Crislers Legacy Shouldn't Be Forgotten

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Herb and Lois Crisler. More than anyone, perhaps, they brought the magic of the Olympic outdoors to the rest of the world.

Today, they are scarcely remembered in the national park they helped create, and that is a shame. Crisler began wandering the Olympic 20 years before Olympic National Park was created in 1938.

He left tracks where no white man had ever been, but the only official reference to the Crislers you might hear is at an Olympic National Park evening program showing the Walt Disney nature film, "The Olympic Elk." Crisler photographed the movie and some scenes were shot long before the park was created.

He met Lois Brown in 1940, a University of Washington English instructor and member of the Seattle Mountaineers. She loved the Olympic high country as much as Herb, and the two were married a year later.

Crisler built several shelters in the Olympic wilderness, which he used as headquarters first for his hunting trips and later when he began hunting with a movie camera. His first camera was an old hand-cranked, 100-pound Pathe he bought for $25.

One of the first shelters he built was "Hot Cake Shelter," in 1922. He eventually built eight shelters throughout the mountains.

I was particularly saddened when one of Crisler's most well-known Olympic legacies crumbled: the "Castle-in-the-Cat," built in 1944. Lois gave it that name after Herb packed in a cast-iron stove and so many amenities that Lois declared it "a castle."

I first visited the Castle-in-the-Cat in 1975, more or less stumbling upon it while following the rugged, untrailed ridge between Appleton Pass and High Divide. I wandered into a clearing and there it was: a rustic cedar shake cabin, complete with wood stove, shuttered window openings, rugged split shake cabinetry.

Inside, I found a few staples and a "guest register" of hikers who had found the Castle before me. Hikers' names on that register dated back to the early 50s, people surprised and thankful to find such splendid accommodations in the high mountains where official Olympic National Park maps said no shelter existed.

I returned to the site of the Castle five years ago, a fallen, rotting pile of hand-hewn beams and cedar shakes. It is officially being "recycled back to nature" by Olympic National Park.

I find that both tragic and negligent.

The Crislers were strong supporters of the park and deserve to be remembered for their contribution to its creation. Perhaps you might ask, like me, why anyone would allow such a link to their Olympic heritage to be destroyed.

One rare book details Crisler's tromping through the Olympics: "Herb Crisler in the Olympic Mountain Wilds," by the late Ruby El Hult. Easier to find is "Beyond The Trails with Herb and Lois Crisler in Olympic National Park," by Francis E. Caldwell of Port Angeles, available online at

Seabury Blair Jr. is working feverishly on the second edition of his guide, Day Hike! Olympic Peninsula and is the author of Stummick, Hardbody and Me, a book of humorous tales. E-mail him at

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Comments » 2

  • May 31, 2010
  • 5:28 p.m.
Rugosus writes:

Herb Crisler deserves respect and a place in history, especially after his efforts throughout the Olympic National Park and forests lands. I am amazed that there isn't a major trail renamed after him.

  • January 3, 2012
  • 2:57 p.m.
westmauited writes:

The Crislers were super people, My Father was a packer for the Park and I got to go with him. I spent 4 nights with the Crislers up the Elwah, where they fished with Chief Justice Douglas, on Lois's first trip in they took a wheel barrow with newspapers to start fires, herb just laughed and went along with it. Dad always road a big white horse in front named King, I was 6 years old and tied in on hourse # 3. That was 1943..I sure would like to find some of the old pictures the park had. Herb also gave dad the old cabin, and the park let him use it, in the lower Elwah camp grounds, one had to hike up to it.