Resources 1984 – L. The Mazamas’ Expedition to Crater Lake

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

VI. Steps Leading Toward Establishment of Crater Lake National Park


L. The Mazamas’ Expedition to Crater Lake

Until 1896 the mountain containing Crater Lake did not have a name. It was due to the efforts of a large mountaineering organization that this oversight was finally remedied. Will Steel was the motivating force behind the creation of this mountain club of experienced climbers more serious in purpose than the Alpine Club, which had degenerated, Steel felt, into a group of Sunday dilettantes. The new group would be formally organized on the top of Mount Hood among the clouds and endless snow. As a result of organizational meetings during 1894, announcements were published in several newspapers of the Northwest asking interested persons to meet on the summit of 11,225-foot-high Mount Hood. Here they would organize the Mazamas, a name derived from a vanishing species of mountain goat. Of the 300 people who answered the call to assemble at the summit of the pass south of Mount Hood, 155 men and 38 women completed the climb and joined in the ceremony formally organizing the Mazamas that was held on a sheltered ledge on top of the mountain.

In the months after the club’s formation, its first president, Will Steel, watched anxiously as the spreading tentacles of greedy timber companies and land developers neared the forests of southern Oregon. The menace of land fraud scandals and wholesale destruction of its timber had already prompted another trip to Washington by Steel–representing the executive council of the Mazamas–to champion preservation of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. That area, its resources by now having been brought to the attention of both the public and of economic interests, was being seriously threatened. Lumber concerns, allying certain politicians on their side, not only began arguing that the reserved townships should be reopened for sale and public entry, but also began the illegal cutting of timber on Mazama’s slopes. Facilitating these inroads by exploiters and despoilers was the fact that, although Crater Lake had been vaguely known for the past forty years, visitation and widespread interest in it were still minimal because of its remoteness, difficulty of access, and lack of advertising.

In another desperate attempt to highlight the area’s plight, Steel proposed that the Mazamas make Crater Lake the destination of a summer outing and mountain-climbing excursion. In addition to its recreational aspects, this August 1896 trip had the nature of a scientific expedition, for numerous professional men from Washington, D.C., were invited to join the group. These notables included Dr. C. Hart Merriam, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey; J.S. Diller, geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey; Frederick V. Coville, chief botanist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Professor Barton W. Evermann, an icthyologist with the U.S. Fish Commission. Their purpose was to study the lake and its neighborhood in detail.