holding our hand over several of them, we have no doubt that the thermometer would have shown "boiling heat" in some of them.. As soon as the Indian discovered by holding his hand over one of these "breathing holes," the existence of fire beneath, he immediately retreated as far as he dare go down the mountain alone. The smoke or gas was very offensive to the nostrils, as well as irritating to the eyes. We attempted to look into several of them, but were prevented from getting more than a momentary glance, for the reason above mentioned. We, however, rolled stones into them, and could hear them descend for a considerable distance. We remained about one hour traversing the ridge and examining the country in the distance. We could distinctly see Mounts Jefferson, Three Sisters, McLaughlin, St. Helens, Rainier and Adams, besides two other sno peaks, whose names, if they have any, we are unaquainted with; also Fremont's Peak and Shasta Butte mountains, in California.

These last mentioned peaks must be nearly or quite five hundred miles from Mount Hood. ...

The latitude of Mount Hood is 44 deg. 30 min. All specimens collected at or near the summit are composed, first, of decomposed granite, some black and some red; second, lava in large quantities, in its pure state, and brimstone mixed with calcium; third, pumice stone; fourth, black lead mixed with granite and brimstone; fifth, ashes of a light yellowish red color. The eruptions appear to have been on the south side, and of remote date. The most singular of all, is the appearance of the ridge we ascended. Upon this ridge there are numbers of old, dead, scrubby trunks of the mountain spruce tree, which extend for nearly or quite two miles higher up than any other point. The conclusion is irresistible that this ridge has been upheaved, or, in other words, raised many thousands of feet by some convulsion of nature.

The last vestige of vegetation ceases to exist about two and a half or three miles from the summit. ...

In descending from a rarefied to a dense atmosphere, those who had not been seriously affected by the ascent, came in for their share of the general debility and difficulty in breathing. We had our full share, and were for a time entirely unable to travel more than a few rods at a time without lying down on the snow or ground to rest. On the 11th the party reached Portland, having been just a week engaged in the exploration.


Henry Pittock, July 11, 1857:
The 1854 Thomas Dryer ascent as being the first to climb the peak is often in dispute with the July 11, 1857 climb of Henry Pittock, L.J. Powell, William S. Buckley, W. Lyman Chittenden and James Deardorff. The Pittock climb is better documented and the Dryer climb is not. Most historians claim the 1857 Pittock climb as being "THE FIRST" ascent to the summit, and the Dryer attempt was a few hundred feet short.

Sam Barlow and Joel Palmer, October 14, 1845:
Another claim often mention as a "first ascent" was on October 12, 1845, by Joel Palmer, when a group consisting of Sam Barlow, Joel Palmer and Phillip Locke, were scouting out the road around Mount Hood. While some websites say that Joel Palmer made it to the top, Joel Palmer himself, in his 1847 publication, commented that he didn't make it to the top. Historians say Joel Palmer made it to slightly above Illumination Rock where he turned around.   [Read Joel Palmer's journal entry for October 1845.]


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