Whatcom County’s most famous landmark, Mount Baker, celebrates two important anniversaries in August.
On Aug. 11, 1911, Joe Galbraith won the first Mount Baker Marathon, a publicity stunt designed by civic boosters who wanted to attract people to the area.
Fourteen racers traveled by train or car from Bellingham to the mountain, then ran 32 miles up to the summit and back before returning via rail or auto to the finish line in Bellingham. Galbraith, a homesteader from Acme, finished in 12 hours, 12 minutes.
The marathon lasted only two more years. Race organizers canceled any further races after Galbraith’s cousin Victor fell into a 40-foot crevasse while running up the mountain in the middle of the night in 1913.
Trivia buffs: Hugh Diehl, founder of the Diehl Ford dealership in Bellingham, drove Galbraith to Baker and back in his Model T.
Galbraith and other racers provided the inspiration for the modern-day Ski to Sea Race, a seven-leg relay in which teams ski, run, bike and paddle from the Mt. Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay. In 2016, Beavers Tree Service won in 6:22:32.
Ultrarunners are trying to revive the spirit of that first marathon, too, by running, hiking and climbing 108 miles from Bellingham to the summit and back. In 2016, 12 racers finished the grueling test in 41 1/2 hours.
None were the first to reach the summit, though. That honor belongs to the Coleman party, who made the first recorded ascent on Aug. 17, 1868. Led by Edmund Coleman, an experienced climber from England, the four-man party traveled upstream by canoe as far as they could with members of the Lummi tribe then guiding them through the forest to a clearing at about 5,175 feet.
They left at 5 a.m. the next day and hiked up a ridge of snow and ice, putting charcoal on their faces to protect their eyes.
“They had stayed on top for an hour, leaving behind the flag and a copper plate with their names on it,” wrote Bellingham historian Janet Oakley in an essay at historylink.org. “They descended with ropes, and once they were past the dangerous section of crevasses, they slid the rest of the way down.”
The largest glacier on Mount Baker now bears Coleman’s name.
Jim Donaldson: 360-715-2288