Adventurer Brad Washburn's Lasting Image

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Mountaineer, cartographer and photographer Bradford Washburn died this week at age 96. The photos he made were as dramatic as his adventures on icy peaks and raging rivers.


Bradford Washburn died this week at the age of 96. He was a photographer, mountain climber, adventurer, cartographer, and the founder of the Boston Museum of Science. In 1999, he directed the project that revised the official elevation of Mount Everest. Turns out it's seven feet higher than previously thought.

Together with his wife Barbara, also a climber, he produced the first comprehensive relief maps of Everest. Mr. Washburn's mountain photographs, often shot with large format camera, are considered epic by many. His spectacular shots of Alaska's Mount McKinley in particular are renowned.

Just over three years ago on this program, Brad Washburn spoke about one of his earlier adventures. In 1937, he and his friend Bob Bates summited North America's highest unclimbed mountain - Mount Lucania in Alaska. But on the trek home, they ran into trouble.

Mr. BRADFORD WASHBURN (Photographer): It's when we reached the Danjack River. That river was roaring and it was 50, 60 feet wide and very deep. But we were so near the forest on the other side that we could see the little birds jumping around in there, flitting around in the woods, and we couldn't get past it because of this roaring torrent of river.

So we figured that if we went upstream, that all this water was coming out of the Danjack glacier, and this is a cinch cause all we do is go up the valley 15 miles or so, cross the glacier and we'd be on the other side of the river. But ah, no, when we got to the glacier, we discovered that there was another glacier way up the valley that all that water was coming out of and it was roaring, absolutely impassable river.

SIMON: Finally suffering from hunger and exhaustion, Mr. Washburn and Mr. Bates found a smaller channel in the river, tied themselves together and plunged chest-deep into the icy water.

Mr. WASHBURN: Finally, our feet did touch the bottom and we dragged ourselves out onto the other side half frozen in ice water. And we did, ah, and I remember we lay absolutely naked and thank goodness that was a nice sunny day. Then we headed out over a very gently rising meadow. And I said, Bob, did you hear that noise? I began to wonder if I was hearing the bells of heaven or something.

And then all of a sudden, 100 yards away, we saw a horse's nose and then a man and then another man and another horse about 100 yards from us. And these guys met us and they said, where in hell have you come from? We said we've come from Valdez, Alaska. And they said, where were you going? We said we're going anyplace you're going.

SIMON: When it was over, Brad Washburn and Bob Bates had completed what is still regarded as one of the great mountaineering adventures in the far north. Brad Washburn died this week in Boston. He was 96.

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