Click here for video clip

Barbara Washburn was interviewed by Dave Krupa on July 8, 2000, at the downtown Talkeetna home of Brian and Diane Okonek. Barbara made history, along with her husband,Bradford,when she became the first woman to climb Denali (Mt. McKinley) in 1947. Barbara describes her colorful life as a hiker, climber, and wife to adventurer and scientist Bradford. Barbara gives a modest account of her exceptional accomplishments, including a wonderful description of her trip up the mountain and the camaraderie of the climbers. She offers a remarkable window into life, not only as a woman adventurer, but as a social pioneer living a life for which there were few, if any, models. She describes how Amelia Earhart inspired her, as did the tenacity and adventurous spirit of her husband Bradford. Barbara's warmth and humor show through in this interview, and it is easy to understand why she has become an inspiration to women adventurers who follow in her pioneering footsteps. Barbara Washburn died on September 25, 3014 at age 99. To learn more about Barbara Washburn, see her obituary in the Boston Globe newspaper.



Barbara Washburn talks with Dave Krupa in Talkeetna, AK on July 8, 2000. Denali National Park Jukebox Series.

1) Growing up in the Boston area and her interests.

West Roxbury, MA\ Boston -- suburb\ father -- publisher\ Magazine of the Universalist Church\ mountain climbing\ swimming\ tennis\ school -- girls\ education -- classical\ field hockey\ camping\ Universalist religion\ Ferry Beach, ME\ mother -- intellectual\ ocean

2) Her education and searching for a job she liked.

Alaska\ Washburn, Bradford -- meeting\ Smith College -- graduation\ vocational office\ Dennison House -- settlement house\ teacher\ interviewing\ arts and crafts\ Earhart, Amelia\ fate\ sew\ volleyball\ Chinatown -- Boston, MA\ children\ school -- secretarial\ job -- temporary\ Liberty Mutual Insurance Company\ Hindenburg

3) Working at Harvard University and meeting Brad Washburn.

Harvard University -- employment office\ biology\ dates -- graduate students\ mailman\ Harvard Institute of Geography\ Washburn, Brad\ explorer -- famous\ museum director\ interview\ secretary -- executive\ mountain climber\ money -- managing

4) Taking the job with Brad Washburn in the museum and her first time flying.

parents -- living\ Washburn, Bradford -- persistence\ museum\ job -- interesting\ meeting -- Trustees\ typing\ flying\ Boston, MA\ Groton School\ Christmas cards\ relationship -- personal\ license -- flying\ flying suit\ cockpit -- open\ rumble seat\ goggles\ Smith College\ Lindbergh, Ann\ helmet\ subway

5) Attending one of Brad's lectures and traveling on to New York.

lecture\ Hartford, CT\ Navy\ war -- prior\ Annapolis, MD\ science museum\ train\ auditorium\ Washburn, Brad\ New York, NY\ train -- berth\ secretary\ breakfast\ Thomas, Lowell\ boss

6) The courtship of Brad and Barbara.

date -- Navy guy\ Pennsylvania Station -- platform\ admiral\ Washburn, Bradford\ car -- chauffeur driven\ train\ marriage -- proposal\ mountains -- climbing\ Washburn -- family\ engaged -- secret\ secretary -- resign\ library\ Polk, Barbara\ curators -- dating

7) Preparing for her first expedition with Brad.

Washburn, Brad\ children\ marriage\ Alaska -- expedition\ food -- dehydrated\ boys -- college\ Harvard\ ski team -- captain\ Thomas, Lowell -- son\ adventure\ ski\ Jackson, NH

8) Organizing details for the trip to Alaska.

vegetables -- dehydrated\ expedition\ neighbors -- complain\ Limmer, Peter\ climbing boots\ Pollard, Todd\ archives\ boots -- leather soles\ boots -- hob nails\ Alaska\ Vaughan, Norman -- dogs\ New England\ train\ museum -- staff party\ Washburn, Brad -- reputation\ explorer -- famous\ Alps\ parents -- supportive

9) The research they did on Mount McKinley and the need to establish a new, easier route.

Washburn, Brad -- concerns\ Mt. McKinley\ group -- handicap\ children\ scientific objectives\ research -- cosmic ray\ University of Chicago\ Harvard University\ Geiger counter\ outer space\ camp\ Shein, Dr. Marcel -- physicist\ Victoreen, Hugo\ atom smashers\ route -- faster\ Muldrow Route\ West Buttress Route

10) Being approached by a prospective mountaineering film crew.

Muldrow Route\ RKO\ Mt. Everest\ interview\ The White Tower -- Ullman, James Ramsey\ western world\ Nepal\ Mt. McKinley\ climbers\ children -- nurse\ grandparents\ pediatrician

11) How fate brings people together at unexpected times and getting to Mount McKinley.

preparations -- McKinley\ New York, NY\ fate\ [RKO]\ Radio Pictures -- president\ interview\ public relations\ Indianapolis, IN\ Lambert, Eleanor\ Minneapolis, MN\ Fairbanks, AK\ Anchorage, AK\ Pioneer Hotel\ bush pilot

12) Flying into basecamp at McGonagall Pass and the first night.

plane\ truck\ mud flats\ wife -- killed\ Muldrow Glacier\ accidents\ Norris, Earl -- dog driver\ Haakon Christianson -- pilot\ Washburn, Brad\ basecamp\ McGonagall Pass\ Lange, Shorty\ Browne, George\ food\ weather -- cold\ sleeping bag\ public relations -- International News Service\ coffee\ cereal -- hot

13) The team organizing at basecamp.

sleeping bag\ newspaper reporter -- stories\ Hackon, Chris\ Shannon, Len -- reporter\ Los Angeles\ cigar\ nightclub\ snow\ ice\ basecamp\ Norris, Earl\ snowshoes\ campsite\ Washburn, Brad\ packs\ roped -- middle

14) Members of the camp wandering off and falling in a crevasse.

pack load\ movie cameras -- professional\ batteries\ climbers -- experienced\ Mt. McKinley\ camp\ Pearson, Grant -- assistant park superintendent\ Craig, Bob\ glacier\ unroped -- wandering\ crevasses\ Washburn, Brad\ Muldrow Glacier\ Norris, Earl\ snowshoes\ ice ax\ dogs

15) Taking the dogs up the Muldrow Glacier and signs of altitude sickness.

chances\ dogs\ Muldrow Glacier -- head\ Karstens Ridge\ Butcher, Susan -- dogs\ altitude\ headache -- 12 camp\ aspirin\ nausea\ cough -- hacking\ altitude sickness\ research -- cosmic ray\ red blood cells\ anemic -- girls\ medical\ NOVA

16) Getting stuck in a storm on the way up to high camp.

Mt. McKinley\ Browne Tower\ storm\ Washburn, Brad\ Gale, Jim\ high camp\ Hackett, Bill\ army officer\ Victoreen, Hugo\ physicist\ Geiger counter\ radio\ igloo -- sleep\ tent -- cook\ spelling game -- ghost

17) Waiting out the storm with Bill Hackett and Hugo Victoreen.

articles -- Reader's Digest\ discussions\ cooking\ dishes\ gas\ Hackett, Bill\ basecamp -- tents\ cameramen\ Craig, Bob\ Browne, George\ Browne, Belmore -- son\ Victoreen, Hugo\ marriage -- mixed\ sociology\ army officer\ lieutenant\ divorce\ background -- narrow\ storm

18) Climbing from 15,000 feet to 18,000 feet.

trail\ crampons\ Hackett, Bill\ climber\ Victerine, Hugo\ climbing\ physicist\ sugar\ pack\ slope -- steep\ side hill\ rope\ snow\ crying\ rest\ day -- long\ Denali Pass

19) Deteriorating physically with such a long stay at 18,000 feet.

Hackett, Bill\ pack\ Washburn, Brad\ horizon\ hat -- fur\ researchers -- cosmic ray\ Gale, Jim\ Victoreen, Hugo\ high altitude\ deterioration\ red blood cells

20) Being the first woman to summit Denali.

weather\ summit\ rope\ Browne, George\ headache\ Browne, Belmore\ Hackett, Bill\ ice ax\ Lange, Shorty\ pictures\ summit -- approach\ summit -- woman\ Mt. McKinley\ Washburn, Brad\ Lydon, Chris -- WBUR

21) What it was like being on the summit.

National Geographic\ book signing\ interview\ Lydon, Chris\ summit -- emotional\ accidents\ work -- survey\ view\ Wonder Lake\ Stuck, Hudson\ accomplishment\ cameramen\ pictures\ camera -- 35 mm\ camera -- 16 mm\ news reporter -- International News Service\ Lange, Shorty\ Washburn, Brad\ Craig, Bob\ Browne, George

22) The ascent of the North Peak the next day.

weather -- cold\ North Peak\ Washburn, Brad\ work -- survey\ lunch -- picnic\ frostbite\ socks\ gloves -- thin\ descent\ Karstens Ridge\ Browne Tower\ clouds -- lenticular\ storm\ duffel bag

23) Descending from 18,000 feet.

Karstens Ridge\ steps -- chopped\ rope\ snow -- soft\ snow -- firm\ University of Alaska -- students\ Washburn, Brad\ Livingston, Dr.\ Wood, Morton\ teacher -- English\ Thayer, Elton\ Argus, George

24) The final leg of the journey and the media hype afterwards.

Muldrow Glacier\ muskeg\ river\ mosquitoes\ tent\ bells\ Anderson, Carl\ horses\ river crossing -- horseback\ Wonder Lake\ film -- 16 mm\ film -- 35 mm\ summit -- portraits\ media\ TV station -- Fairbanks\ Kinsey, Miriam

25) The exciting welcome home.

radios\ family\ children\ nurse\ books\ Mt. McKinley\ daughter -- enemy\ Boston, MA\ newspapers\ friends -- female\ war\ mothers\ Curley, Jim -- mayor

26) The Washburn's reception in Alaska and moments she remembers.

Alaska -- reception\ daughter -- Washburn, Barbara\ autographs\ Mt. McKinley -- solo\ reporter -- Anchorage, AK\ climb -- sociability\ experience -- sharing\ companionship\ friendship\ children -- discipline

© Copyright Information | Denali Home Page | Jukebox Home Page