If you doubt the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” sit down beneath the new basalt columns at the entry to The Mountaineers Program Center. Then consider the organization’s illustrious history.

The four columns are of stuff that existed long before climbers came along. Basalt in the Columbia Basin, from where the transplants were extracted, dates as far back as 17 millions years. But the stuff that inspired the columns—a corps of dedicated climbers who dreamed about these 25-foot-high obelisks some four years ago—is not all that different than what inspired Mountaineers of 80 years ago who dreamed of opening the sport of climbing to anyone expressing an interest.

Those climbers of yester-year, led by the likes of such Northwest icons as Lloyd Anderson of REI fame and Wolf Bauer of ski, kayak and mountaineering fame, battled off the old guard of climbers within The Mountaineers to create a new climbing program, one that actually offered climbing classes.

One of the original instructors in that climbing revolution, Wolf Bauer, put it this way in an interview several years ago: “When I got in, they would never teach me anything. I was just an upstart, a kid.”

Bauer, who will turn 100 next February, added, “They believed you had to learn it yourself” before entering their “clique.”

By “bringing a piece of the mountains into the heart of Seattle,” as Bauer’s instructional successors put it, The Mountaineers is again opening the doors for a broader outdoor community to nourish its love for climbing.


“The program center at Magnuson Park now offers one of the best venues for climbing instruction in the nation,” says Gene Yore, the outgoing chair of the Seattle Branch Climbing Committee. The success of this project is a tribute to our region’s love of the outdoors,” he adds.

Indeed, it may be the only real rock in an urban setting that allows climbers to actually insert protection devices in the pursuit of advancing their trad (traditional methods of protection) and crag skills. The basalt columns were born from a lot of vision, a lot of elbow grease from a lot of skilled volunteers (over 1,400 hours worth), and mostly, a lot of generosity.

Though part of an instructional vision formed four years ago, when what was known as Building 67 of the old naval station was sited to become The Mountaineers Program Center, the columns’ installation was postponed until this year because of limited funds.

The erection of the columns, cleaved from cliffs of a basalt quarry northeast of Moses Lake, was made possible financially by more than 150 donors and more than 1,000 hours of unpaid volunteer labor, provided mostly by professional contractors and Mountaineers volunteers who also possess engineering and construction expertise.

Partners in the effort were the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, The Mountaineers Board of Directors, The Mountaineers Foundation and local businesses who donated their professional services or charged at reduced rates.


The basalt columns, like the program center’s south plaza climbing wall, bouldering area, rock field, and new mixed-climbing wall in the center’s basement, save more than 700 aspiring climbers the long drive over the Cascades to learn fundamental skills in the Leavenworth, Vantage and Tieton areas—not to mention what it saves Mother Nature in auto emissions and erosion from over-trampled ground at popular, but fragile, climbing areas.

Moreover, the columns and their instructional brethren adorning the program center save the greater outdoor community from having to learn climbing on their own. They have an entire Mountaineers community and other climbers at their side with open arms—moving forth an educational mission started long ago.


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