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Climbing Mount Shasta

The First Ascent of Mt. Shasta

From The Mt. Shasta Story

By Arthur Francis Eichorn, Sr. 1954

Used with permission from the Mount Shasta Herald
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We are told prior to the coming of the white-man, an ascent to the summit of Mt. Shasta had never been achieved. In fact, in the early 1850's it was the general supposition that the summit was absolutely inaccessible.

There is no authentic evidence that any member of the Indian race ever climbed to the summit prior to the advent of the white man, nor can we find any evidence in the legends of the Indian. Why the Indian never climbed the mountain is explained by Joaquin Miller:

"There is a story published that these Indians will not ascend Mt. Shasta for fear of the Great Spirit there. This is only partly true. They will not ascend the mountain above timberline under any circumstances; but it is not fear of either good or evil that restrains them. It is their profound veneration for the good spirit; the Great Spirit who dwells in this mountain with his people as in a tent."

In the annals of mountaineering history, it is recorded that the first successful ascent to the summit of Mt. Shasta was made by a party of eight men, under the leadership of Captain E. D. Pearce of Yreka. Pearce gave the Yreka Herald his personal narrative of the climb and it was reprinted in the San Francisco Daily Herald on August 28. 1854. The article states that the first ascent was made on August 14, 1854. In this particular account the name is shown as E. D. Pierce, and the correct form has been an annoyance to mountaineering historians ever since. In some instances the name was shown as Pierce, Pearce, Prince and Purce, often the date of the climb was in error. The question of the proper date is easily established from Pearce's personal account of the climb. The authentic spelling of the name Pierce or Pearce, however, led to some extensive research on the part of Ansel F. Hall and Charles Stewart, and the results were published in the 1926 and 1934 copies of the Sierra Club Bulletin. It was pretty definitely established in these articles that the correct form was E. D. Pearce.

The personal narrative by Pearce was very colorful, and oddly enough we find that he chose to ascend the mountain from the south side, much the same as is done at present:

"We camped at the base of the mountain, on the south side. On the morning of the 14th, we turned ourselves loose for the trip. The first three miles we found to be easy of ascent; it took us two hours and a half to accomplish the next mile; then came the tug of war. We were obliged in many places to climb from crag to crag as best we could. The least misstep or the detaching of the smallest piece of rock upon which we were obliged to cling for life, would have gently lowered the adventurer from three to five hundred feet perpendicularly upon the rocks below. Believe me when I say, that each one of the party, when scaling the dizzy heights, turned deathly pale, and I assure you that most of the pale faces were of long duration."

Upon reaching the summit of what is known at present as Misery Hill, Pearce relates: . . . "1o, and behold, we came in sight of the topmost peak which we found to be the most difficult by far to master, from the fact that it is the steepest by far, and in going ahead three feet we slipped back four; and in order to make the riffle at all, (as the boy said about going to school on ice,) we were obliged to turn round and go backward, and here it was that we found the atmosphere getting too light for comfort, which was fully demonstrated in different ways, such as spitting blood, headache, and being obliged to rest every few feet, etc., etc. In fact some of the party made notions to go no further. But our motto was neck or nothing. By the way, one of the party N. Davis, lost his breath once. He made three efforts to regain it, and then he allowed that if he had not succeeded the fourth time, he would not have tried it any more. After a desparate struggle we all reached the heights of Mt. Shasta, at half past 11 o'clock a.m., which we found to be in the shape of a mammoth stack of chimneys, with barely room enough for our party to stand upon."

After spending half an hour on the summit, Pearce relates: . . . "precisely at 12 o'clock we unfurled the Stars and Stripes, and raised the standard to its long resting-place, amid the deafening cheers of the little multitude. Cheer after cheer following in quick succession, after the Flag of Liberty floated proudly upon the breeze, until we were too hoarse to give utterance to our feelings."

During the descent Pearce relates: "Not a hundred yards west of the summit we found a cluster of boiling hot sulphur springs, about a dozen in number, emitting any amount of steam, smoke, gas, etc. The ground for some fifty yards around, we found to be considerably settled and completely covered with sulphur, and the rocks are hot enough to cook an egg in five minutes. The earth has the appearance of being a mere shell, and might thin at that."

Leaving the area of the hot spring the party continued the descent, and after covering a distance of some two miles, Pearce tells us: . . . "we came to a ravine of snow, and being somewhat fatigued and in a hurry to get clear of the smell of brimstone, we set sail in the following manner: The grade being on an angle of some 75 degrees, and the top of the snow soft, we sat ourselves down on our unmentionables, feet foremost, to regulate our speed, and our walking sticks for rudders. At the word, off we sped inside 2: 40, and the like I never saw before in the shape of coasting. Some unshipped their rudders before reaching the quarter, (there was no such thing as stopping,) some broached to and went stern foremost, making wry faces, while others, too eager to be the first down, got up too much steam, and went end over end; while others found themselves athwart ship, and making 160 revolutions per minute. In short, it was a spirited race, as far as I can see, and that was not far, for in a thrice we found ourselves in a snug little pile at the foot of the snow, gasping for breath. After examining a little we found that some were minus hats, some boots, some pants, and others had their shins bruised, and a little et ceteras too numerous to mention. No one knew what time we made the four miles in; however, it was concluded by all that we were not over five minutes and a half on the snow. Thus ended the incidents of the day, and we arrived in camp at 3:00 o'clock p.m."

In the August 12, 1954, issue of the Mount Shasta Herald, was published a commemorative story marking the centennial of the first ascent of Mt. Shasta, written by your author. It was anticipated that some climber making the ascent on the anniversary, would make a notation in the summit register book in honor of E. D. Pearce. However, in checking the register book at Horse Camp in the Sierra Club Lodge the next year I found the following notation:

"August 14, 1954, was the 100th anniversary of Captain Pearce's climb--the first ascent--of Mt. Shasta. Since it fell on a week end and was well recorded in the local papers, we expected a large group of climbers and visitors, but the mountain had other ideas. Three days of cold, cloudy weather culminated on the 13th and 14th in a rain and hail storm, with snow falling sporadically as low as 8,000 feet. No one made the summit." signed. . . Larry R. Williams, custodian."

On August 16th this notation is found in the register book at Horse Camp: "August 16, 1954, Keith Warren Radford of San Jose and Charles M. Brown of Aromas, First two climbers to climb Mt. Shasta after the 100 year anniversary."


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