Climbing Mt. Hood “Back in the day”

Today I thought that I would post a great story about a typical climb from the 1930’s. I’ve been lucky to have been able to meet many historic figures, or their relatives since I started to persue my interst in learning the history of Mt. Hood.

This story was forwarded to me through a conversation that I had with Anne Trussell (Harlow) from Sacramento, Ca. Anne is James Harlow’s daughter.

I hope that you enjoy this story.

Gary =0)

James Harlow’s journal entry and photos.
Saturday and Sunday, September 19-20, 1931
James Harlow, Curtis Ijames, Cecil Morris, Everett Darr, Dr. Bowles and Ole Lien

Ole came for awhile at noon, and we made definite plans for the climb up Mt. Hood over this weekend. Then I packed up and went over to Ole’s where we were to meet the fellows from Camas with whom we were going up. They were due at 7:30 but didn’t show up by 9:00 so we made arrangements to go up with Everett Darr and two of his friends. They came by after us by 10:30 and we started by 11:00 PM. Ole and I rode in the rumble seat. Everett’s two friends were Cecil Morris and a fellow named Bowles, a doctor. The car, a Chevrolet Coupe, belonged to Cecil Morris. We were at Government Camp by 12:45 AM Sunday. We didn’t stop at the hotel as Raffertys had gone to bed.

It was very foggy from Laurel Hill to Timberline but was mostly clear at Timberline with a 38-degree temperature. The mountain showed up white with a fresh coat of snow. We started on the climb about 3:00 AM with a fellow from Portland, Curtis Ijames by name, making a party of six.
James Harlow Mt Hood Summit
We ran into snow a half mile above Timberline, and put on crampons half way to Triangle Moraine. The snow was well frozen and we hardly sunk in. There was a very heavy west wind and clouds were rapidly blowing across the mountian. The summit was obscured by the first streak of dawn. On Triangle Moraine there was probably an average of fourteen inches of snow piled into drifts, sometimes four or five feet deep. When the sun came up, we saw some beautiful cloud effects, the most wonderful colors I have ever seen.

When we got to Packs Rocks, we were in the fog and the wind tried its best to blow us off into White River Glacier. Upon reaching the first hot rocks, the wind was so hard we could barely move. At times, we just lay down in the snow and anchored ourselves with our ice axes. It wasn’t bad going up on the Crater Rocks drift until we got on the top of it. Then the wind was so bad it took us ten minutes to go 100 feet. The snow was soft, making the going hard. It was foggy most of the time and ice froze on our clothes. It took us quite a while to go the last 1000 feet because of soft snow.
James Harlow - MtHoodSummit House
It cleared up before we got to the top of the Summit Ridge. We looked down on a sea of clouds below 8,000 or 9,000 feet on the south and west and scattered clouds on the north and east. Fleecy strings of fog were blowing across the summit with tremendous velocity. And the gusty wind was so strong as to be dangerous. The rocks were ice-covered and the going was very treacherous. The last 200 feet over to the cabin was terrible.

We finally got to the cabin and went in, as the door was unlocked. It was very cold and the fire we lit in the kerosene stove did little to warm things up. We had arrived at the cabin about 11:30, and stayed about an hour. The shack swayed, creaked, and groaned crazily in that wind. The noise was terrific. Leaving about 12:30, we got down the chute okay but got lost in the fog below Triangle Moraine. The snow had softened and made the going very tiresome in the three and four foot drifts.

James Harlow - Hiking Back Down Mt Hood

We finally got on the right path and got down to Timberline by 4:00 PM. Everett, trying to crank Cecil’s car, which started hard, punctured the radiator. We got it started down the road and he could coast nearly all the way to Rhododendron. Ole and I rode into Portland with Curtis Ijames in his Model T Ford delivery. We stopped at Government Camp and got a bite to eat at Rafferty’s so home by 7:30 PM, thus ending a great trip.

Battle Axe Inn, Government Camp, Oregon

The Battle Axe Inn

The Battle Axe Inn, in Government Camp was for many years the hub for much of the activity on Mt. Hood’s South side. Many mountain rescues were headquartered from the old inn, as well as community gatherings and parties. Many a cold and tired skier found warmth and rest in front of its grand rock fireplace.

Battle Axe Inn interior
The Battle Axe Inn was the dream of Everett Sickler, who since working as a young man in the hotel at Yellowstone, wanted to run a resort hotel of his own. He got the idea for the design of his inn from a building in a Johns Mansfield roofing ad. In 1925 Sickler hired Hood River contractor Albert Krieg and his son’s to handle the construction of his new inn. Sickler originally wanted a log structure, but Krieg, in an attempt to help save money, built the structure with lumber and then used slabbed logs for the siding, thus giving it the look of log building. The cost for the building, a whopping $3600.00. He and his wife Belle Pierce Sickler opened for business that winter.

The building was a quaint lodge with a dining room and rooms. The interior was wood, with log beams and a large rock fireplace and was decorated with early pioneer and native artifacts. The grand staircase was a circular style with a huge log center pillar. The furniture was made by local craftsmen in a rustic style.

Battle Axe Inn toboggon run
The following year Sickler hired the Krieg’s to build the Battle Axe Inn Recreation Hall, located just up the street from the inn. It was a huge structure 50’ x 90’ three story building. After purchasing the entire stock of ski’s from the Marshall wells company in Portland, the Rec Hall was used as a ski shop with rentals. The Rec Hall was also the location of the infamous toboggan slide. The slide included a two track run and a cable system for returning the toboggans to the top of the hill. Speeds were said to reach up to 60 miles per hour when the conditions were right. Many times a toboggan would leave the track causing bodily harm. Because of liability insurance costs, the toboggan was finally closed down.

The inn was always a financial struggle for the Sicklers. In 1929 Henry and Margaret Villiger, after a trip to Government Camp by automobile influenced by their daughter Marcel and her friend Gertrude Jensen decided to purchase the inn for $23,000. The depression set in and business was so slow the payments had to be adjusted from $350. Per month to $30. Per month. At some time during this era the rec hall, located up the street was moved down and attached to the inn, to solidify the business operation. At this time the rec hall, or Annex housed a coffee shop, a taproom, groceriy store, laundry with dorm rooms upstairs.

The Battle Axe Inn Rec Hall
Henry Villiger passed away in 1938, and Margaret continued to operate the business until 1947 when Gertrude Jensen bought the business for a reported figure of $85,000. Gertrude took over with grand plans. She hoped to re-open the old toboggan run, and a cafeteria. She hired well known skier Hjalmer Hvam to operate the ski shop, Chester Chin of Chin’s Buffet in Portland to run the cafeteria and her son to operate the toboggan run.

Because of overwhelming operating costs and costly repairs, and complicated further by Gertrude’s health troubles, she moved back to Portland and eventually turned the business back to Margaret Villiger. Mrs. Villiger in turn sold to Warren Huff, who operated it for two years until Monday, November 7, 1950 when the grand old inn met its end.

At 4:30 in the afternoon the dreaded call went out that the inn was on fire. Government Camp’s method for fighting fires was a community effort, and many old buildings were lost to fire. The fire crew from the Zigzag Ranger Station as well as the fire department from Sandy were summoned, but it was too late to save the building and their attention was directed to saving the adjacent buildings. It was a huge conflagration, fueled by the fuel oil tanks situated next to the building, and it’s wooden structure. The fire was so hot that it peeled the paint from Hills Place across the street and it melted the pavement on the road in front of the inn.

Battle Axe Inn Street ViewThe official cause of the fire was said to be a worker with a blow torch was working on some plumbing when he was called away. The grand old Battle Axe Inn, a landmark inn Government Camp for over 25 years was gone.

Battle Axe Inn Business Card (front)    

Battle Axe Inn Business Card (rear)

Battle Axe Brochure

Battle Axe Brochure Inside

Battle Axe Inn Fire Journal Article

Mt. Hood History Blog

Welcome to my new blog… as if I have time for another project. 🙂

Some may already be aware of my web site. It is becoming quite popular as time goes by, but I was inspired by the “Cafe Unknown” history blog. It’s a great blog with some really good info about Portland, Oregon’s history. Perhaps I can create a similar web site focused on my own center of interest, the Mt. Hood Loop Highway, including the Historic Columbia River Highway.

So if you come here to visit, please give me a heads up so I know that I’m not talking to myself.

Gary Randall
Brightwood, Oregon