Yelm and Mt. Rainier: Fay Fuller’s Ascent
By Christopher Fagerlund (2003)
The people of Yelm have always had a special relationship with their mountain. The mountain provides resources and recreation to the surrounding areas, and in the past, Yelm was an important stop for people on their way to visit Mt. Rainier. Some of Yelm’s most important historical events and people have been closely linked to the mountain, as well. One of the most important of these historical figures was a young woman who spent a short time teaching in Yelm.
Miss Fay Fuller was born in 1870, in New England, but moved to Tacoma with her family when she was still young. When she turned 15, she spent a while teaching in nearby schools, including Yelm. She spent a while after that working as a reporter for various Tacoma papers and magazines, and later moved to New York, where she married Mr. Fritz von Briesen. She died in Santa Monica, California at 88 years old.
Fay Fuller’s famous ascent was made on her second trip to the mountain. On her first trip, about three years before, she was with a small group of men and women, and made it about 5,000 feet up. On the second trip, she had not actually planned to make the full climb. The party she was with was scheduled to climb McClure rock, but on the way up, they encountered a group of four men (W.A Amsden, R.R. Parish, Rev. E.C. Smith, and Len Longmire, a Yelm native) who were planning to go all the way to the summit. Longmire invited any members of the first group who wished to join them. Fay Fuller was reluctant to go with them at first, but she accepted when Longmire gave his word that he would accompany her down if she were unable to complete the journey.
The majority of the trip went without incident, except when one of the men lost his hat. The climb down was even less eventful. At the top, they set up camp to spend the night, though the freezing air and the boiling steam that was being released from the crater made sleep nearly impossible. In fact, Miss Fuller was the only one who got any real sleep. Before beginning the descent, the group left behind several items to mark their passing. Fuller left a few of her hairpins and a sandwich. A later climber found the hairpins, dispelling any possible doubts of whether she really made it all the way. No word has been received on the whereabouts of the sandwich, however.
The supplies and equipment used by these intrepid adventurers may seem incredibly strange or inefficient by modern standards, but they apparently worked well enough. One of the most talked-about pieces of equipment, by both current and contemporary viewers was Miss Fuller’s outfit. It consisted mostly of wool hose, ankle length bloomers, and a long coat that concealed most of the rest of the outfit. It was cumbersome and inefficient attire, even by the standards of the early twentieth century, but in the 1890’s she was criticized for being immodest, and her reputation was very nearly ruined because she had been traveling alone with four men. Other interesting supplies included their rations and sun protection. Their rations consisted almost entirely of hardtack, ginger snaps, and a small amount of brandy. In the crater, they used steam jets to heat a beef broth, and there were apparently materials to make a sandwich, but that was the extent of their food. Fay Fuller also told of bring a fair amount of chocolate, but she kept it in the large back pockets of her coat, and it melted as they were climbing. All of the climbers wore goggles of some sort to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun off the snow. To protect herself from sunburns, Miss Fuller wore a “false face”. Other climbers at that time used veils, charcoal, or a mixture of Vaseline and flour.
After this grueling and memorable journey, the feat of which she was most proud was having carried her own gear the entire way, proving that women could be the equal of men in yet another area. Upon completion of the climb, she was quoted as having said, “I expect to have my example followed by a great many women.” This young woman who spent a short time teaching in Yelm became the first woman ever to reach the top of the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
C.C. Cushman, “Miss Fuller First to Climb Mountain”, Tribune Aug. 5, 1909
“Female Mountaineers’ Clothes More Streamlined” Jul. 11, 1943
“First Woman to Conquer Mountain Dies” May 27, 1958
“Mountain Climbers”, The Daily Ledger Aug. 19. 1890
“She Climbed Mt. Tacoma Despite Clothes Handicap Way Back in Gay Nineties”, Ledger May 25, 1930