Everett and Ida Darr

Everett L. Darr was born in 1907 in Memphis Tennessee. It is not known precisely when or why his family moved to Portland, but Everett graduated from Lincoln High School’s College Preparatory Program on May 31, 1925.

In the summer of 1925 a boy was lost on Mt. Hood. A rescue party was called for in the Oregonian, asking any willing, able-bodied, man to come to Government Camp to volunteer. Darr hitched a ride to join the search, but the newspaper announcement had garnered too much help and many of the volunteers had nothing to do but spend their time in leisure at Government Camp’s Summit Ski Area. Here, Darr saw his first ski jumping competition and was captivated by the spectacle, and even gave it a try. Darr later recalled this as a defining moment in his life, sparking his interest in the outdoors.

Not able to support himself on skiing alone, Darr began a career at the Portland Cement Company as a clerk. He would spend almost all of his free time hiking, climbing, and skiing. In 1931 he joined the Mazamas and Wy’east Climbers, where he maintained membership for the rest of his life.

Darr’s passion and skill for climbing and skiing, as well as his membership in local organizations, put him in the company of some of the greatest skiers and climbers of the day. He counted among his close friends Joe Leuthold, Glen Asher, Jim Mount, Eldon Metzger, and others whose names litter local guide books with first ascents. Darr himself would have many first ascents including a variation of the Wy east Route on Mt. Hood in 1932 and the Klicitat Glacier Route on Mt. Adams in 1933, both with Jim Mount.

Everett Darr and Jim Mount summited Mt. Jefferson on September 4, 1933, Labor Day; two days later they were among the first to return to the mountain to search for three missing climbers. John Thomas, Davis McCamant, and Don Burkhart, were also climbing Jefferson on Labor Day, and when Burkhart didn’t return to work on Tuesday his friend, coworker and fellow Wy’east Climber Ray Atkinson reported him missing. Several Wy’east members, Darr and Mount among them, formed a search party to return to the mountain. The party found the missing climbers’ camp fully stocked including sleeping bags and food supplies, a sure sign that the climbers had intended to return. The search began on September 5, and Darr and Mount found the bodies of all three climbers on September 8.

The two men had been searching for their friends high on the mountain and Darr spotted a yellow backpack in a crevasse that many search parties had passed. Darr and Mount then excavated the body of their good friend Don Burkhart. Careful searching nearby, resulted in the recovery of the other two missing climbers. The three men had apparently been swept down nearly 1,000 feet by an avalanche, coming to rest in the bottom of a small crevasse.

Two years later, in 1935, Darr would lead a group of Mazamas on a Labor Day climb of Three-Fingered Jack in memory of Don Burkhart. On the climb, near the summit pinnacle, Darr took a fall of twenty-some-odd feet, a near fatal fall, had he not come to rest on a small ledge next to his companions. As it was, Darr incurred a sprained ankle and a few cracked ribs.

In 1936, Darr married Ida Zacher, a fellow Mazama and frequent climbing companion of Darr and his friends. Ida had been born in North Dakota in 1912. Though 15 years his junior, she seemed every bit a match to Darr’s skill, or at least his passion. Ida had also joined the Mazamas in 1931, and, like Everett, was an avid skier and member of the Cascade Ski Club.

In 1937 the Darrs were part of a large climbing party whose goal was Bonanza Peak, located in the remote Lake Chelan area of the Washington Cascades. Everett had been on expeditions to the area the previous two summers. Each trip an attempt at Bonanza, each was unsuccessful. On his second trip, in 1936, he and Joe Leuthold managed to climb a pinnacle spire they thought was the peaks highest, they discovered from its top, however, the true summit spire. The 1937 trip was to be the culmination of Everett’s efforts in the area. He had a strong party including Ida, Leuthold, Curtis Ijames and Barrie James. The group held was stalled on their approach by a large rain storm. Once at base camp, they waited several days for the weather to clear. Once they had a window, they ascended the route Darr and Leuthold had surveyed the previous year. Near the summit, however, Everett became ill and unable to continue. Ida offered to stay with him while the rest of the party went for the summit. Successful, the group reunited with the Darrs and proceeded to descend in the dark.

The successful first ascent of Bonanza Peak was hailed as a triumph of local climbing, and the party received a fair amount of press from the adventure. Although the Darrs are not counted among those to first ascend the peak, no one can doubt Everett’s contribution to the effort, or Ida’s dedication to her husband.

First-Ad-1938-208x350That same year, perhaps encouraged by their friends or their recent press from the Bonanza expedition, the Darrs opened a store at 628 NE Broadway in Portland. They called their business Nestle Down Outdoor Shop, and they sold climbing equipment, including custom made sleeping bags and backpacks.

Soon after their marriage, the couple had begun designing improved sleeping bags for skiing and climbing. They believed the available bags of the day were not designed for the rigorous use they were putting it through. Bags needed to be weather proof; didn’t need a full zipper, a short two-foot zipper would suffice; and needed to be lightweight. They set to work at building a bag that would suit their needs. In 1937, they introduced the “Nestle Down Hike Sleeper”.

Nestle Down was promoted to a small group of climbers and skiers, primarily friends of the Darrs and other members of the Mazamas and Wy’east Climbers; and it was a success! Nestle Down soon began importing iron crampons, pitons, and alpenstocks to round out their climbing selection.

Ida, who was running the store during the day while Everett continued his job with Portland Cement Company, could no longer handle the business alone. So the Nestle Down hired its first manager, the Darr’s friend and fellow outdoorsman Glen Asher. Glen, also a Mazama and Wy’east Climber, immediately upon his arrival, suggested the addition of skis, tuning, and rentals to the store in the winter of 1938.

Mazama-Annual-Ad-1938-725x569In the winter of 1937/1938 Everett and Joe Leuthold joined the ranks of the Side Hill Cougars, a small group of individuals who have traversed Mt. Hood on skis. In the 1930s Mt. Hood was a bustling ski center, but there were few lifts, and non above the tree line. Skiers would climb uphill to get longer runs, and often would summit or circumnavigate the mountain, though when Darr and Leuthold completed their excursion only two dozen or so people had completed the feat.

In 1937, Timberline road was kept free of snow for the very first time so that the WPA could continue their work on Timberline Lodge, then under construction. Skiers often took advantage of this and would drive to the top and ski the trails down to Government Camp. The increase in skiers and ski traffic resulted in an increase in injuries. Often the only people around were the Wy’east Climbers and Nile River Yacht Club (actually a ski club), whose cabins were nearby. Tired of seeing injured skiers, Everett Darr and Barney McNabb approached the Forest Service and suggested hiring Wy’east Climber Henry “Hank” Lewis to patrol the mountain on weekends. Hank Lewis was hired at the rate of $10 a weekend. Lewis provided all his own equipment, including a roll-nosed toboggan from the Wy’east cabin. Members of the two clubs assisted Lewis, and on March 2, 1938 the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol was formally incorporated as the first Ski Patrol in the country.

First-MS-Ad-1939-725x903Making a profit in the midst of the Great Depression was an accomplishment, but in 1938 Everett Dar reported a six-month profit of $0.42. By the end of 1939, however, the Darr’s were no longer making their sleeping bags or packs. Climbing and skiing equipment was becoming more popular, and bags and packs of the day had caught up with the Darrs’ designs. With their business growing in a different direction, and their namesake products now defunct, the Darr’s changed the name of their store to the Mountain Shop.

In the summer of 1940 Everett and Ida participated in several historic first ascents. The first on June 8 was the “precipitous” South Face of Mount Washington. The party, organized by Everett, consisted of Eldon Metzger, Jim Mount, Ralph Calkin, and Ida Darr. They were “armed with the accouterments [sic.] of modern rcok[sic.] climbing – ropes, carabiners, rock hammers and an assortment of pitons, equipment rarely used in this volcanic country, but rapidly coming into general usage on sporting rock climbs…” (Mazama Bulletin, July 1940). Not only was this a first ascent, it was also the first in Oregon to depend on pitons for it successful completion.

In July of 1940 Joe Leuthold, Eldon Metzger, Jim Mount, and Glen Asher joined Everett and Ida Darr in the first ascent of St. Peter’s Dome. Considered by some to “[rank] with the best rock climbing exploits anywhere in the mountaineering world,” and considered by others to be suicidal folly, it is with out a doubt the greatest climbing accomplishment of Everett and Ida’s lives. Just three years earlier Everett is quoted in the May 1937 edition of the Wy’east Climber as having said:

“That ninety foot overhang completely circling the tower – of the rottenest, crumbling lava possible -offers no possible route. The ladder-piton idea seems doomed to failure as it is most doubtful whether the rock is sufficiently sound to hold even the drilled in iron. Doubtless some day the Dome will be surmounted, but it will only be doe by someone with a freak and perhaps ridiculous method – something unknown to us at this time. It seems to me that St. Peter’s Dome is a magnificent and inspiring emblem of mountaineering A great rock tower rising majestically some 2,000 ft above the Columbia River mocking our puny attempts to solve its mystery. It offers to us the sublime impossible – and I hope it always shall.”

Located only thirty-five miles east of Portland on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, St. Peter’s Dome is a rotten basalt pinnacle that stands 2000 feet above sea level and drops 1,000 feet on the north and west faces into the gorge. Its south face is connected to the main wall of the gorge by a small saddle and offers the best approach for a climb. From the saddle it is a mere 350 vertical feet of some of the worst rock anywhere in the world.

The successful summit attempt came only after four weekends of work setting pitons up the south face. Despite Everett’s earlier dismissal of the use of pitons as a possibility in completion of the climb the party used 65 pitons, 52 of which were used on a short 95 foot section. Darr describes the crux of the climb in detail the 1940 Mazama Annual:

“…investigation with a piton hammer indicated that pitons might hold if we could get started above the cave, which was about 8 feet in height at its mouth.”

“The decision was made right then and there to make the attempt. It was late in the afternoon, around four, so hurriedly the west corner contingent was called to action at Furrer’s cave. Leuthold, concurring in the idea, came down from his observation point and joined the party at the cave. Although we were not sure at the time, the actual key had been found.”

“Metzger was elected to start the line. With his rubber soled shoes planted on my shoulders, his body tied midway in the rope held at each end to force him against the wall, he inserted the first piton above the cave. Another set beside it a couple of feet distant, gave him a start directly on the face of the rock. Using double line technique and very thin and short pitons, Metzger advanced 35 feet up and out on this truly terrifying pitch before darkness put another stop to the action.”

“Knowing if we could force the line another 25 feet that we would overcome the rotten base of the overhang and be working on fairly substantial rock… we returned the following week-end more eager than ever to get at it. In fact, with upstart confidence, we assured our interested friends that if they wished to witness the first ascent of the Dome they should be on the site that day. Few believed us.”

“We found that thin, vertical short pitons were required almost entirely, so on the final day we cam e with a liberal supply of this type. We found in working on the middle portion of the 96 foot bulge, where no definite crack capable of taking a piton could be found, we could actually force a very sharp thin piton into almost any of the numerous hairline checks, spreading the rock to accommodate the piton. And, strange to say, they would hold. Using double piton line, with two pitons set on the same or nearly the same horizontal plane, and running support lines through several of the wore carabiners, climbing was much safer than would be assumed… On this particular part of the climb all advance was either directly up ninety degrees or out from the face. The mean difference between the top and bottom of this 96 foot wall showed the upper portion protruding out several feet further than the base. So, of necessity, all climbing had to be by direct piton aid. No foot or hand holds were possible. All body support had to be direct from piton suspension. Work on advancing was hard and tiring…”

” …Leuthold managed to advance over the remaining 25 feet of rotten rock to the base of more substantial material as darkness settled in. We retired to our sleeping bags in the saddle.”

“At midnight we were awakened by the arrival of Glen Asher and Ida, early dawn saw Metzger and Jim Mount pulling up the steep scree slope to the saddle. We went to work promptly. A short stretch in the advance position again convinced me that this work was for lighter and stronger men. So, Metzger took the burden of the headline. With a beautiful display of balance and skill he worked across 20 feet of strenuous traverse to the base of a slight chimney in the more solid rock above. Exhausted from this labor, he roped down to the cave. Leuthold went up. On the hard rock advance was rapid and within an hour and a half he was perched on the high ledge above the 96 foot overhanging wall that had stopped all previous attempts.”

To date, there have only been 21 successful climbs of the Dome. The last occurred in 2008 and included Jeff Thomas, who said of the climb “I’ll never do it again! What other climb is there when the follower is in more danger than the leader? I don’t recommend it, it’s just dumb.”

Also in the summer of 1940, the Darrs returned to the Lake Chelan region with a group of Mazamas. The expedition laid siege to the area. Setting up a base camp in a remote basin, the party climbed five separate mountains: Tupshin Peak, Riddle Peak, White Goat Mountain, Wy’east Mountain, and Devore Peak – all of them first ascents.

The summer of 1940 is the hallmark of the Darrs’ climbing resume; they continued to climb together and independently for much of the next decade. In 1944 Everett purchased Summit Ski Hill in Government Camp, the slope that first inspired his love of the outdoors. In 1947, Everett and his family moved to Government Camp permanently and opened Darr’s Mountain Shop. The original Mountain Shop on Broadway was sold to their friend and fellow Mazama George Dunning that same year.

The remainder of their lives where spent mostly as business owners. Everett would go on to purchase Multorpor Ski Area in 1950, combining it with Skibowl in 1964. Everett was behind the installation of flood lighting of Skibowl in 1966 for the advent of night skiing and an increase of that lighting in 1968. Everett died in 1981, at the age of 74. Skibowl would go bankrupt in 1987, and the Darr’s would sell Summit in 1991. Ida would pass in 1997, at the age of 85.

Kenny Van Dyke

Kenny Van Dyke was a local ski celebrity, and an Olympic ski hopeful. Kenny was not a climber, and climbing ceased to be a focus of the Mountain Shop, though skis and skiwear flourished. Kenny was fun and enthusiastic owner with quirky ideas, like skin diving classes, or the annual Sniagrab (“bargains” spelled backwards) Sale that ran for 23 years. He expanded to include the store next door, doubling the Mountain Shop’s space.

Babler and Towne’s

Kenny sold the business to joint family owners the Babler’s and the Towne’s in the late 1960s. These families created Mountain Shop, Inc. a corporation whose success boomed through the 1970s. Mountain Shop expanded again to include the entire building, and even built a second balcony level for added space. The Mountain Shop also opened up doors in Beaverton, Downtown Portland, and Sun Valley, Idaho. There was even a mail order catalog. In addition to space and location, Mountain Shop increased the activities it sold. At one time it included tennis, cross-country, skiing, climbing, kayaking (including foldable kayaks), backpacking, and fly-fishing. The owners hired Peter Hoff in the early 1970s to run the operations.

Peter Hoff

Pete Hoff bought the store in the mid 1970s and eventually reduced locations back to the original Broadway site. Hoff saw continued success from this location until his retirement in 1996 when Wayne Jackson bought the shop.

Wayne Jackson

Wayne Jackson purchased the business and the property from Peter Hoff in 1998. Wayne made many minor renovations to the building and opened Castle Snowboards in an adjoining space. Castle Snowboards was created as Portland’s only snowboard specific shop and flourished through the late 90s. In 2004 Castle Snowboards rejoined the Mountain Shop and their building became the temporary home of Climb Max. Newly purchased by its employees, Climb Max and Mountain Shop struck a deal, Climb Max would cover rock climbing and the Mountain Shop would cover mountaineering.

Dave Pietka

The Mountain Shop was purchased by the current owner David Pietka in 2007. In March of 2011 the Mountain Shop left its 628 NE Broadway address (home of the Mountain Shop for 74 years) and moved to its new location at 1510 NE 37th Ave. Though the new building is older it has been more recently renovated, and includes air conditioning for those sweltering summer days and space to expand the shop basement. Improved parking is available across the street at the Banfield Motel, and nights and weekends at the MBank on the corner of Broadway and 37th.