Fay Fuller becomes the first woman known to reach the summit of Mount Rainier on August 10, 1890.

  • By Charles Hamilton
  • Posted 5/29/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7786
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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).

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.

Sources: "Fay Fuller," display in From Sunrise to Paradise exhibit, Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, 2006; "Fay Fuller," Tacoma Public Library website accessed May 29, 2006 (http://mtn.tpl.lib.wa.us/climbs/climbing/people/fuller.asp); "An 'Old Timer' Recalls Some Interesting Happenings of the Past," Mount Rainier Nature Notes, Vol. 11, No. 7 (September 1933), National Park Service Mount Rainier website (http://www.nps.gov/mora/notes/vol11-7d.htm); Rachel Brumer "Fay Fuller's Boot," painting in The View From Here: 100 Artists Mark the Centennial of Mt. Rainier exhibition, Mt. Rainier National Park Centennial Exhibit website accessed May 29, 2006 (http://www.nps.gov/features/mora_cenn/slideshow/27.htm); "Fay Peak, Mount Pleasant, and Hessong Rock," Trails.com website accessed May 29, 2006 (http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.asp?trailid=HGW230-058). See also Betsy Potts, “Fay Fuller, First Woman to the Top of Mount Rainier,” Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter 1996-1997), 24-29.

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