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About the early exploration of the Olympic Mountains …?

The shoreline and prairies of the Olympic Peninsula had been settled a few decades before any organized exploration of the Olympic Mountains had begun. In the summer of 1885, the Army directed Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil to lead a small party of enlisted men from Vancouver Barracks and civilian engineers on a mapping excursion of the Olympic Mountains. The plan was to document a trip beginning at Port Angeles, continuing up the Elwha River to cross the Olympic Mountains; the trip back would be along the Quinault River.

It took an entire month for the men to reach Hurricane Ridge. The party of six men was split into two groups, one exploring the southeast (around what is now Obstruction Point trailhead) and the other headed along the divide, exploring as far south as Mount Anderson before a messenger called O’Neil back to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., cutting short the expedition.

The second best-known expedition began as a suggestion by an employee of the Seattle Press newspaper, Edmund Meany, to sponsor a trip to explore and map the Olympic Mountains. The idea was taken up by the first governor of Washington, Elisha Perry, in 1889.

Scottish explorer James Helbold Christie volunteered to organize what would be known as the “Press Party.” The six-member party, four dogs and two mules, entered the Olympics in December 1889, one of the roughest winters in the peninsula’s history. The plan was to follow the Elwha River to the mountains, carrying 1,500 pounds of supplies on a flat-bottomed boat.

After 12 days battling heavy currents and rough winter weather, the boat was abandoned and ultimately the mules and men carried the supplies on their backs. January-April of 1890 was spent exploring the Elwha Valley. In early May, they finally crossed Low Divide and traveled down the Quinault Valley to the coast after nearly six months in the mountains.

As a result of the Press Expedition, many peaks are named after well-known newspaper publishers of the day: Mounts Meany, Dana, Lawson, Noyes, Scott, and the Bailey Range. Press blazes remain along the Elwha River Trail.

Other explorations began about the same time, including a second attempt by Lt. O’Neil in the summer of 1890. Accompanied by scientists from the Oregon Alpine Club, O’Neil explored the Hood Canal to the Pacific coast. Several small groups from the party were sent to explore large sections of the eastern and southern Olympics. One of these parties climbed Mount Olympus in September 1890, which was the first recorded ascent of Mount Olympus (although perhaps not to the true summit).

Observations and evaluations from the early explorers recommended this beautiful area be turned into a national park, which finally happened when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill creating Olympic National Park on June 28, 1938.

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