The Toughest Race You've Never Heard Of - Page 2
The Glacier Trail. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Museum Photo Archives
Harvey and the Bull
The original race plan was extreme. Contestants would depart Bellingham via either a steam train or in souped-up Model Ts careening over the dirt roads at over 60 miles per hour.
The train would deposit the runners at the hamlet of Glacier, where they would race up the Glacier Trail to the top of Mount Baker and back, a 28-mile roundtrip. The racers in the Model Ts would begin their run near the community of Deming and ascend the Deming Route to the summit, a 32-mile out-and-back undertaking. Either way the elevation gain was 9700 feet, much of it up glacial ice, in the dark.
After summiting, the runners would return to their motorized transport and return to the finish line in front of the Chamber of Commerce office in Bellingham. The winner would receive $100 in gold coins and a buffalo robe.
It was a grand idea, the leaders of the Mount Baker Club agreed, and just the thing to put Mount Baker, and Bellingham, on the map. An excited Craven described the race as “the the greatest advertising feature for Whatcom County and the Northwest that has ever been pulled off.”
The Bellingham Herald was no less given to hyperbole, extolling the Marathon as “the most spectacular mountain climbing contest ever held within the confines of the United States.”
Mountain runners (left to right) Peter George, Harvey Haggard (winner 1912) and Paul Westerlund (co-winner 1913). Photo courtesy of GOA To It Films/Whatcom Museum Photo Archives.
The Stage Was Set
On August 10, 1911, at 10 p.m., the starting gun sounded and the first Mount Baker Marathon began. The streets were crowded with excited spectators as the 14 participants raced down Dock Street in downtown Bellingham toward the train and Model Ts.
The automobiles reached the Deming Route start first and six racers plowed up the trail. Although this route was slightly longer than the Glacier Trail, it offered a somewhat gentler incline—at least until treeline.
Shortly after, the other eight runners started up the Glacier Trail. Both routes were covered with slippery mud and roots. Heavy rains and snowmelt had caused the creeks to overflow and the runners found themselves sloshing through “Cascade Soup” for much of the first few miles in the pre-dawn blackness.
“My carbide light gave out and for 10 miles I stumbled along the trail in the dark,” racer Turner Riddle explained. “I had a candle which lasted me four miles, but this did not give me much light.”
By the time they reached the glaciers, eight of the runners had abandoned the race. The six that remained donned hob-nailed logging boots for the climb across the crevasse-riddled ice to the top of the mountain, where judges had been stationed to verify their summit.
With the exception of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker is the most heavily glaciated of the volcanoes of the Cascade Range. The largest of these ice sheets is the Coleman Glacier, with a surface area of more than three square miles—a labyrinth of seracs, snow bridges and crevasses. Above the Coleman, the runners faced the ascent of the Deming Glacier, culminating with what’s known as the Roman Wall—a 35- to 45-degree, 1000-foot ice face—the final obstacle to the summit. A slip on the Wall promised severe consequences—in all likelihood, death.
Harvey Haggard, a local mule packer who ascended the Glacier Trail, reached the summit in second place after negotiating the Roman Wall, behind N.B. Randall. Riddle followed soon after. He said later: “When I got near the top, the judges were blue with cold.”
Although he was well off the pace, Riddle impressed the freezing judges with his stamina as he headed back down from the summit. “He started straight down the declivity,” marveled Judge J. Will Collins, “and never stopped for crevasses, leaping them like a mountain goat.”
Farther down the mountain, an exhausted (and by now, aptly named) Haggard passed Randall and reached the waiting train in first place. After boarding, the train steamed toward Bellingham and Haggard disrobed for a massage.
According to the American Reveille (a local newspaper), “As soon as Haggard boarded the special he was assisted to a cot prepared for the first man down and was being rubbed down by his friends to prevent his muscles from seizing up.”
The train rounded a bend and collided with a massive bull that had wandered onto the tracks. The impact derailed the train (and killed the bull). Harvey was pitched naked into the brush.
Harvey Haggard (in bathrobe) after his train was derailed by colliding with a bull. Photo courtesy of GOA To It Films/Whatcom Museum Photo Archives.
The crash was witnessed by a passing farmer in a horse-drawn buggy, making its way toward Bellingham on the cart road that paralleled the tracks. Dazed but not seriously injured, Haggard was wrapped in a robe and helped into the buggy, which sped off to the village of Maple Falls. Upon arriving, Haggard hopped on a horse, which galloped away with the mule packer barely hanging on. At Kendall, a waiting Model T spooked the horse, and Harvey was thrown onto the dirt. He was picked up, dusted off and hoisted into the car, which sped off toward Bellingham. He fainted twice along the way.
By the time Haggard reached Bellingham, Joe Galbraith, one of the runners on the Deming Route, had been declared the winner, with an official time of 12 hours 28 minutes. Haggard’s arrival, 32 minutes later, earned him a disappointing second place. Although Galbraith received the $100 purse, the story of Haggard’s tenacity spread through the crowd. A hat was passed, and the woozy mule packer was declared the “King of Glacier” and given $50.
Later that night, the townspeople of Glacier organized a gala banquet in his honor. The main course: the unfortunate bull.
Craven and his cronies at the Mount Baker Club were ecstatic. The Marathon appeared to have real potential. The next day The Herald chimed in, calling it “the most famous mountain race that has ever been held in the United States.” The newspaper also perversely described Haggard’s experience as “undoubtedly the most wonderful of its kind in the country.”