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Dwight Watson - Personal Communication

Taped interview, 30 August 1973
by Harry Majors
UWSpecColl, Accession 2170, Tape 132 (ABCD)
Notes by Lowell Skoog

Harry Majors interviewed Dwight Watson as part of the North Cascades history project sponsored by U.W. and The Mountaineers. The interview runs about 4-1/2 hours. During the interview, Dwight frequently referred to his mountain scrapbook, which he later donated to the U.W. Library.

Tape 1, Side A

In October 1934, Dwight Watson visited the northern Olympics near Appleton Pass for the first time with Hermann Ulrichs. He said he "learned the country pretty well" and later did several ski trips in the area "because we saw the potential." On a late spring trip with Andy Hennig and Ernst Kassowitz (probably 1939), he made a ski ascent of the peak just east of Haigs Lake, which he called "Soleduck Peak." He recalled that they drove over late in the day, bought groceries, and camped out in a forest camp after swimming (presumedly at Olympic Hot Springs). Early in the morning they hiked about three miles to the snow (Dwight thought the trip was in May) and skied to the peak on the Cat-Soleduck divide. They returned along the same route and Andy skied and scrambled up Mt Appleton on the way out.

They took the Ballard-Ludlow ferry to the northern Olympics in those days. The return ferry didn't reach Ludlow until 11 p.m. so they would take their time hiking out, swim in the hot springs, then have a late dinner in Port Angeles. They'd roll out sleeping bags on davenports on the ferry. The ferry departed at 4 a.m. and arrived at Ballard at 6 a.m. Dwight recalled, "The nice thing about the boat was, it left at four. You got in at six in the morning in beautiful weather coming down the Sound. And you could shave and get cleaned up on the boat and we just dashed home, dumped our stuff and ready to go to work. So we had plenty of time that way."

Most of this side of the tape is about Dwight's 1936 solo traverse of the Bailey Range. He carried two weeks of food. He recalled that he liked to take rice, cinnamon and raisins, because "you could cook up a pudding that way." He started the trip carrying short, spring skis. Near Cat Peak, he could see that there was no chance of skiing on the slopes to the south, so he left the skis there. Dwight briefly discussed the 1936 Hanging Gardens trip with Hermann Ulrichs and the climb of Bannock Mtn. During a 1940 ski trip on Mt Baker, Dwight didn't summit, since he'd been there before, but instead climbed toward the Black Buttes to take movies. There is a censored (blank) section at the end of this side of the tape.

Tape 1, Side B

The tape begins with a censored (blank) section. The interview then covered the 1936 Hanging Gardens traverse and Dwight's solo ramble up Rimrock Ridge. Dwight discussed a climb of Wild Goat Peak (6305 ft) near Lake Dorothy with Hermann Ulrichs in spring, around 1937. Ulrichs didn't ski. He snowshoed a bit. When snow conditions were good he would go out in winter on foot. Dwight also mentions an August 6, 1944 climb of The Cradle with Gene Paxton. He mentioned trips associated with the National Ski Patrol during World War II, including a traverse from Stevens Pass to Icicle Creek and a May 29, 1943 trip up Whitepine and Wildhorse Creeks to near Snowgrass Mtn with Charles Cehrs and Dave Lind. They didn't attempt the summit. Dwight never climbed Snowgrass Mtn. On April 11, 1943 he made a solo ski ascent of Arrowhead Peak from the east portal of the Stevens Pass tunnel. He described a July 4, 1940 climb with Erick Larson of a 7200+ ft peak near Bench Lake (Mt Bruseth), approached from Downey and Goat Creeks.

Tape 2, Side A

Dwight never got into the Buckindy-Snowking area. He recalled that Gage Chetwood of Bellingham did a lot of fishing in there. "He was the most beautiful skier. It was infectious to see him ski, he did so beautifully." Dwight mentioned that he had movies of Chetwood skiing near Buck Pass. "It was just beautiful to see him jump around, like a bird." He also mentioned that Chetwood went along on the "cosmic ray" ski-climb of Mt Adams from Bird Creek meadows. (I've found no written record of that.)

On peak bagging: "Of course, I never went in real strong from a peak standpoint. I know I've been up mountains when I was just real near the top and never even went to the top of the peak. I don't know why."

Regarding the May 5, 1944 ski ascent of Mt Hinman: "It was a very peculiar thing to go in there from a ski standpoint. My idea was to go in there late enough to drive the road, but early enough so we'd have snow to keep the brush down."

Regarding the ski trip from Cayuse Pass to Panhandle Gap: "We did a lot of unorthodox ones..." The White River entrance to Mt Rainier was closed because there was too much snow, according to the rangers. Dwight stayed overnight at Cayuse Pass and told the road crew not to be alarmed if they saw a car parked there overnight. His party traversed to Panhandle Gap and back. He said he did that several times.

Dwight discussed the July 1, 1939 abortive ski trip up Downey Creek, the July 24, 1939 movie trip to the South Cascade Glacier, an August 6, 1939 climb of Mt Pugh with Otto Trott, and the August 20, 1939 movie climb of Mt Shuksan. Dwight had previously climbed Shuksan with Sigurd Hall and Walt Dyke in 1937 or 1938. He recalled that during the movie climb, Andy Hennig suggested climbing the northwest face (Hanging Glacier). Andy and Otto Trott completed the climb a few weeks later.

With Sigurd Hall, Dwight made a ski ascent of Mt Baker from Kulshan Cabin on July 10, 1938. On April 22, 1939, Dwight, Andy Hennig, Fred Dick and John James tried to traverse Mt Baker from the Baker ski area. They skied around Table Mtn and camped west of it, but retreated the next day due to fog. He completed the traverse from west to east on May 13, 1939 with Andy Hennig and Erick Larson. They got a key to Kulshan Cabin at the grocery store (presumedly in Glacier), hiked in and dug out the cabin. They took no sleeping bags. Dwight recalled that packrats chewed a hole in Andy's pack and ate the greens off his carrot supply. Hard frozen snow in the morning made for slippery climbing on skis. They walked down the ridge from the summit to Pumice Stone Pinnacle, then belayed down the steep snow over the bergschrund. Andy came down last and jumped over it.

Tape 2, Side B

On the July 4, 1938 ski ascent of Glacier Peak with Sigurd Hall, they drove to the end of the Suiattle road and hiked up Milk Creek to Mica Lake. They camped above Mica Lake in fog. After climbing to the summit, they descended by a different route, side-slipping around the west side of the north peak. They took off their skis for a short time and walked across pumice above a drop-off to where they could see their ascent tracks, then skied down. Dwight recalled, "I've got a beautiful shot of Sig. He must have been doing 60 miles an hour here. He went across and made a turn and went down there. It wasn't exaggerated at all. The way he just scooted up the last bit, he was just going like ... Oh, tremendous speed." They returned to camp around 7 p.m. and hiked 10 miles back to their car. Darkness fell when they were half-way out the trail and they got home at 5 a.m.

On the May 30, 1938 ski trip to Lyman Lake, they coaxed their car through snow patches up the Chiwawa River road to Maple Creek. (Dwight recalled that Sigurd Hall had an old Dodge and Dwight had an old Model A Ford.) They skied up the main road and the Phelps Creek road, with some bare patches. They spent the night at a miner's cabin at the head of the valley. "I'll never forget the boys," Dwight recalled. "They got up the mountain and skied down and jumped off the roof." On the second day, they left their sleeping bags behind and took food and emergency supplies only. They decided that if the Lyman Lake cabin was open they would stay overnight. They found the cabin unlocked, and in the afternoon skied to Cloudy Pass and North Star Mtn. The clouds parted suddenly. "One of the boys took it straight back down the mountain, pretty much down to the lodge," remembered Dwight. In the Lyman Lake cabin they laid a thin mattress over themselves to stay warm through the night, rather than keeping the fire going.

Dwight added some details about his rambles in the Lyman Lake area in 1936. He also mentioned a June 1938 ski of Mt St Helens, a 1940 attempt to climb Forbidden Peak, a May 7, 1939 abortive ski trip up Marble Creek (near Eldorado) with Walt Hoffman, a September 10-17, 1938 traverse of the Tenpeak (Dakobed) Range, and a May 30, 1938 ski trip to Indian Pass and Kodak Peak with Sigurd Hall. Dwight told Lloyd Anderson about Tenpeak Mountain and Lloyd later made the first ascent.

Tape 3, Side A

On August 18, 1937, Dwight visited the Harts Pass area with Hermann Ulrichs. They drove their car to Windy Pass. Dwight observed that the North Cascades highway could have been completed over Harts Pass years ago. He mentioned his ski-climb of Mt Stuart with Walt Hoffman and Sigurd Hall, but mis-remembered the date as May 1939. They drove the Teanaway road until they were stopped by snow. They skied down Turnpike Creek (apparently after approaching up Beverly Creek), left their skis at the bottom and had a straightforward climb of the peak.

Regarding the death of Sigurd Hall in the 1940 Silver Skis race: "The newspapers and especially the ski magazines, they had to play up, 'Oh, he was out to win.' Well, they all were. They were trying to play up that he was taking a risk." After Hall's death, Dwight made his "up-ski" movie with Bert Mortensen and Matt Broze (dw-movies). "Matt told me over the phone," continued Dwight. "We had a long chat about it. He was up there in that race. He said to Sig when the fog rolled in. 'Are you going to take it wide open?' And Sig said, 'Well, why not?' So he raced like that. Well, Matt didn't. He was cautious about it. Of course some of the Mountaineers were sitting on the rocks and heard him coming and saw him coming and saw it happen. And he just hit a small rock and it flipped him up in the air and... I don't know the exact details, but he got flipped up and he got a broken neck or a fractured skull or something. I was over on the other side of the mountains. When I read in the paper and saw his picture I thought he won the race. I didn't realized he'd been killed."

Dwight discussed his South Cascade Glacier trips on July 31, 1938 with Herbert Butt and July 24, 1939 with Ralph Eskenazi.

Tape 3, Side B

Dwight continued to discuss his South Cascade Glacier trips, looking at photos and describing the routes he took. During the 1938 trip, he recalled seeing White Rock Lakes but he didn't climb any summits. He also mentioned that his trip to Whatcom Pass took place before World War II. He described his 1936 rambles in the North Cascades after leaving Hermann Ulrichs at Miners Ridge.

Tape 4, Side A

Turning to the Ski Patrol during World War II, Dwight said that Ome Daiber probably has boxes of stuff from that time. Minnie Dole, founder of the National Ski Patrol System (NSPS), fostered cooperation between the NSPS and the U.S. Army for civil defense and search and rescue in American mountains. In Seattle, Peter Hostmark organized a meeting at which nobody was quite sure what the Army wanted. They decided to devote one weekend a month to the effort. They formed committees for map making, equipment and policy. Ome Daiber, Jim Borrow and Arne Campbell were involved. They divided the Cascade Crest from about 10 miles north of Stevens Pass to about 10 miles south of Chinook Pass in 10-mile sections, and assigned a patrol to each. Each patrol could go as far east or west as they wanted, but most stayed close to the crest because the range is so broad. Dwight recalled that the sections were really too big for one patrol and manpower dwindled further during the war, as many men joined the mountain troops.

Dwight did a test trip on the northwest side of Mt Rainier, near Mother Mtn. He got a key to the Mowich Lake road gate. During the war, he patrolled the Stevens Pass area. He went all through the crest area north and south of the pass in all seasons. During the interview, he consulted a list of trips made in connection with the Ski Patrol, including Tunnel Creek, Surprise Lake, Commonwealth Basin, Lake Valhalla (around Lichtenerg Mtn), Rainy Creek, Arrowhead Mtn, Icicle Creek traverse (May 1, 1943), Rapid River (approached via railroad speeder), Whitepine Creek to Snowgrass Mtn, Lake Kachess, Mineral Mtn (presumedly the one near Mt Rainier, an orientation exercise), Jove Peak, and Union Gap (July 18, 1943). He became acquainted with A.H. Sylvester during this period.

Tape 4, Side B

The interviewer asked about plane crashes during the war and Dwight said there weren't too many. He remembered being called by the Sand Point Air Station about a "big PVY" that ran out of gas and crashed in the Glacier Peak region in January. The crew bailed out and two guys drifted over and landed in Downey Creek several miles up from the Suiattle River road. They managed to hike out. Others landed in the Buckindy-Snowking country and died of exposure. The plane crashed in a basin east of Image Lake. Sand Point later admitted they should have called the Ski Patrol sooner, but Dwight recalled, "It was a wild place to look. It was a place where nobody much goes in summer, you see, and not much trail." Ome Daiber was called for a Navy plane that went down in the Olympics, near Mt Washington. The Navy tried to go in first but they couldn't get anywhere. Their men couldn't get up the trail. Ome went and showed them how to hike and took responsibility for defusing the bombs on-board the plane.

Dwight recalled other plane crashes:

The interview ends abruptly when the tape is turned off, not at a clear stopping point.

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