Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.
(June 7, 1910 -
January 10, 2007) was an explorer, mountaineer
, and cartographer
. He established the Boston Museum of
Science, served as its director from 1939-1980, and from
1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director (a lifetime
Washburn is especially noted for exploits in four areas.
- He was
one of the leading American mountaineers in the 1920s through the
1950s, putting up first ascents and new routes on many major
Alaskan peaks (often with his wife, Barbara Washburn, one of the pioneers among
- He pioneered the use of aerial
photography in the analysis of mountains and in planning
mountaineering expeditions. His thousands of striking
black-and-white photos, mostly of Alaskan peaks and glaciers, are
known for their wealth of informative detail and their artistry.
They are the reference standard for route photos of Alaskan
- He was
responsible for some of the finest maps ever made of mountain
regions; his map of Mount McKinley and his map of Mount Everest are perhaps the most notable, although his map of
Range in New
Hampshire was closer
- His stewardship of the Boston Museum of Science made it into a
Also notable is the fact that some of these achievements – e.g. the
Everest map and subsequent further work on the elevation and
geology of Everest – were carried out in his 70s and 80s.
Massachusetts, Washburn received an undergraduate degree from
University, where he was a member of the Harvard Mountaineering
He returned to Harvard to earn a master’s degree
was an avid pilot and made his first solo flight in a Fleet biplane
Field in Seattle in
1934. He earned his private flying license at
Roosevelt Field on Long
Island later that year.
embarked on a notable expedition in 1937 to Mount Lucania, 17,147 feet (5,226 m), in the
To do this he and climbing partner Robert Bates
had to reach Walsh
Glacier, 8,750 ft (2,670 m)
sea level. He called upon Bob
, a famous Alaskan bush pilot
who later replied by cable to Washburn, "Anywhere you'll ride, I'll
fly". The ski-equipped Fairchild F-51 made several trips to the
landing site on the glacier without event in May, but on landing
with Washburn and Bates in June, the plane sank into unseasonal
slush. Washburn, Bates and Reeve pressed hard for five days to get
the airplane out and Reeve was eventually able to get the airplane
airborne with all excess weight removed and the assistance of a
smooth icefall with a steep drop. Washburn and Bates continued on foot to
make the first ascent of Lucania, and after an epic descent and
journey to civilization, they hiked over 150 miles through the
wilderness to safety in the small town of Burwash
Landing in the Yukon.
gathered many awards over the course of his career, including nine
honorary doctorates, the Centennial Award of the National
Geographic Society (shared with his wife Barbara, the first woman to
McKinley), and the
King Albert Medal of Merit.
of heart failure on January 10, 2007, at the age of 96, in a
retirement home in Lexington, Massachusetts.
In addition to his wife, he left a son,
Edward H of Lexington, MA., and two daughters, Dorothy Dundas of
Newton, MA and Elizabeth Cabot of Belmont, MA.
Washburn’s legacy now lives on with a new state-of-the-art museum
named in his honor. The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering
Museum (BWAMM) is devoted to mountaineering
, the mountains, science and
art, and the dissemination of knowledge – all things that Washburn
exemplified. BWAMM is a joint project of the American Alpine Club, Colorado Mountain Club, and National
Geographic Society, and opened in Golden, Colorado, Feb.
Selected Alaskan first ascents
- 1933: Pointed Peak, Fairweather Range, Saint Elias
Crillon, Fairweather Range, Saint Elias Mountains
Lucania, Saint Elias Mountains
Sanford, Wrangell Mountains
Mount Bertha, Fairweather Range, Saint Elias Mountains
- 1944: Mount Deception, Alaska Range
- 1945: Mount Silverthrone, Alaska
- 1947: McGonagall Mountain, Alaska Range
West Buttress Route on Mount McKinley, Alaska
- 1951: Kahiltna Dome, Alaska Range
- 1955: Mount Dickey, Alaska Range