How a box of negatives led to a journey through the history of Northwest mountaineering

When a moving box full of negatives arrived on that of Jodi Zybul on the doorstep, she wasn’t quite sure what she could find inside, or who she could search through the memories.

She had walked through her own family history over the past two years: negatives her grandfather had taken in 1914 and boxes of photos her grandmother had kept from the 1980s.

Zybul needed a break from all the familiar faces. A box of negatives she saw at an online auction at Tacoma Goodwill seemed like a pretty interesting break.

Her winning bid didn’t cost a lot, she said, around $ 50. The 987 negatives in the moving box were hers.

“I had absolutely no idea what was on the negatives,” she said. “The listing contained a photo of a few negatives with light shining through. He showed a few people.

A man’s trash can, right? But, once she saw the pictures, she knew these treasures had to be shared.

Searching through the negatives, Zybul got a glimpse into the rich history of Northwestern mountaineering. Images from the 1940s to the 1960s. Photographs tagged as a first ascent of Mount Sir Donald in British Columbia, diagrams of routes taken by climbers, climbers roped up on ridge lines, F stops and speeds of shuttering were part of the photographic treasure.

A man with glasses, a beard and a birthmark stood out. Maybe he took the pictures, Zybul guessed. After all, several family photos showed him outside a new house and lounging on a sofa with friends. “All very laid back,” she said.

“None of the photos of him are tagged. In my experience, as an amateur photographer, I always tag people except for my photos, ”Zybul said. “Why am I going to tag a photo of myself?” I know who I am.”

So began his year-long search.

One of the first people she reached out to was historian Lowell Skoog.

‘How we got here’
Lowell Skoog’s family is steeped in the history of Northwest outdoor recreation. Now retired, Skoog volunteers as a historian for the Seattle Branch of the Mountaineers, the largest branch of the club where adventurers learn to climb mountains, ski touring, scrambling and snowshoeing.

Skoog said he’s always been interested in history. So much so that he is writing a book on ski mountaineering, which will hit the shelves next month.

“I think it’s always good to get a sense of how we got here and to assess where we are and where we are going,” Skoog said.

The first climbers did not always live in the region, he said. They would travel northwest to climb Mount Rainier or Mount Baker. Then mountaineering clubs began to form in Portland, Spokane and Seattle.

“They were really interested in exploring the local mountains in more depth,” Skoog said.

In the early 1900s, The Mountaineers organized great outings to places like the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainier or Glacier Peak.

“They would have 100 people on beasts of burden. They would spend months planning, ”he said.

These kinds of trips continued until around WWII. After that, people more often ventured out on their own, without the complex outings of mountaineering clubs, he said.

Nowadays, the internet and the need for outdoor activities during the Covid-19 pandemic have sent even more people to the mountains of the Northwest.

However, it is a world that has changed since the early days of mountaineering.

This year, guide groups have finished their season on Mount Rainier several weeks earlier than normal. The summer heat waves melted snow and ice, creating dangerous conditions.

These conditions could be a new reality of climate change, Skoog said, worrying many climbers.

“For people like me who have a lot of experience in the local mountains, it’s just a little heartbreaking to see the glaciers melt,” he said.

It’s important to document how things have changed, Skoog said, including the discovery of Zybul.

The negatives Zybul found might not show first major climbs, he said, but they are rare – regardless of who took their picture. The negatives show a group of friends who climbed the Cascades, often dubbed the American Alps.

“The fact that you didn’t have Instagram in the 1950s, any photos you find from that time are very interesting,” he said.

“A secret entrance”
Photos like those found by Zybul are of interest to Nicolette Bromberg, curator of visual materials at the University of Washington Special Collections Library.

Bromberg said the university’s mountaineering photo collection is one of the largest in the Northwest.

Often photos or collections are given. Rarely does the library buy photographs, Bromberg said.

One of the largest collections from The Mountaineers, said Bromberg. Everything from newspapers to mountaineering records to photo albums. A former curator was a member of the club, she said, so the collection is extensive.

“We have a secret entrance into what life was like in the pictures we have,” Bromberg said. “When you look at the photos and see what people were doing or what they were wearing, what was going on at the time, it’s a whole different world.”

Bromberg said researchers are using the collection to study all aspects of life in the Northwest, including early female mountaineers, who climbed in skirts; the mountains themselves and their disappearing glaciers; important community members who ventured outside, such as the one in Seattle Edmond Meany, state legislator, historian and climber.

“A lot of famous climbers come from the Northwest,” she said. “Mountaineering is really an integral part of the Northwest. It really is a part of our culture here. Even though I don’t climb mountains, the fact that people are on those mountains, I am aware of it.

“The mountain people before”
Brien Sheedy, director of the Whitman College Outdoor Program, agreed that mountaineering is an important part of Northwest culture.

“We are extremely fortunate to have some of the best and most accessible climbing and mountaineering in the world in our backyard,” he said.

Sheedy has taught many others to appreciate the Waterfalls and the Blue Mountains. Looking ahead can help you remember the past, he said.

“I regularly remember the importance of the climbers who came before me and helped me pave the way for what was possible in our region,” said Sheedy.

Meanwhile, at her home in California, Jodi Zybul wanted to identify the bearded man. She still had no lead.

She contacted on Facebook. She scanned the search results on Google. She contacted experts in the field.

Nothing.

Then, one day, she found a photo she hadn’t noticed before, with a name scribbled on a tag.

Worthy Doyle.
Was it the bearded man standing in front of his house? Who ventured out with friends across the Northwest?

“Worthie had white hair when I first met him,” his stepdaughter Becki Gaddum said in an email.

Courtesy of Jodi Zybul

An image of Yosemite National Park that Worthie Doyle probably took.

Gaddum had married Doyle’s stepson, Stephen. Both men died years ago.

Gaddum said she met Doyle in Port Orchard, Wash., Where similar pictures hung on the wall of his house.

Doyle’s love for the outdoors was a long-standing passion, according to his obituary in the Kitsap sun. “Sir. Doyle was an expert snow skier and avid mountaineer, having climbed Mount Rainier twice. The sport took him to California, British Columbia and Norway.

Gaddum said she still has a jar of photos from her outdoor adventures, which some Zybul hopes to repeat.

Zybul plans to hike and photograph Yosemite National Park this winter, tracing the path of photos in Doyle’s collection.

She said she had always wanted to try the hike.

“His photos inspired me to really get into the sport,” Zybul said. “I can’t wait to experience nature in Yosemite.”



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