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Bradford Washburn

Bradford "Brad" Washburn was interviewed on July 8, 2000 by Dave Krupa at Brian and Diane Okonek's home in Talkeetna, Alaska. On the day of the interview, Bradford and Barbara Washburn were in Talkeetna waiting for clear weather so they could visit key locations in Denali National Park, such as Fake Peak, in an effort to clear up remaining mysteries about Captain Cook's claimed ascent of the mountain. In this interview, Brad, who is truly the "dean" of the mountain, shares in amazing detail his extraordinary journey over more than half a century to explore, document, and share the mountains that he loves and that have been the focus of his life. He talks about some of the expeditions he has made in Alaska, including Denali and Mount Lucania in the Wrangell Mountains, and elsewhere in the world, his technique for aerial mountain photography, and his map making efforts. He also discusses setting the West Buttress Route on Denali, his concerns about preserving wilderness, and his recent effort to research Cook's Sourdough Expedition.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-17-25

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Jul 8, 2000
Narrator(s): Bradford Washburn
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1) Personal background and education and background

2) How his interest in mountain climbing developed

3) The publishing of books and his Mont Blanc and Matterhorn climbs of 1926

4) Studying at college and climbing in the Alps

5) His first expedition trip to Alaska and learning what the guides know

6) Coming back to Mt. Fairweather and other reconnaissance surveys

7) Reconnaissance trips

8) Mapping expeditions and naming peaks

9) Receiving a telegram from the King of England and relaying the message to the present Queen

10) Arranging the first large formal photographic flight over Mt. McKinley in 1936

11) Gathering a team and traveling to climb Mt. Lucania

12) Being left by the airplane to climb Mt. Lucania

13) Trying to find a way out without an airplane

14) Some boys from Burwash Landing out retrieving their horses

15) Getting a map of McKinley made in Switzerland

16) The Swiss mapmakers

17) The making of a detailed map of Mt. McKinley

18) The filming of Mt. McKinley

19) The cameras he used and retrieving old cameras

20) Learning to use Colonel Stevens' Fairchild K-6 aerial camera

21) Fixing the broken camera on a trip to Glacier Bay

22) Counting on the pictures to come out

23) The types of cameras and making them function right

24) Taking pictures while flying at altitude

25) Dealing with Alaska weather when taking pictures

26) The story of the Ellis baby peeing on Alaska Governor Ernest Gruening

27) Emergency flights and trying to make gas last

28) Flying with Howard Gillam on unique flights

29) His first ascent of the West Buttress, and the regulations on Mt. McKinley

30) Dealing with environmentalists and protection of wilderness areas

31) Philosophical differences in attitudes toward the wilderness

32) The trip in which they made the first ascent of the West Buttress on Denali

33) Setting the route up the West Buttress

34) The power of Mt. McKinley

35) The Mt. Hayes climb, the last trip before the War

36) Making a living taking pictures of expeditions

37) The difficulties on the mountain caused by regulations

38) Significant climbs yet to be done in Alaska

39) Measuring the altitude of Denali

40) Great climbs to do second and third ascents on

41) Disproving the claims in Cook's book

42) Gathering information against the Cook expedition

43) Brian Okonek finds true location of where the picture was taken

44) The validity of the Sourdough Expedition

45) The descent of the Sourdough Expedition and taking pictures of routes

46) Changes in the glaciers and unclimbed routes

47) New routes he has found and the first ascent of Mt. St. Elias

48) The thrill of climbing already ascended peaks

49) What he loves about Alaska

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: Washburn, Bradford\ Baptist Hospital -- Boston, MA\ Buckingham School\ uncle -- wealthy\ father -- Episcopal minister\ Washburn Wire Company\ Groton School\ Harvard University\ Odell, Noel\ Mallory, George\ Irvine, Andrew\ Mt. Everest\ geology -- teaching|

Section 2: mountain climbing\ hay fever\ Squam Lake, NH\ Mt. Washington\ cousin\ Christmas\ Europe\ semi-sabbatical\ history -- church\ Mt. Blanc -- first ascent\ Pope Pius XI -- mountaineer\ book -- My Climbs on Alpine Peaks\ book -- History of Mont Blanc\ Alps\ Matterhorn\ articles -- "A Boy on the Matterhorn"\ articles -- "A Boy Climbs Mont Blanc"\ magazine -- Youth's Companion\ Putnam, George\ series -- boy's books\ Among the Alps with Bradford\ David Goes to Greenland\ David Goes to Baffinland|

Section 3: book\ manuscript\ Putnam, George\ pictures\ book -- Among the Alps with Bradford\ presidential candidates -- books\ Mont Blanc -- summer\ Matterhorn\ climbing\ training -- formal\ camp\ Les Bossons France\ trail\ valley\ technical\ Mont Blanc -- Italian side|

Section 4: Alaska\ National Park Service\ Harvard University\ degree -- French history and literature\ master's degree -- geology\ Smith College -- French\ mountaineering -- french\ Harvard Mountaineering Club\ Odell, Noel\ Alps|

Section 5: Alaska -- first trip\ Mt. Fairweather\ Lituya Bay\ wilderness camping\ hut -- meals\ Holmes, Burton -- travel lecturer\ Everett, Walter\ Mont Blanc -- guideless\ Alaska -- no guides\ porters\ camp\ guides -- critical\ tent|

Section 6: Mt. Fairweather\ Cape Fairweather\ La Perouse -- 1800's\ Alps\ climb\ route\ Taylor, Andy\ Carpé, Allen\ Moore, Terris\ Mt. Fairweather -- first ascent\ Mt. Crillon\ mapmaking\ reconnaissance map\ National Geographic\ expedition -- Yukon\ reconnaissance survey\ Mt. Logan\ Kluane Lake|

Section 7: dog team\ hand sledged\ Alsek River\ Nunatak Fjord\ Yakutat Bay\ boat -- rubber\ Russell Fjord\ Knight Island\ cannery -- Yakutat\ Bates, Bob\ Mt. Lucania\ Taylor, Andy\ winter camping\ guide -- Wrangell Mountains\ Mt. Logan\ Carpé, Allen\ technique -- knee-lift\ snowshoes\ outdoorsmen\ leg -- broken\ McCarthy, AK|

Section 8: Nunatak Fjord\ ice cliff\ glacier\ rock -- sheet\ snow\ rocks\ boat -- rubber\ breeze -- on-shore\ breeze -- off-shore\ Taylor, Andy\ Alsek River\ reconnaissance map\ peaks\ Hubbard Glacier -- headwaters\ Mt. Kennedy\ Yakutat Bay\ Mt. King George\ Mt. Queen Mary\ King George V\ London, England\ boat -- gas\ Carter, Ad\ Beardsley, Hardy\ telegram\ telephone\ cannery -- Yakutat\ radio operator|

Section 9: King George V\ England\ Royal Geographical Society\ captain\ trips -- remembering\ snowstorm\ tent\ Mt. Kennedy\ climb\ Alaska\ Yakutat Area\ Taylor, Andy|

Section 10: National Geographic\ Mt. Crillon -- first ascent\ Grosvenor, Dr.\ Mt. McKinley -- large format photograpic flight\ Pacific Alaska Airlines\ Lockheed -- Electra\ Putnam, George\ Earhart, Amelia\ Crosson, Joe\ weather\ wind -- west\ Carpé, Allen\ Koven, Theodore\ Lindley, Al\ Pearson, Grant|

Section 11: National Geographic\ Mt. Lucania\ Yukon Territory\ Wood, Walter\ Mt. Steele\ Burwash Landing\ Reeve, Bob\ airplane -- ski equipped\ Valdez -- mud flats\ mines -- high altitude\ Walsh Glacier\ Mt. Logan\ telegram\ Dow, Russell\ Bright, Norman\ Cunningham, Glen|

Section 12: Reeve, Bob\ airplane\ Alaska Range\ Mt. Lucania\ Wood, Walter\ Mt. Steele\ Wolf Creek Glacier\ cache -- food\ bears\ Donjek River\ Burwash Landing\ horses\ river -- flood\ glaciers\ snow -- melting|

Section 13: Donjek Glacier\ river\ canyon\ rapids\ tent\ duffel bags\ camp\ food -- mushrooms\ fire -- wood\ Burwash Landing\ rabbit\ squirrel\ tussocks|

Section 14: food -- dwindling\ mountains -- low\ Burwash Landing\ horses\ Donjek River\ adventure\ book\ Mt. Lucania\ injuries\ epics\ Lieutenant Phillips\ Lieutenant Talley\ Alaska -- died\ Homer, AK\ mapping -- air\ control points|

Section 15: museum\ aerial mapping\ American Alpine Club\ Feuz, Ernst\ Switzerland\ Murren -- guides\ Neue Waherenhaus\ Weber, Marguerit\ Weber, Karl\ map -- Mt. McKinley area\ Swiss Foundation -- alpine research\ Rice, Hamilton\ Swiss Federal Institute of Topography|

Section 16: map\ contouring\ photography\ air force\ Fairbanks -- General\ Heerbrugg, Wild\ Switzerland\ Smythe, Frank\ Wey, Othmar\ Malchow, Siegfried\ cliff drawing -- representation\ glacial -- representation\ Witzler, Paul\ conditions -- 1951\ elevations -- feet\ artwork -- Federal Office of Topography\ Wabern?, Switzerland\ Bertschmann, Dr. Simon\ Chervet, Dr. Daniel\ mapmakers -- Swiss\ mapmakers -- American\ America -- interest\ geological survey|

Section 17: Jungfrau\ Switzerland\ Swiss Alpine Club\ Imhof, Eduard\ Overlay, Bernese\ Washington, D.C.\ Washburn, Barbara\ cookbook\ Mt. McKinley -- sides\ West Kahiltna Glacier\ reconnaissance\ altitudes -- not flawless\ control\ Geological Survey\ Geodetic Survey\ GPS\ aerial photography\ control points -- positioning|

Section 18: Mt. McKinley\ climbing\ National Geographic -- flights\ photography\ Army\ Twining, Gen. Nathan\ Chairman -- Joint Chiefs of Staff\ photography -- U2\ Alaska\ pictures\ National Geographic -- money\ Rice, Dr. Alexander Hamilton\ map\ lecturing\ museum\ wife\ children|

Section 19: equipment\ Stevens, Captain Albert W.\ Harvard Institute of Geographical Exploration\ aerial photography\ camera -- inherited\ camera -- Fairchild K6\ camera -- K22\ Alps\ pictures\ University of Alaska Fairbanks\ archives\ museum -- University of Alaska\ Alaska Mountain Museum -- wing\ airplane\ Talkeetna Hotel\ lens\ viewfinder|

Section 20: pictures -- camera\ airplane -- chained\ archives\ equipment\ cameras\ Stevens, Colonel\ stratosphere -- first person\ Harvard Institute of Geographical Exploration\ lobby -- picture\ camera -- K-6\ camera -- K-22\ Glacier Bay, AK|

Section 21: Glacier Bay, AK\ National Geographic\ pictures -- sell\ trip -- cost\ camera -- checking\ base camp\ seaplane\ focal-plane shutter -- crack\ cam shaft -- pin\ exposure -- length\ tool kit\ tools -- pliers\ tools -- triangular file\ tools -- copper wire\ blanket pin\ sling\ spring|

Section 22: pictures -- perfect\ Stevens, Captain Albert W.\ officer -- air force\ stratosphere\ National Geographic\ Mt. McKinley\ University of Alaska\ camera -- Eastman Museum of Photography\ Rochester, NY\ technology -- change\ pictures -- military\ pictures -- oblique\ pictures -- mapping\ camera -- Fairchild F8\ groundshots\ airshots|

Section 23: Carcross, YT\ developing -- field\ prints\ develop -- toilet\ cameras -- Fairchild\ book -- pictorial volume\ camera -- Kodak\ camera function -- altitude\ mechanical -- crank\ film -- advance\ shutter -- set\ magazine\ role -- film\ aerial camera\ Adams, Ansel\ photography\ scenery -- big\ negatives -- big|

Section 24: office -- enlargement\ camera\ Los Angeles, CA\ Mt. McKinley\ seat belts\ gas cases\ chain -- waist\ airplane -- cabin\ airplane -- door\ flying suit -- cold\ boots -- felt\ oxygen -- occassional\ St. Elias Range|

Section 25: oxygen -- high altitude\ camera -- holding\ rudder -- left\ Alaska -- weather\ Mt. St. Elias\ Mt. Logan\ weather -- waiting\ Talkeetna, AK\ flights\ photography\ pilot\ pilot -- lingo|

Section 26: pilots\ Reeve, Bob\ Meyrng, Gene\ Ellis, Bob\ Ketchikan\ Juneau\ Gruening, Governor Ernest\ territory\ governor -- appointed\ president\ base -- floating\ Ellis, Peg\ seaplane\ engine case\ radial engine\ photograph -- baby\ Alaska|

Section 27: emergencies -- in-flight\ gas tanks -- changing\ Randall, Bob\ Carcross, YT\ Yakutat Bay\ airplane -- dive\ propellor -- running\ Mt. Logan\ fly -- winter\ Yukon Territory\ Kluane Lake\ Gillam, Harold\ Cordova, AK\ Mt. St. Elias\ gas -- amount\ flying time\ Yakataga Beach\ low tide|

Section 28: tide table\ low tide\ flying time\ pictures\ Cordova, AK\ airplane -- land equipped\ Gillam, Harold\ Valdez, AK\ blind flying -- competence\ Reeve, Bob\ Fairbanks\ climbing\ Mt. McKinley\ Mt. Hayes\ Mt. Bertha\ Mt. Crillon\ climb -- photographing|

Section 29: trip -- Army\ climbing\ Mt. McKinley\ Talkeetna, AK\ Kahiltna Glacier\ West Buttress -- first ascent\ Mt. McKinley -- regulations\ National Park Service\ Muldrow Glacier\ Chelatna Lake\ flying-in\ airport -- Talkeetna, AK\ wilderness\ hotel\ environmentalists\ Sierra Club|

Section 30: Tokositna Glacier\ hotel\ Canada\ wilderness -- protect\ environmentalists\ special permits\ mushrooms\ geology\ New York, NY\ San Francisco, CA\ tourists\ war -- injuries\ government\ Congress\ Stevens, Ted\ non-environmentalists\ political\ oil\ tourism\ development -- orderly|

Section 31: Wonder Lake\ highway -- entrance\ Swiss\ French\ Americans\ problems -- philosophical\ problems -- practical\ route -- establishment\ Office of Naval Research\ research -- cosmic ray\ Denali Pass\ Washburn, Barbara\ University of Alaska\ outerspace -- particles|

Section 32: landing\ camping\ Denali Pass\ Gale, Jim\ 10th Air Rescue Squadrom -- sergeant\ Anchorage, AK\ Moore, Terris\ University of Alaska -- president\ Chelatna Lake\ trout -- fresh\ glacier\ Kahiltna Pass\ Kahiltna Dome\ Peak Z\ survey station\ Wonder Lake\ acclimitization\ backpacking\ Windy Corner|

Section 33: snowshoes\ slope\ crack\ steps -- chopping\ fixed lines\ Gale, Jim\ climbing rope\ ridge\ igloo\ Bishop, Barry\ Griffith, Prof. Mel\ Mt. Everest\ sleeping bags\ packs -- light\ fuel -- extra\ food -- extra\ wind|

Section 34: Mt. McKinley\ Muldrow Route\ West Buttress Route\ technical -- easy\ Scott, Doug\ Haston, Dougal\ climbers -- British\ Alpine Journal\ summit\ experience -- Himalayan\ souls -- cold\ Washburn, Barbara\ Gale, Jim\ Victoreen, Hugo\ Hackett, Bill\ Browne Tower\ equipment -- cosmic ray\ food\ storm\ tent\ machete saw\ igloo\ weather -- clear\ Denali Pass|

Section 35: snowcave\ igloo -- ventilation\ hole -- windward\ hole -- leeward\ Mt. Hayes\ Alaska\ Washburn, Barbara\ Mt. Hayes -- difficulty\ ridge -- sharp\ Mt. Hayes -- north ridge\ summit\ climber -- woman\ Mt. Hayes -- south side\ seaplanes\ Ferris, Ben\ Shand, Bill\ Hendricks, Sterling\ Hall, Henry\ Gale, Jim\ Hackett, Bill|

Section 36: mountain -- climbable\ Ferris, Ben\ Shand, Bill\ ridge -- narrow\ ice\ lecturing -- financing\ museum\ retiring\ Washburn, Barbara\ children\ Mt. McKinley\ climbing expeditions\ outdoors\ Mt. Washington\ skiing\ couch potatoes|

Section 37: Mt. McKinley -- East Face\ National Park Service -- regulations\ Traleika Glacier\ crevasses\ supply -- drop\ Stuck, Hudson\ Lower Muldrow Glacier\ danger\ search and rescue\ leg -- broken\ regulations -- access\ Kantishna airport|

Section 38: Roberts, David\ Wickersham Wall\ ascent -- direct\ Mt. McKinley -- East Face\ photographs -- stereoscope\ Mt. Huntington -- east side\ technical climb\ Mt. Dickey\ Ruth Glacier\ Great Gorge\ fog\ down climb\ articles\ American Alpine Journal\ Mt. McKinley -- East Face|

Section 39: altitude\ scientific\ GPS -- equipment\ Federal Government\ NIMA\ Kumar, Muni\ geoid\ global satellites\ Anchorage, AK\ Mt. Everest\ Nepal\ Alaska\ Tingri, Tibet\ China -- Surveyor General\ altitude -- difference|

Section 40: Mt. Everest\ altitude\ survey stations\ Chinese\ international competition\ Mt. McKinley\ Mt. Vancouver\ Mt. Cook\ Mt. Kennedy -- north side\ climb\ Chamonix, France\ Alps\ mountain climbing -- enjoyment\ Mt. Sanford\ ski\ Moore, Terris\ airplane|

Section 41: survey network\ Cook, Dr. -- book\ Sheldon, Don\ airplane -- Supercub\ Fake Peak\ snow\ footsteps\ Barrill, Ed\ Cook, Dr. Frederick A.\ view -- 15,400 ft.\ book -- publisher|

Section 42: pictures -- located\ Great Gorge\ Mt. Barrille\ Great Gorge -- head\ archives\ Byrd Polar Research Center -- Ohio State University\ Fake Peak\ Mt. McKinley\ Washburn, Barbara\ helipad\ Cary, Mary\ Anchorage, AK\ helicopter\ Denali National Park\ Mt. McKinley -- summit\ Cook -- episode\ North Pole\ Frederick A. Cook Society|

Section 43: Mt. McKinley\ North Pole\ Danes\ Eskimos\ Mt. Barrille\ Mt. Dickey\ Ohio State University\ tent\ altitude -- precise\ Great Gorge\ Okonek, Brian\ tourists\ Sheldon, Don -- mountain house\ Great Gorge -- east side\ research money\ GPS\ crevasses\ story -- Barrille

Section 44: Cook -- expedition\ pictures\ Alder Creek\ Tokositna Glacier\ Sourdough Expedition\ McGonagall, Charlie\ Anderson, Pete\ Bright, Norman\ Taylor, Billy\ Stuck, Hudson -- expedition\ Harper, Walter\ Kantishna -- mining\ peak\ Fairbanks, AK\ Karstens Ridge -- high camp\ shovel -- steps|

Section 45: Sourdough Gully\ ice gully\ blue ice\ history\ pictures\ routes -- climbing\ Mt. Dickey\ West Buttress\ Mt. St. Elias\ Mt. Logan\ mountains -- change\ earthquake\ Muldrow Glacier -- change|

Section 46: Muldrow Glacier -- Big Bend\ rocks -- vegetation\ McGonagall Pass\ global warming\ climate\ precipitation\ Echelmeyer, Keith\ Geophysical Institute\ snow depth -- Ruth Glacier\ climber\ routes -- new\ Moose's Tooth\ Broken Tooth\ Mt.McKinley -- east face\ National Park Service\ airplane -- DC-10\ Kahiltna Glacier\ crevasses|

Section 47: Alaska\ variant -- French\ route -- new\ ascent -- first\ highway -- walk\ information -- sharing\ Mt. Logan -- south face\ routes -- dangerous\ mountains -- unclimbed\ di Savoia, Luigi Amedeo\ Mt. St. Elias -- first ascent|

Section 48: sun\ first ascent -- dangerous\ routes -- old\ Route of No Return\ Isis Face\ Talkeetna Ridge\ Mt. Foraker\ accidents\ Stump, Mugs\ Mt. McKinley\ crevasses\ mountains -- dangerous\ Alaska|

Section 49: peaks -- pristine\ Dhauligeri\ Himalaya\ wilderness\ Alaska -- visits\ Boston, MA\ Seattle, WA\ Juneau, AK\ cruise -- West Tours\ Talkeetna Hotel\ advisory board -- National Park Service\ Denali National Park|