Return to Early Ascents page

Climbing Mount Shasta

Record Ascents and the 1925 Marathon

From The Mt. Shasta Story

By Arthur Francis Eichorn, Sr. 1954

Used with permission from the Mount Shasta Herald
Return to Mount Shasta home page

The extraordinary record ascents established on the slopes of Mr. Shasta from Horse Camp to the summit, provide material of extreme interest to both the mountaineer and the layman. Several of these record climbs resulted in frustration and heartbreak, and finally a record that has never been equaled.

To the experienced mountaineer the Shasta climb cannot be classed as difficult. There is no actual scaling of walls or other qualities in the art of mountaineering found on other peaks. The prime quality required is muscular endurance. The long thirty-five degree slope makes for a hard uphill climb, with snow and ice the major obstacles in the path of the climber.

In giving credit for record time in ascending the mountain, we cannot overlook the name of the first man to climb the mountain, Captain E. D. Pearce. While we have no actual figures of the time consumed for the first ascent by Pearce and his party, we do find mention in the account of his second ascent that he and his party started the ascent at 4 a.m. on September 19, 1854 and reached the summit at 9 a.m., or, five hours for the climb. This is an excellent time since the average climber takes between six to eight hours.

According to William Bridge Cooke, in his Sierra Club Bulletin article of August 1942, John Muir holds the first official record for the Shasta climb. Cook tells us: "The first stated record of time made in the ascent from timberline (approximately the site of Horse Camp) was that of John Muir in the old Sisson summit register, now in the Bancroft Library. This ascent made in 1874, was accomplished in 4 hours and 10 minutes."

While we have no wish to dispute this record, it is more generally accepted that Harry Babcock of San Francisco is credited with being the first climber to set a record for the climb from Horse Camp (8,000 feet) to the summit of Mt. Shasta (14,161 feet).

The mountaineering annals of Mt. Shasta proclaim that Mr. Babcock left Horse Camp at 4:20 a.m. sometime in August 1883, and arrived at the summit at 8:00 a.m., making the trip in the recorded time of three hours and forty minutes. His record achievement was corroborated by Sydney V. Smith and a Mr. Forbes. This record climb was destined to remain unchallenged for a period of forty years.

The next assault on a record climb was made by one of the finest mountaineers in the country, Norman Clyde. We find the results of this attempt in the Mount Shasta Herald, July 5, 1923:

"Norman Clyde, high school professor from Weaverville, made the trip from Horse Camp to the summit of Mt. Shasta in three hours and seventeen minutes last Tuesday, (July 3, 1923). This is considered the best time for the climb.

"Mr. Clyde made the trip twice in two days. The first trip made on Monday with the intention of exploring his route in order that he might try for a record trip. This is also the first time on record that a trip has been made twice in two days. Clyde is considered an excellent hiker and has climbed forty peaks in the state during the year 1922, all of which were over 11,000 feet altitude."

On the same day this article appeared in the Mount Shasta Herald, Clyde was again on the slopes of Mt. Shasta trying to lower his own mark. This time he negotiated the trip in the amazing time of two hours and forty three minutes. His climb was corroborated by F. M. Denney, W. T. Shower, B. N. Cartwright, E. W. Anderson and it is said to have been certified by J. M. Olberman, custodian of the Sierra Club Lodge at the time. Mr. Clyde left Horse Camp at 4:00 a.m. and reached the summit at 6:43 a.m. The Mount Shasta Herald announced on July 12, 1923:

"Clyde now holds the undisputed record for climbing Mt. Shasta." This became an accepted fact when his record was made official by the Sierra Club of San Francisco. Mr. Clyde was indeed a great mountaineer, and his many achievements may be found in the mountaineering records. During his prime he made successful ascents of all the major peaks of the west and holds the distinquished honor of many first ascents. He was the first to climb Mt. Le Conte 13,960 feet, Mt. Mallory 13,870 feet, Mt. Irvine 13,790 feet, Mt. Genevra 13,037 feet, Emerald Peak, 12,517 feet and Geraud Peak 12,539 feet. Mr. Clyde has also made successful climbs to the summit of Mt. Shasta from the north side, a feat that requires the ability of an expert.

It would seem that Mr. Clyde's record climb of Mt. Shasta of two hours and forty three minutes would remain unchallenged for a long period of time. Actually, the ink had hardly had a chance to dry in the record books when the following story appeared on the front page of the Mount Shasta Herald, August 23, 1923:

"McCoy Make Record Climb Up Shasta"

"Barney McCoy, guide and resident of Gazelle, California, is credit with making the climb on Sunday morning (August 12, 1923) in two hours an seventeen minutes. The best previous time is said to have been by a Trinity Center man who ascended to the summit on July 5th in two hours and forty three minutes.

"McCoy was accompanied by John Linton, Walter Wilton and James Wright of Gazelle. They left Horse Camp at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning and at 6:47 a.m. according to his friends, McCoy hoisted his flag on the top of Shasta.

"McCoy is said not to have stopped from the time he left camp until he reached the summit."

This story in the Herald came as no surprise to those who knew McCoy, since he was noted as a great climber. There were, however, some who scoffed at his claim and went to great pains to discredit his feat. Incidentally, your author was puzzled by one statement in this newspaper article that seemed to clearly indicate that McCoy was seen when he reached the summit: ". . .according to his friends, McCoy hoisted his flag on the top of Shasta." We will go into that in more detail further on in this chapter. We bring up this point because of the following article which appeared in the Mount Shasta Herald on June 19, 1924. This story was to have far reaching effects.

"Sierra Club Fails to Approve McCoy's Record For Climb"

"Following is a report of the Sierra Club of San Francisco on a record trip from Horse Camp to the summit of Mt. Shasta made by Barney McCoy of Gazelle."

SIERRA CLUB REPORT

"The lodge committee makes the following ruling as to the claim of Barney McCoy of Gazelle, Siskiyou County that he made the ascent of Mt. Shasta from the lodge at Horse Camp to the summit of the mountain in the time of two hours, 17 minutes on August 12, 1923, the previous record being 2 hours 43 minutes.

"The committee rejects the claim and refuses to recognize this as a record.

"Mr. McCoy failed to have his starting time checked by the custodian. His watch must have been in error, as the time he claimed is 44 feet per minute for a climb over rocks of 6,000 feet is not possible, as the following will show. 'For Mt. Shasta, 27 feet per minute by H. Babcock in 1883, 3 hours 40 minutes; 30 feet per minute by N. Clyde in 1923, 3 hours 17 minutes; 37½ feet per minute by N. Clyde in 1923, 2 hours 43 minutes.'

"Mr. McCoy would have had to climb 44 feet per minute to have made 6,000 feet in 2 hours and 17 minutes.

"The English mountaineer, George Douglas Freshfield, states in his book that records have made above 12,000 feet of 3,400 feet in 4½ hours or 13 feet per minute. That on mountains less than 10,000 feet the following are records: in the Alps of Europe 28 feet per minute for a climb of 7,500 feet in 4½ hours; 26 feet per minute for a climb of 7,000 feet in 4½ hours. In Norway, 23 feet per minute for a climb of 6,300 feet in 4½ hours. Other records show that 10 feet per minute or 600 feet per hour is slow time, 17 feet per minute or 1,000 feet per hour is good time; 34 feet per minute or 2,000 feet per hour is racing time of experts. Therefore, Mr. McCoy would have climbed these 6,000 feet at the rate of ten feet faster than the highest record made according to the books on Alpine climbing. Mr. Clyde's record of 37½ feet per minute is 3½ feet faster than above record of 34 feet per minute, but Mr. McCoy's claim is so far above this that the committee considers that an error has been made and therefore cannot accept the record claimed by McCoy.

"The committee also took into consideration the following communications:

"J. R. Hall, forest office, Sisson, writes Sept. 6, 1923: I have been unable to get any confirmation on the claim of Barney McCoy of 2 hours 17 minutes to the top of Shasta. I am very skeptical about it.

"J. M. Olberman, custodian of the lodge writes Aug. 30, 1923: I only know that he (Barney McCoy) was here on that day and started up the mountain and reached the summit and registered there. As to his time we have only his word for it.

"Norman Clyde stated in Mr. Colby's office (secretary of the Sierra Club) in the presence of Mr. McCoy and Mr. McAllister: "Do not believe for a minute that he ever made the climb in the time mentioned. The snow is off and his record is next to impossible."

"Pierce J. Denand, leader of the party of 30 persons who spent two weeks on and around Shasta during July 1923; "I know McCoy, he never made the time stated, or anything near it."

"The mountain is there let Mr. McCoy try the climb again, having his time checked by the lodge custodian and witnesses, and show us what he can accomplish."

Signed. . .Lodge Committee, Sierra Club, Hall McAllister"

McCoy reacted to this front page article by writing a letter to the editor of the Mount Shasta Herald. The letter was published in part with additional comments:

"In a letter from Barney McCoy of Gazelle, he states:

"...that he made the climb of Shasta from Horse Camp to the summit in two hours and seventeen minutes and that he would be willing to try again for a record and believes that he would make it in record time under favorable weather conditions."

"It is stated that the Sierra Club has offered to put up a purse for a record climb and if such is the case McCoy will be one who will go after the record."

In 1954, your author had the pleasure of a personal interview with Barney McCoy at his ranch in Gazelle. He explained that on the day of his record climb, he had not premeditated an assault on the record of Norman Clyde. He stated that he and several of his friends had planned for some time to make a Shasta climb, and McCoy was to act as guide. Since they were all free of other obligations on this particular day, a Sunday, they finally set out to make the climb. When the group left behind, that conditions looked favorable to make good time and that he was going to push on ahead and would signal to them after he reached the summit. After leaving his friends, McCoy raced up the slopes of Mt. Shasta, and reached the summit without stopping once. According to his watch he had made the climb in two hours and seventeen minutes. In appearance, McCoy was a small man, a little over five feet in height, wiry, and very agile, being noted by his friends for his stamina and endurance on hunting parties. At the time of his record climb he was 33 years of age. He is the owner of a large ranch near Gazelle, California, a tiny farming hamlet about twenty miles north of the town of Mount Shasta.

The Sierra Club proclamation published in the Mount Shasta Herald discrediting McCoy's record climb apparently failed to annoy McCoy, with the exception that McCoy did make another record attempt. Again his achievement was announced in the Mount Shasta Herald as follows:

"August 28, 1924, Barney McCoy, who made a record climb of Mt. Shasta last year and which record the Sierra Club of San Francisco disapproved, with his brother, Bud McCoy, beat Norman Clyde's record by 17 minutes on Monday of this week."

The article failed to mention the actual time of McCoy's climb, but we find that it was made in two hours and thirty minutes. This new record claim was thirteen minutes slower than his previous claim but was still seventeen minutes better than the official time of two hours and forty three minutes made by Norman Clyde. However, at this particular time nothing was said officially regarding this new claim, in fact, it was simply ignored.

The previous mention by the Sierra Club, of a prize for a record climb, plus the two amazing record climbs by Norman Clyde, and the two unofficial record climbs by McCoy in 1923 and 1924, evidently aroused some interest in the record potentialities of Mt. Shasta. The mountain seemed to offer an excellent site for obtaining valuable data on the speed and stamina of mountain climbers. Initial steps were taken through the joint efforts of the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Club to hold a marathon race to the summit of Mt. Shasta. It was planned to make the race an annual affair in conjunction with the local July 4th celebration. At the time it was anticipated that if the race was properly advertised it would possible entice some noted climbers to take part, thereby promoting national interest in the mountain and vicinity.

The first official announcement of the planned marathon was issued early in the spring of 1925 by Mr. Hall McAllister of the Sierra Club. The announcement stated in part: "The rules for the event have not been drawn up at this time, but they will likely be announced soon. It is planned that a small entrance fee will be charged and that a cash prize will be awarded the winner."

The mention of a cash prize resulted in inquiries being received by the Sierra Club from all over the United States. A short time later it was announced that a number of nationally known hikers would enter the event.

As interest began to grow in the marathon, it was decided through the suggestion of Mr. J. W. Schuler, secretary of the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce, to hold the marathon on Sunday, July 5th instead of July 4th as previously planned. The reason for the change was given to allow more people the opportunity to enjoy both the celebration on the fourth and take in the race on the fifth.

The first public announcement of the prizes for the marathon were published on May 21st in the Mount Shasta Herald:
"The J. H. Sisson Memorial Cup together with fifty dollars in cash will be the first prize in the Mt. Shasta Marathon."

This cup was donated by Mr. Harry Babcock of San Francisco, who incidentally, was the first record holder for the Shasta climb. The cup was pure silver and valued at fifty dollars. At the time Mr. Babcock donated the cup for the event he stated: "I beg to say that it will give me great pleasure to donate such a prize to be won twice, but not the same year, before becoming the property of the winner."

The fifty dollars in cash, was donated by the Sierra Club together with a Swiss alpine axe for second prize and skis and ski sticks for third prize. The Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce announced that additional prizes would be given by local people.

News of the coming marathon began to appear in the various newspapers of the major cities of California and Oregon. The following story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 1925:

"An uphill race, 6,162 feet in height and some three miles in length -a Shasta marathon in fact - will be promoted by the Sierra Club, with its 3,000 members and the Chamber of Commerce of the town of Mount Shasta, formerly known as Sisson, on July 5th.

"The race course stretches over the upper heights of Mt. Shasta. The start will be made from Shasta Alpine Lodge (Horse Camp) at an elevation of 6,000 feet from sea level, and will continue to the summit of the mountain.

"Mt. Shasta, which has an elevation of 14,162 feet, enjoys the enviable reputation of having about the longest straight slope of any known mountain.

"The race is open to all comers and entries are already being booked from all parts of California. It is expected to have entries from Mt. Rainier and also the Mazama Alpine Club of Portland and the Mountaineers of Seattle."

The Southern Pacific railroad cooperated in advertising the marathon, by printing a large number of posters and brochures which were distributed and displayed throughout the states of California and Oregon.

In the July 2, 1925 issue of the Mount Shasta Herald, large front page headlines announced:

"McCoy Will Enter Shasta Marathon"

"Barney McCoy of Gazelle has entered the Shasta Marathon and many of our local mountaineers are claiming that Barney will carry off the first prize. He has made the best unofficial time ever made on the mountain and he is out to make the official record on July fifth. McCoy spent a few hours in town Tuesday and he says that he will have little trouble in beating Clyde's record."

As the date of the marathon drew near, official posters were displayed announcing the complete list of prizes. Only three additions were made; added to the first prize was a pair of hiking boots valued at fifteen dollars, an addition of fifteen dollars in cash was awarded for second place, and ten dollars in cash was added for third place. Evidently the cash prizes were not sufficient to attract outside climbers, and the news that McCoy was to be an entrant most likely discouraged many local climbers from taking part. Several local climbers failed to take part in the marathon due to the late starting time of 9:30 a.m., knowing that the snow would be soft that late in the morning and this condition would tend to sap the strength of any climber. Also, it was pretty well conceded that McCoy was going to win, regardless of competition or conditions, and many were satisfied to simply watch and see what he could do in the way of time.

Exactly six contestants were all that were listed for the race. They were Bob Gurney and Barney McCoy of Gazelle, California, H. D. Hamilton and M. Hunt of McCloud, California, F. Bartonick from Weed, California, and John Van der Wye of Los Angeles, California.

Early on the afternoon of July 4, 1925, small groups of spectators plus the entrants in the marathon, began to gather in the vicinity of the Sierra Club Lodge at Horse Camp. Scattered campsites were set up among the tall trees at timberline and the people gathered in small groups to talk and relax. This is, all except one. Several people noticed a young boy heading up the slopes of the mountain and they continued to watch until he was out of sight. A few hours later the lone climber returned from the upper slopes of the mountain and when he was asked how far he had gone, he answered: "to the top." This remark was greeted with looks of doubt and head shaking. This young man was David Lawyer of Pasadena, California, eighteen years of age, although in appearance he looked a few years younger. He was short and slender, weighing about 130 pounds. On the afternoon of July 4th he was not an entrant in the marathon.

On July 5, 1925, as the first grey light of dawn appeared in the eastern sky, the people in the scattered campsites began to awaken, preparations were begun to get the marathon under way. After breakfast additional spectators began to arrive, some remaining at Horse Camp to watch the start and others leaving for the higher slopes and the top to watch the race.

At exactly 5 a.m., the summit judges Roy Carter and J. M. Olberman (Mac) after carefully synchronizing their watches left for the summit. Incidentally, the watches used for timing the marathon were furnished by J. Amann, the local watchmaker, and had been regulated by him especially for the event.

At the last moment, young David Lawyer announced his intention to take part in the marathon, and some of McCoy's friends advised him of the young boy's climb the previous day.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m. the participants began to line up for the start, faces were blackened to prevent burning from the glare of the sun on the snow. Each contestant was equipped with a long stick approximately six feet in length, except for Lawyer; his was only three feet long, and he was the only contestant to carry a pack and wear tennis shoes at the start. In his pack he carried lunch, sweater and a pair of leather shoes.

At exactly 9:30 a.m., the starting judges J.W. Schuler and Jesse P. Hall gave the signal and the long awaited marathon was on. The contestants started up the trail in a group, McCoy in the lead, the rest close behind with Lawyer in the rear. They held a tight formation for nearly half a mile up the first gentle slope until they reached the ravine. Here they split up, each taking his favorite route. McCoy was well in front, setting a hard pace.

Since McCoy had climbed the mountain many times and was familiar with the route, and with his claim of two record climbs, would seem to elect him the most logical man to follow. Exactly why the contestants decided to split up is puzzling, but split up they did, in fact, at this point of the race young Lawyer surprised everyone by heading up the south ridge evidently seeking an easier route. However, he soon realized his mistake and returned to the ravine where he hastily followed the path in the snow left by those in the lead.

In the meantime McCoy was high up on the mountain, but unknown to the others he was beginning to feel deathly sick. The snow was thawing and with each step his feet would sink ankle deep into the soft snow. This condition began to tax his strength and coupled with his determination to win and set a record, he was soon overcome with a feeling of nausea. After reaching the summit of the ridge on the Red Banks he kept plodding along until he was part way up Misery Hill, here he was so overcome that he was compelled to stop and rest.

On the lower slopes, in the meantime, Lawyer was passing the other contestants, moving along at a swinging gait. Reaching the top of the Red Banks he stopped and ate a little lunch and changed into his leather shoes. Starting up again he noted only one set of footprints in the snow. Increasing his pace, he started up Misery Hill and there he spotted McCoy ahead, resting. Increasing his pace he passed McCoy and after gaining the summit of Misery Hill he broke into a trot, running from there to the summit pinnacle, he scrambled up this last nobbin to the summit of the mountain where he waved his hands to the judges directly below. His official time was clocked by the judges at two hours and twenty-four minutes, a new record. A short time later McCoy appeared on the scene, and while crossing the snowfield directly below the summit pinnacle he sank into the snow and fell. Lawyer went to his assistance but McCoy politely waved him away. Regaining his feet he climbed to the summit, where his time was checked at two hours and thirty six minutes, which was also a new record for the second fastest climb. McCoy had kept his word, he had now officially beaten the time of Norman Clyde of two hours and forty three minutes.

Third place in the marathon was taken by F. Bartonick of Weed and his official time was four hours and fifteen minutes. The rest of the contestants straggled in some time later.

Comparing the record climbs of David Lawyer and Barney McCoy with that as shown in the Sierra Club letter of 1924, wherein it was stated that 34 feet per minute was the racing time of expert mountaineers, we find that Lawyer climbed at the rate of 42 feet 7 inches plus, while McCoy's rate was 39 feet 4 inches plus per minute. All three records established in 1923 and 1925 remain unchallenged.

Time Ft. per min. Rec. Plus

David Lawyer 2 hrs. 24 min. 42'07'' 34' 8'7''

Barney McCoy 2 hrs. 36 mins. 39'5'5'' 34' 5'5"

Norman Clyde 2 hrs. 43 min. 37'07'' 34' 3'7''

After returning to the Sierra Club Ledge at Horse Camp, Lawyer was presented with the J. H. Sisson Memorial Cup, plus a check for fifty dollars and a pair of hiking boots. His first request after receiving the prizes were that the cup and the check be sent to his mother. Mr. J. W Schuler, secretary of the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce complied with the young man's request and enclosed the following letter with the check:

"It is with pleasure that we inform you that your son, David, has broken the world's record in the ascent of Mt. Shasta at a marathon race staged here on July 5th. His time for the ascent was two hours and twenty four minutes, which is officially nineteen minutes under any previous record.

"Barney McCoy won second place with a new record of two hours and thirty six minutes, also under any previous record by seven minutes.

"At the request of your son we are forwarding his check and trophy cup to you, check enclosed and trophy by insured express.
"We wish also to compliment your son on the very manly and sportsmanlike manner which he displayed in this event, and he is a worthy son, indeed.

signed. . .J.W. SCHULER"

Jack Curley a close friend of Lawyer, was so elated over the victory that he sat down and wrote an account for Lawyer's home town paper, the Pasadena Star News. While the account contains numerous errors on certain facts we offer it verbatim for sake of record. Mr. Curley was in error regarding the past record climbs and in his mention that Mt. Shasta was 14,380 feet high. He has his facts twisted regarding Lawyer's change of shoes, and both Lawyer and McCoy deny any particular time when the pace was even.

"Jack Curley's letter to the Pasadena Star News"

"July 15, 1925. Dear Editor - I'm no writer, just a logger, yet I'm going to try to give you the story of how a high school boy from your town invaded this district and carried off first prize in the race up Mt. Shasta July 5th. Write it up to suit yourself. I'll just stick to the facts.

"Pasadena may well feel proud of one of her youths, David Lawyer, 275 South Euclid Avenue, who won the marathon race up Mt. Shasta on July 5, much to the regret and disgust of all northern California.

"When this boy of 18 landed a job in a logging camp a week before the fourth and heard the loggers tell of the race that was to take place on the fifth, he at once announced his intention to go in for first prize. From then on he was the butt of all jokes, the idea of a school boy going to match himself in a race against the great mountain men such as, Barney McCoy of Gazelle, who claimed a record of two hours seventeen minutes but his record was unofficial. In a glass case on the wall in the United States Forest office the records read J. Ross 1883, 3 hours 40 minutes; Norman Clyde July 4, 1923, 3 hours 20 minutes, Norman Clyde July 4, 1923, two hours and 43 minutes.

"So when young Lawyer left the camp for the race the Loggers felt sorry, even told him not to forget his milk bottle. The night of July 4 all hands stopped at the Horse Camp, elevation 8,000 feet. It was from here the next morning that the race was to take place and on up the mountain, 14,380 feet, a distance of three and one fourth miles. The Sierra Club had put up the $50 T.A. Babcock Memorial Cup $50 in money and $15 pair of shoes as first prize, and announced that this was the first race of an event which will take place every year. So everybody in the district wanted to win the first race.

"At 5 a.m. the official timers left for the summit. At 9 a.m. six of the best declared their intention of giving McCoy a run for his money, Lawyer also butted in at the last minute making eight in the race. At 9:30 the forest officials gave the word and the first race of an annual event was on.

"McCoy in the lead set a fast pace. He knew the mountain well. Lawyer swung to the south-east to what looked to him like a short cut and to the onlookers lost whatever show he had when he ran into snow waist deep. At 10,000 feet elevation he gained the trail he should have kept in the first place. But he was now considered out of the race, McCoy the leader and fastest man in the country was three-fourths of a mile ahead. Far below in the town of Mt. Shasta the people with powerful glasses who were watching declared the race over and said it was only a question of what time would be made.

"How Lawyer took after the leader and made up the three-fourths of a mile up through the snow over the very hardest part of the mountain, up Misery Hill, will never be known, as he refuses to talk of it. At 12,000 feet he asked the spectators for water, but there was none to be had. It was at this point that McCoy threw away his lunch. So Lawyer ditched his shoes and put on tennis slippers. Each now put forth his best. One represented the northern part of the state and the other the south. For a while it was even. The pace was terrific.

"How this clean living school boy from the south broke into a run across the glaciers and how he seemed to go stronger and better as he neared the summit is told by the official timers whom he passed 100 yards from the summit. Reaching the flag he raised his arm as a signal to the timers below, who caught his time as two hours and twenty four minutes. McCoy's time was two hours and thirty six minutes. The record had been broken by nineteen minutes.

"Today, in the logging camp everything is different, big two fisted four lunged lumberjacks who kidded him the loudest now look pretty foolish when he looks their way. They swear by the Blue Ox "Babe" that they know the kid ain't human. And what's more they will bet their last dollar on him against the world.

"Now Mr. Editor, I've stuck to the facts. Remember that I'm a lumberjack, not a writer. You can make a good story out of this. He's a clean straight kid and deserves a write-up. We will all go to h. . .for him now. Before we wouldn't look at him.
"Get a look at the cup, it's at his mother's, Mrs. S. M. Lawyer, 200 South Morengo Avenue, your city.

"If you've any more like him send them up next year, as there's a $500 prize up." This story was printed by the Pasadena Star News exactly as it was written by Jack Curley. Other newspapers published accounts of the marathon, one account made the erroneous statement that when Lawyer overtook McCoy he found McCoy sleeping. Actually McCoy was very much awake, but deathly sick.

Not long after the marathon, a rumor began to circulate that young Lawyer had died as a result of the strain of his record climb. This rumor has persisted over the years and still remains popular with many when relating the story of the 1925 marathon.
It was while discussing Lawyer's climb with the custodian at the Sierra Club Lodge, in 1954, that your author learned that Lawyer was still very much alive, and after some extensive searching and letter writing he was finally located.

Since Lawyer was reluctant to talk of his part in the marathon in 1925, he was treated with suspicion and many unfair stories were circulated regarding his winning the event. For example, it was said that he had practiced for many weeks prior to the race and had hidden shoes and food along the route to the summit. It was also suggested that he had been imported to take part in the race solely to beat McCoy.

Inasmuch as very little has ever been known about the winner of the 1925 marathon, we would like to offer a brief biography of Lawyer in order to point out that it was no accident that he won. During the past years, Lawyer has been asked many times for his personal account of his part in the race but until now has refused to reveal any of the facts. I feel personally proud to be able to offer his brief autobiography here for the first time.

February, 1955
"You recently wrote me asking for information regarding my winning the Sierra Club marathon race up Mt. Shasta in 1925. In years past I have had similar requests, so I decided to tell you about it as I remember it.

"That I won the Mt. Shasta race not only astonished many people but I even had the feeling that I was regarded by many with skepticism, doubt and incomprehension, and sometimes with suspicion.

"Some shook their heads and couldn't understand how a slight small 18 year old weighing about 130 lbs. (I always looked young for my age and still do. At 18 I looked like 15) won the race. To understand that it is necessary to know something of my background. So I give you a brief biography of my youth. I do this because you ask and not because of any egoism or vanity. Fact is, I believe there exist a good number of other who could do the same or better than I.

"I was born in the Schoborie hills which form the northern fringe of the Catskill mountains at Mineral Springs, New York state. My ancestors had all lived here for centuries, the original one having come from Germany in 1704.

"I have been all over this world but I can say that there is no more beautiful place than the spot where I was born. About half of the region is covered with hardwood and coniferous forest and while there are no high mountains as westerners think of mountains still directly to the south much of the country was steep, broken and rugged. It was in this area that I began to trap at the age of 5 years.

"From this age until 14 years I spent the springtime gathering trailing arbutus (the most delightfully and subtly fragrant of all flowers. It grows on high ridges under the snow and is, or was a rare plant). The summers picking wild strawberries, huckleberries, fishing, swimming, etc. Incidentally to show what a lone wolf I was, I learned to swim at the age of 7 by jumping into deep water voluntarily, I was all alone and far from anyone.

"By the time I was seven I got up at 4 a.m. every morning from November on through the winter. I had several trap lines out. I realize now that between 4 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. every morning I probably walked 8 or 10 miles, and Saturdays and Sundays usually twice that far. I never told anyone very much about my trapping.

"I remember once when I was about 5 or 6 meeting a neighbor several miles back in the dense timber, he thought that I was lost and a rumor circulated to that effect. But I had been at that same place many times before.

"When I was 14 years old we moved to Pasadena, California in 1921. The first thing I did was to take one blanket and knapsack and leaving the end of the Lincoln Ave. street car I hiked up the Arroyo Seco to Oak Wilde, up Dark Canyon over-pass to Big Tujunga, up the latter and over high terrain to Mill Canyon. There was a big windstorm that night and it was in November. Next day I had planned to hike home via Colby's ranch, but returned same route, I don't know exactly how far this is but it must be over 30 miles and it could be over 40 each way. Another time I hiked from Pasadena to the summit of Strawberry peak and return to Pasadena from sun to sun. Then I began to go on week end trips. I would leave Pasadena at 3:30 p.m. after school on Friday. I would hike up pole line to Echo mountain, Alpine Tavern, Mt. Lowe, San Gabriel peak and get to Barley Flats sometime Friday night as I recall about midnight, Saturday I would spend exploring the back country, often there was snow. I once hiked from Pasadena on Friday night to Barley Flats,on Saturday to Buckhorn via Chilaho and on Sunday up Mt. Waterman all the long way down Devils' Canyon (no trail) up the west fork of Opids, Opids to the head of Bear Canyon, down the latter (no trail and brushiest country I have every seen) to Painters Cabin in the lower canyon where the main trail from Millards comes in. I carried about a 35 pound pack. I don't know how far this is, but would guess about 50 miles and this was many times a greater feat than winning the race up Mt. Shasta.

"The next year an American of Swedish descent (also a small person) and I got some horses and rode from Pasadena through the mountains across the desert and into the High Sierras where we were joined by two other boys. We were camped at Rock Creek (Kern river drainage ) I wanted to go on, climb Whitney and other peaks I could see in the distance. I had to leave alone without them. They made me sign a paper before I left to release them from responsibility. I was 16 years old and looked 13. I climbed Whitney (the following year I spent 3 days and nights on the top of Whitney). Then I went on to Tyndall Creek and climbed most of the high peaks that form that beautiful semi-circle around the head of the Kings Kern divide. I also climbed, Mt. Tyndall, and Langley.

"The following year 1924 was more or less a repetition of 1923. Both times I got released from school two weeks early (about may 15th) and I did not return till middle of September. Most of this time was spent above 12,000 feet with long journeys and climbs most every day.

"In the spring of 1925 my mother, who was a widow, let me know in no uncertain terms that she would not grub stake me for any more trips. I hiked through the mountains to Antelope valley and then started riding freight trains. Three days later I got out of a box car at Dunsmuir. Gee, the country looked good. A few hours later I was walking down the main street of Mt. Shasta City. The name had recently been changed from Sisson. There was only one main street and it was short. (For sake of record, it was determined that Lawyer left Pasadena June 26th and arrived in Dunsmuir June 29th. )

"A man was sitting in a doorway reading a newspaper which he put aside as I came walking along. This was Jack Curley, the man who was to later profoundly influence me and who is the most remarkable character that I have ever known.

"On Jack's suggestion and with his help I secured a job as whistle punk in a lumber camp near that lake some miles west of town. (Lake name begins with a C, I think) (Authors note: The lake Lawyer refers to is Castle Lake).

"When 4th of July came I went to town as did the other lumber jacks. Only I left at once for Horse Camp. (Lawyer stopped in town on his way to Horse Camp on July 4th and wrote the following letter to his mother: "I can't get work until after July fourth, as everyone is laid off. There is going to be a marathon up Mount Shasta July fifth. I am now in a hurry, as we are leaving for Mount Shasta tonight. My friend thinks I have a good chance, but I doubt it as the whole race is over deep snow, which I am not used to.")

Lawyer continues: "the day before the race I went to the top to reconnoiter the best route. I was gone only a few hours and when I returned to the lodge, someone asked me how far I went and I noticed that when I told them to the top they looked doubtful.

"I have always had a cast iron stomach but something made me sick. I think that I had eaten some bad fish at the lumber camp. About a week later I was extremely sick and Jack took charge and cleaned me out. The day of the race I was not sick but I was not in top shape, also I noticed that rocky ridge to the south (or southeast ) and I decided to avoid the soft snow in the ravine by taking that ridge (right after leaving Horse Camp). My ability at that time to jump from rock to rock with light tennis shoes could scarcely have been equaled by a mountain goat. I was not accustomed to travel on snow, that's why I thought I would gain time on that ridge. But when I got up there the rocks were too big and I could see the last of the others way way far up that draw. I saw one who was a mere speck in the distance. So I descended, on an angle of course, to the bottom of the gully. I had lost about one-half hour's time anyway. However, the others ahead of me had beaten the snow down which made it easier (until I passed them.) Well I took off still wearing tennis shoes. I had leather shoes and lunch and a heavy sweater in knapsack that I carried. I took off on a swinging half run, half walk. And when I hit the steep part I could go up it almost as fast. I never got out of breath and I could take those long strides up just as fast as I could go and it did not seem to tire me any more than level going. I stopped at the head of that sort of snow chimney where you turn to the left and go north up the main ridge and change my shoes (from tennis to leather), an ate a small amount of lunch.

"Although, I saw only one track ahead of me I supposed that the maker of that track had long ago reached the top. When I started on I was surprised to see McCoy sitting down at one end of the switchhack in the sort of trail that various climbers had made. He was not asleep, definitely not, as per some newspaper accounts. I did not notice that he was sick but heard so later. As I recall I did not pass him close. As soon as I saw him I realized that I had a chance to win so I headed full steam straight up that hill of loose rock and did not follow the switch backs. From here on I went fast and of course I never stopped again, in fact I only stopped once and that was to eat. Prior to this I had only been half way interested now I opened up. Long fast steps, I only ran once and that was when I broke over that knoll where the going is level or slightly down and the top comes in sight. Along there I ran, also the last stretch to the top was long fast steps almost a run. The timekeeper was as I recall about one or two hundred yards from the top when I got there. I was as fresh when I reached the top as when I started, I didn't even sit down."

During my correspondence with Mr. Lawyer, I mentioned the rumor of his alleged death as a result of his famous climb, and he answered thusly: "As far as the race hurting me I could have gone right back up the mountain a second time, perhaps not quite as fast."

No doubt some of you readers may have wondered how fast Lawyer might have made the ascent on July 5, 1925, if he had followed the correct route and not lost all that time on the south ridge. This thought came to the mind of Lawyer's friend Jack Curley at the time, and he gathered together five hundred dollars in cash, which he offered to bet a week after the marathon, that young Lawyer could make the climb from Horse Camp to the summit in less than two hours. There were no takers, those that had seen Lawyer's climb on July fourth were convinced that he could have done much better except for his one mistake.
Lawyer tells of his return to the logging camp the day of the race: "When I got back to the lumber camp, someone asked me who won the race, knowing that I had said I was going up the mountain. I sort of looked down at the ground and said 'I did.' One of the lumberjacks got up and opened the door and spat out a big stream of tobacco juice, then I got bawled out for supposedly kidding them."

Lawyer remained in the Mt. Shasta area until the latter part of August 1925, leaving after being laid off at the lumber camp.
He returned to Mount Shasta the following year to take part in the 1926 marathon but it bad been called off. Lack of funds and various other incidentals such as insurance and red tape in various forms made it impossible to continue the event as planned.
Lawyer never climbed the mountain again. In 1927 he left for Europe and the next few years were spent in study. He has spent the last twenty years in the selling end of the book business and now lives in a place he describes as: ". . .the most primitive and beautiful spot left in the U.S.A. - western Montana, land of shining mountains, land of lakes and streams, great coniferous forests where game of all kind abounds, where the air smells of the forest and the landscape is the equal of the High Sierras."
He laments the fact: "I was born several hundred years too late. My sentiments and emotions are stirred not by reading about nature but by being there seeing, hearing and smelling. Aside from aesthetic reasons I feel about twenty years younger when I am camped out (maybe in the rain or snow) in the deep forest surrounded by high mountains. The minute one writes about it they detract. It's like love, no words ever equaled the real thing."

This is the background of the young man who, in 1925 set a record for the Shasta climb that has never been equaled.

It might be appropriate to explain at this time why Norman Clyde did not take part in the 1925 marathon. During the summer of 1925 Mr. Clyde was busy climbing twenty-four peaks most of which were over 12,000 feet elevation. Also, Mr. Clyde was never especially in favor of marathons, being more in favor of the exploring aspects of mountaineering. Mr. Clyde is given credit in many mountaineering journals for his unusual achievements and was without a doubt one of the finest climbers of his time. Mr. Clyde informed me that he was "not interested in the 1925 marathon," explaining his whereabouts at the time which have already been mentioned. No doubt Mr. Clyde felt about the marathon as did numerous members of the Sierra Club: it was something the Sierra Club should not have become involved in; a marathon race was a far cry from the main theme of this organization, which is of course, conservation.

Although McCoy did not win the 1925 marathon, he did prove that his claim of two hours and seventeen minutes set in 1925 was indeed possible. I have uncovered one fact in McCoy's favor during the time spent in research of the record ascents of Mt. Shasta. I have yet to talk to anyone who fails to believe that McCoy's claim was anything but the truth. However, I have failed at every turn to produce one person who actually saw McCoy when he reached the summit on the day of his 1923 record climb. I have talked to McCoy personally and when the interview was finished I left with the feeling that McCoy spoke nothing but the truth. It became my sincere purpose to help prove by supporting evidence, that McCoy had made this record climb. I finally located one of the members of McCoy's party - John Linton, who now lives in Yreka, California. At the time he was 74 years of age and recalled the eventful day very vividly. He mentioned that as the group left Horse Camp, McCoy did mention that he was going to try to break Norman Clyde's record. In answer to the question, "did you or any member of the group see McCoy reach the summit and wave his flag?" Linton answered without hesitation: "No, we were not high enough on the mountain to see him when he reached the summit." Mr. Linton explained that due to the terrain of the mountain, the group was not in a position to see McCoy after he disappeared over the upper ridge.

He also mentioned when asked, that he could not recall any effort being made to have McCoy's starting time checked with the lodge custodian. Mr. Linton stated however, that he and the rest of McCoy's party emphatically believed McCoy when he informed them after they reached the summit, that he had made the climb in two hours and seventeen minutes. The fact remains - McCoy an excellent climber who proved his ability in the 1925 marathon still clams that he make such a climb. On the other hand a small group of people refuse to accept his claim, basing their arguments on a criterion that was debunked by lawyer and McCoy in the 1925 marathon. Investigation has brought to light far more people supporting McCoy's claim than those who discredited his 1923 climb. William Bridge Cooke, former custodian at the Sierra club Lodge wrote an article in the Sierra Club Bulletin, August 1942, vol. 27 No. 4, relating to the record ascents of Mt. Shasta. Mentioning McCoy's climb of 1923 he said in part. . ."Barney had no witnesses, although in the San Francisco Chronicle story on August 21, 1923, three people were reported as having made the trip with him. However, I have no reason to doubt McCoy's word; moreover, he is well thought of by those who know him."


In the Sierra Club letter of 1924, it was stated that Mr. Olberman who was the custodian at the time of McCoy's record climb, knew only that McCoy was there on the day in question and that he had made the climb to the summit. Mr. Olberman, who incidentally was better known as Mac, was a respected man by all who knew him and we find a written reort by him in the Sierra Club Alpine Register book 1923-1928 on page 286, dated July 5, 1925, wherein he reports on the marathon race and mentions McCoy's climb of 1923 as follows:

"July 5, 1925. The weather overhead was ideal but there was no frost the night previous and the snow, which extended from about three-quarters of a mile above the rest house to a point just beyond the Red Banks, was not packed sufficienlty hard to bear a man's weight giving way in places 4 or 5 inches under foot. This gave the runners following the leader an advantage. However, the winner made a remarkable climb and showed no sign of fatigue when he reached the summit.

"Barney McCoy's previous claimed record, which was disallowed by authorities, shows up much better after this race. He claimed 2 hr. 17 min. from ledge to Summit and considering he had a good lead in this race of July 5th after passing the Red Banks and the impediment of soft snow on the way up, it is only fair to say he would have broken the previous record had he not sickened on the way.

"This race gave an official record of 2 hr. and 24 min. and I have thoroughly investigated the record of Mr. Clyde of 2 hr. and 43 min. and can find no one who can say he was on the summit when Clyde arrived and that he was timed officially at the start, therefore it is unfair to dispute McCoy's record of 2 hr. 17 min."

Signed. . .Mack Olberman"

McCoy has never made any formal protest regarding his 1923 climb. Regardless of what others may think, he is satisfied in his own mind that he made such a climb and his feelings are shared with all that know him.

Comparing McCoy and Lawyer, it has often been pondered who would have won in a match race and with all due respect to McCoy I believe that Lawyer would have won. I base this on the wonderful record made by Lawyer in the 1925 marathon race after being well behind at the early stage of the race. If he had but followed McCoy he might have established a record that would seem unbelievable.

There have been a few who have made record claims since McCoy's time but they have never been considered for obvious reasons. During the summer of 1940, James Beemer of the University of California Forestry Summer School, made two trips to the summit of the mountain. On the second ascent he claims that he made the climb within 7 minutes of the record established by Lawyer in 1925. No effort was made to prove his claim; again it was a case of no actual witnesses, the members of his party plus those on the mountain at the time taking Beemer at his word. Naturally his claim was not considered since he failed to conform with the requirements of having his starting time checked, and his arrival at the summit was not verified by a timer.
During the winter of 1930, Mike Gedman, age 23, of Chicago, Ill., made an excellent winter climb, the trip from Horse Camp to the summit taking three hours and fifteen minutes.

In closing the chapter on "Record Ascents" we salute that famous trio of mountain men, Norman Clyde, Barney McCoy and David Lawyer, for their outstanding mountaineering records established on Mt. Shasta, which have stood the onslaught of time and which seem destined to remain unchallenged.

Perhaps the soft living of our modern civilization, which makes it necessary to drive to the corner store is not conducive to produce men with the stamina and ability of this trio. If there are any who take exception to that remark we can only paraphrase the closing statement of the 1924 Sierra Club letter:

"The mountain is there, have your time checked and your climb witnessed, and show us what you can accomplish."


Publisher's Note:

Lawyer's record was broken twice in 1985 by the Sierra Club's custodian, Robert Webb, who came to Mount Shasta from Vermont.

His first record was set on June 22, 1985, when he climbed from the Sierra Club lodge to the summit in 1 hour and 47 minutes. The time was verified by witnesses both at the lodge and the summit, who had synchronized watches prior to the attempt.

On July 5, 1985, he broke his own record with a climbing time of 1 hour and 39 minutes. This climb was on the 60th anniversary of David Lawyer's record setting climb in the Mt. Shasta Marathon.

Webb's time was verified by three witnesses at the lodge and three witnesses at the top.

 

Geology ~ Environment ~ Native Americans ~ Folklore ~ History ~ Art ~ Literature
Recreation ~ Maps ~ Mount Shasta Collection ~ Bibliography ~ Lesson Plans ~ About Project