100 Peaks #24: Bruiser Cruiser

I’m writing about 100 peaks I find interesting. The full list is here.

“What terrified me was the Thing of nightmares… The Thing now symbolized in broad daylight by that horrid thrust of lava.”

That’s Harvey Manning describing Cruiser, the high point of the Sawtooth Range in the Olympic Peninsula. When we set out to climb it, I double-checked: that’s the thing listed as “solid” and “low fifth” on mountain project, right?

It was. Manning’s trip report is a wonderful window into a different time. He and his partner seem to not think of rappelling and downclimb instead, they climb in tennis shoes, and they use a rope left behind by a trip two years before. While today we have Mountain Project information, he had never even seen a picture of the peak before climbing it. As this article explains, Manning was perhaps more of an advocate than an athlete (strange assumptions about his physique aside). He edited the first edition of the famous mountaineering textbook, Freedom of the Hills, and wrote a slew of hiking books, but he was far from the biggest climber of his day. Still, it’s interesting to think about all the advantages we had over their party thanks to the evolution of climbing knowledge and equipment. Of course I wasn’t afraid of Cruiser! I had a real harness, and my approach shoes were surely better than tennis shoes. Perhaps even more importantly, I have had the ability to practice in climbing gyms, online beta, and plenty of exposure to how easy a “5.0” climb is. I’m sure that Manning’s hyperbolic description is reflective both of his personality and of the normalization of mountain climbing over the years. It’s easy to forget that climbing used to be so fringe! My climbing gym, the first of its kind in the US, wasn’t even founded until the seventies.

Which makes it even more interesting and impressive that this female friend of his, Monie, is leading these climbs! Manning briefly mentions her considering “propriety” when she invites a third person on the trip, but then concludes that it is “not bloody likely.” The whole relationship between them and Monie’s drive to become a female mountaineer in the forties makes me want to know more about her. Her friend, another woman referenced in Manning’s trip report, seems less interested in climbing and refuses a second trip. “I missed the sobbing incompetence that made me look brave and skilful,” Manning says, a harsh criticism of a friend coming from a man afraid of following Cruiser. “All crying on this trip would have to be done by me.”

I wonder what the climbing trips would sound like in the words of these women. They were unlikely to have used so much bizarre, grandiose exaggeration as Manning, who was described by many as “loud and obnoxious” and who was clearly prone to flowery language, as he is the one who named the foothills of Issaquah the Issaquah Alps.

Despite some controversial personality traits, Harvey Manning was inarguably important to conservation efforts in the state of Washington. As the author of many of the first books that people still read to find hikes, he got a big say in what outdoor recreation would be like for decades after him. It is astounding how incidental influence seemed to be during this time when fewer people were outdoors. Manning personally hated mountain bikers, once accusing them of “spouting pure Lycra,” and for better or worse, it is for this reason that Cougar and Tiger mountain have so few mountain biking trails today. Cruiser itself was named by some friends who were just starting a ski club and made the first ascent in 1937. They founded the Bremerton Ski Cruisers, a scrappy organization which still exists and even has a waitlist for joining.

So much has changed in the outdoor community since the days of wrapping a rope around yourself for a belay, but we still passed a party from the Mountaineers on our trip. It’s the same organization Monie was a part of, and they still have a rule about having three people on a trip. I led the climb, and despite it being less scary than navigating the melting snow moats on the approach, I felt like I was carrying the torch for the ladies from Monie. We also saw another man struggling on the scramble toward the summit block, trembling while urged on by his friend. This many years later, Cruiser still strikes fear in the hearts of men.

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