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Alma D. Wagen was born in Mankato, Minnesota in 1878. Growing up on her grandparent's farm, Alma was an energetic child who dreamed of climbing to great heights. She was called the "windmill climber" because she climbed windmills on the farm. She called the windmills her mountains.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Alma felt free to fulfill her dream of climbing to the mountaintops. She headed west, settling in Tacoma in 1903. Her vocation was mathematics teacher at Stadium High School and her passion was mountaineering. Nearly all of her time outside of the classroom was spent in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. In an interview appearing in the April 18,1923 Tacoma News Tribune, she said "I wanted to get up among the clouds and to feel myself as free as the birds and the air, and to be able to shout my freedom as loudly as I liked without having someone point to me sadly and say 'It is not pretty for little girls to climb windmills.'"

Alma first appeared on a list of Mountaineers members in 1913. She explored Glacier National Park in the summer of 1914. A member of the 1915 Mount Rainier Outing, she hiked completely around the mountain and climbed to the top. Her summer of 1916 was spent exploring Yellowstone National Park as a guest of the Chicago Prairie Club.

In 1917 while on a 240 mile Mountaineer outing, on which climbs of Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood were made, Alma nearly lost her life. As told in the June 1922 Sunset Magazine, "When well up to the summit of Mount Hood, a small boulder, loosened by the melting snow, came bounding down the steep declivity, struck Miss Wagen upon the back just above one hip. The pain and shock were terrific, but the girl, clutching the rope desperately, saved herself a fall that would have meant death."

She was slid off the mountain on top of a fellow climber who used his own body as a toboggan. "A guide, Elijah Coleman, lay down in the snow. A rope was passed about his body. The injured woman, wrapped in coats and sweaters, was lashed to the body of the guide. Alternately lowering and dragging the human toboggan with its burden, the party made its way down the mountain, across snowfields, glaciers and crevasses to Cloudcap Inn. The descent of the mountain was begun at one o'clock in the afternoon. At nine-thirty that evening Elijah Coleman was helped to his feet at the door of the Inn. He felt himself over, [and] remarked that aside of being worn a bit thin in spots he was quite all right, entered the hotel and regaled himself with five cups of hot black tea." (1922 Sunset Magazine)

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