The History of Altimeter Cabin at Mt. Rainier

As I became more acquainted with the Ashford community, I realized that the townsfolk were curious about why I purchased the property. As conversations ensued, I learned that many a mountain guide had lived on the property they called “The Estate”. And, I learned that the guides have a stellar reputation around town to have had “made one heck of a [bleep, bleep] ruckus!” around this place. A soloist of Mt. Everest, and the first to climb all seven summit without supplemental oxygen,laughed out loud when I told him I was the one who bought the place. He started into stories that brought a wide smile to his face. I could see it in his eyes that he and his mountain buddies opened several “circles” (read Lou Whittaker’s book!) in our house.

At first, I was bewildered. Then I was in awe. Then, a bit embarrassed because I realized that they thought I bought the house because it was “famous”. Invariably, and to this day, the mountain guides I meet say, “Wow! I wondered who bought Lou’s place! Is the hot tub still there?” My answer to that is to ignore their question, having learned a lesson on avoiding their detailed hot tub account, and ask, “So. Which room did you have?” And then proceed to explain that the place is, yes, still standing and, in fact very comfortable. We remodeled in “a rustic, yet updated, style that I hope Lou would be proud of”.

And that is the truth. We have made great pains to keep what I originally felt, when I first stepped out the car, and said, “I’ll take it” to Pam Painter, our real estate agent (and herself a climber-extraordinaire). The house sat on a stretch of lawn, midst of many cedars, in the yellow light of an October mountain sky. What can I say? The house had an undeniable personality of its’ own and great Karma.

I came here to make my home into an artist’s studio and it has turned into a real adventure. As I look back, Pam tried to keep a straight face when she showed me the sauna house (which fell over but, I saved all of the hand-split cedar) and the remains of the hot tub outside the Cabin. Upon subsequent excavation of the famed hot tub (in an on-going effort to extract old climbing gear/relics/Rainier Beer “memorabilia” (cans) raised to the surface in the freeze/thaw action) it seems that in the end of the “Whittaker Era”, the only way the hot tub remained upright was due to the “stone” wall of beer cans, compressed and mortared, through time and consumption, all around it. I’ve heard some fantastic stories about the famed hot tub. If you don’t believe me, read Lou’s book, Lou Whittaker. Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, (The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1994). We have a new hot tub, actually in the same location, but I’m sure it will never be the same!

Whittaker Mountaineering, Inc. has many properties around the Ashford area for their seasonal mountain guides to stay in. They have places called “The Ranch”, “The House House” and “The White House”. The exception to the seasonal comings and goings of mountain guides living in the main house on “The Estate” is what we now call Altimeter Cabin. The small, cedar-shingled cabin was known then as “The Guest House”. It was occupied for a number of years by many mountain guides. I’m not sure how long they lived there and as far as I know, they are still in town occasionally, and stay in “The Palace” (the guides have a satirical affinity for naming their accommodations).Their stories are the stuff of legends and many great books. Come to Ashford, hike or climb the Mountain, stop and talk with the people you meet on the trail, and find out for yourself!

The three acres of heavily wooded property which I bought that day is still known to the locals as “The Estate”. I was completely ignorant of the notoriety of the place. I just knew, when I looked at the place that I would be happy here. I knew I was opening up a new chapter of my life. And that is true, but as it turns out, I now feel that we have just added another entry to the house’s guest book.

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