Barbara Washburn on Climbing Mount McKinley

Barbara Washburn on Climbing Mount McKinley

In 1947, Barbara Washburn, an explorer and cartographer, became the first woman to scale the summit of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Washburn comments on the vast emptiness of the Alaskan range.


Barbara Washburn: The ‘Accidental Adventurer’ Who Mapped The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Stories

The Grand Canyon National Park, preserving more than 1.2 million acres of the country’s most spectacularly scenic land, has attracted more than six million visitors a year, exerting an almost magnetic pull on hikers, rafters, explorers, and tourists from all over the world. Artists and writers are also drawn to the canyon, hoping to capture its legendary beauty and breadth. But have you ever wondered, who mapped the Grand Canyon for the first time?

It was done by this forgotten female mountain climber, who spent years to map the entire canyon. If you are not familiar with her cartography story, you might have heard her historic Denali ascent instead.

Left to right: Barbara Washburn, Mt. McKinley National Park Supt. Frank Been, and Bradford Washburn in 1947 via National Park Service

Not only did Barbara become the first woman in the world to climb Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest peak in North America, she also worked with her husband, Bradford Washburn, to map the Grand Canyon.

Barbara’s Life

Via The American Alpine Club

Born in 1914, Barbara, like most women of her generation, was brought up with the idea that her place was in the home. After graduated from Smith College at the age of 24, Barbara Polk was happily employed as the secretary of the Harvard biology department. But in the spring of 1939, Clarkie, the mailman, encouraged her to apply for a job opening at the New England Museum of Natural History, whose leadership had just been taken over by an ambitious young mountaineer named Bradford Washburn.

Bradford was a mountain climber and had already established several first ascents in Alaska. After her job interview, he said he’d call her in two weeks about the job. He called her every day for two weeks, and she took the job in March 1939. Their professional relationship became more intimate, and a year after that, he proposed to her.

After their marriage in April 1940, the couple went on a trip to Alaska. Together with six other people, the couple signed up for an expedition to ascend Mt. Bertha, which stands 10,812 feet tall. One year after that, the couple, along with their team, became the first to successfully summit 13,628-foot Mount Hayes.

In 1947, Barbara and Bradford left their three children at home to climb Mount McKinley (now called Denali). The 14,600-foot climb took 70 days. She had trained for the climb by pushing a baby carriage, she later said. After nearly two months of trekking, as they neared the top, a member of the team turned around and encouraged Barbara to be the first to reach the top. “I said, ‘Who cares a rip? I don’t care—I’m perfectly happy being number two here,’” she later recalled. She eventually agreed to take the lead, and she soon stood on the summit as the first woman to look out from North America’s highest point.

No woman followed in her footsteps for another 20 years.

Barbara and Brad were married for 67 years. They were ideal companions and partners in the field, not only in Alaska but also in such monumental projects as mapping the Grand Canyon. Late in life, Barbara started writing down sketches of her adventures, in a typescript intended only to serve as a legacy for her children. But Alaska journalist Lew Freedman borrowed the only copy of the typescript, read it overnight, and persuaded her to publish it as a memoir, The Accidental Adventurer (Epicenter Press, 2001).

On September 25, 2014, Barbara Washburn died in her home in Lexington, Massachusetts, just two months shy of her 100th birthday and seven years after her husband. With her passing, America lost one of its truly great adventurers and pioneer climbers.

Mapping The Grand Canyon

Via National Geographic Maps

In the 1970s, Barbara and her husband took on an ambitious project to map the entire Grand Canyon, the results of which were published as a supplement to National Geographic magazine in 1978.

The story of Washburn’s map, as told in the 2018 National Geographic book All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey , started when Washburn and his wife, Barbara, visited the Grand Canyon in 1969. They had come to acquire a boulder from the bottom of the canyon to display in front of Boston’s Museum of Science, where Washburn was the director. “We were astonished that no good large-scale map was available anywhere,” he recalled. So he decided to make one himself.

It took eight years of planning, fieldwork, analysis, drafting, painting, and negotiating to create his map of the Grand Canyon. Such an endeavor would be unheard of in today’s digital world.

Many of the points in their survey were extremely difficult or impossible to reach on foot, so Washburn hired helicopters to get them there. With 697 helicopter landings on obscure buttes and ledges in the 1970s, the Washburns and their assistants may have been the first people to ever set foot on some of the canyon’s most remote points.

Turning all of this fieldwork into a map would turn out to be just as laborious and twice as complicated as gathering the data. Bradford’s goal was to produce a masterpiece, which meant putting together an all-star team to make the map. “Nothing quite like this has ever been done before,” he wrote to the president of the National Geographic Society.

The mapping team, which included staff members of the National Geographic Society, conducted a photographic survey before employing a then-novel technique of flying helicopters to land on unscaled peaks. After cross-checking measurements of what Mr Washburn described as “this magnificent but desiccated and vertiginous wilderness,” the team produced a map of the Inner Canyon in 1974 and then a map of the center of the Grand Canyon in 1978.

In the end, all that work paid off exactly as the Washburns hoped: the map is exceptional, both technically and aesthetically. National Geographic produced two versions of “The Heart of the Grand Canyon” map, one at the full 33-by-34-inch size and another covering slightly less territory as a supplement to the July 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine, putting it in the hands of more than ten million readers around the world.

For this cartography achievement, the Washburn couple was awarded the 1980 Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society. Eight years later in 1988, the couple also received the National Geographic Centennial award together with 15 other legends like Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Edmund Hillary.

For more details about Barbara’s life and climbing adventures, listen to her oral history from the University of Alaska’s Project Jukebox.

sources: nationalgeographic.com, adventure-journal.com, publications.americanalpineclub.org, nytimes.com, visiontimes.com, wcvb.com, outsideonline.com, nps.gov

Author: Christianson Tours

Christianson Tours has been specializing in tours since 2000. We started with one 15 passenger van and only 300 customers the first year. In 2012 we took more than 42,000 customers to the Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon West Rim, Hoover Dam, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.


Barbara Washburn: The Accidental Adventurer Who Mapped The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon National Park, preserving more than 1.2 million acres of the country’s most spectacularly scenic land, has attracted more than six million visitors a year, exerting an almost magnetic pull on hikers, rafters, explorers, and tourists from all over the world. Artists and writers are also drawn to the canyon, hoping to capture its legendary beauty and breadth. But have you ever wondered, who mapped the Grand Canyon for the first time?It was done by this forgotten female mountain climber, who spent years to map the entire canyon. If you are not familiar with her cartography story, you might have heard her historic Denali ascent instead.

Left to right: Barbara Washburn, Mt. McKinley National Park Supt. Frank Been, and Bradford Washburn in 1947 via National Park Service

Not only did Barbara become the first woman in the world to climb Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest peak in North America, she also worked with her husband, Bradford Washburn, to map the Grand Canyon.

Barbara’s Life

Via The American Alpine Club

Born in 1914, Barbara, like most women of her generation, was brought up with the idea that her place was in the home. After graduated from Smith College at the age of 24, Barbara Polk was happily employed as the secretary of the Harvard biology department. But in the spring of 1939, Clarkie, the mailman, encouraged her to apply for a job opening at the New England Museum of Natural History, whose leadership had just been taken over by an ambitious young mountaineer named Bradford Washburn.

Bradford was a mountain climber and had already established several first ascents in Alaska. After her job interview, he said he’d call her in two weeks about the job. He called her every day for two weeks, and she took the job in March 1939. Their professional relationship became more intimate, and a year after that, he proposed to her.

After their marriage in April 1940, the couple went on a trip to Alaska. Together with six other people, the couple signed up for an expedition to ascend Mt. Bertha, which stands 10,812 feet tall. One year after that, the couple, along with their team, became the first to successfully summit 13,628-foot Mount Hayes.

In 1947, Barbara and Bradford left their three children at home to climb Mount McKinley (now called Denali). The 14,600-foot climb took 70 days. She had trained for the climb by pushing a baby carriage, she later said. After nearly two months of trekking, as they neared the top, a member of the team turned around and encouraged Barbara to be the first to reach the top. “I said, ‘Who cares a rip? I don’t care—I’m perfectly happy being number two here,’” she later recalled. She eventually agreed to take the lead, and she soon stood on the summit as the first woman to look out from North America’s highest point.

No woman followed in her footsteps for another 20 years.

Barbara and Brad were married for 67 years. They were ideal companions and partners in the field, not only in Alaska but also in such monumental projects as mapping the Grand Canyon. Late in life, Barbara started writing down sketches of her adventures, in a typescript intended only to serve as a legacy for her children. But Alaska journalist Lew Freedman borrowed the only copy of the typescript, read it overnight, and persuaded her to publish it as a memoir, The Accidental Adventurer (Epicenter Press, 2001).

On September 25, 2014, Barbara Washburn died in her home in Lexington, Massachusetts, just two months shy of her 100th birthday and seven years after her husband. With her passing, America lost one of its truly great adventurers and pioneer climbers.

Mapping The Grand Canyon

Via National Geographic Maps

In the 1970s, Barbara and her husband took on an ambitious project to map the entire Grand Canyon, the results of which were published as a supplement to National Geographic magazine in 1978.

The story of Washburn’s map, as told in the 2018 National Geographic book All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey , started when Washburn and his wife, Barbara, visited the Grand Canyon in 1969. They had come to acquire a boulder from the bottom of the canyon to display in front of Boston’s Museum of Science, where Washburn was the director. “We were astonished that no good large-scale map was available anywhere,” he recalled. So he decided to make one himself.

It took eight years of planning, fieldwork, analysis, drafting, painting, and negotiating to create his map of the Grand Canyon. Such an endeavor would be unheard of in today’s digital world.

Many of the points in their survey were extremely difficult or impossible to reach on foot, so Washburn hired helicopters to get them there. With 697 helicopter landings on obscure buttes and ledges in the 1970s, the Washburns and their assistants may have been the first people to ever set foot on some of the canyon’s most remote points.

Turning all of this fieldwork into a map would turn out to be just as laborious and twice as complicated as gathering the data. Bradford’s goal was to produce a masterpiece, which meant putting together an all-star team to make the map. “Nothing quite like this has ever been done before,” he wrote to the president of the National Geographic Society.

The mapping team, which included staff members of the National Geographic Society, conducted a photographic survey before employing a then-novel technique of flying helicopters to land on unscaled peaks. After cross-checking measurements of what Mr Washburn described as “this magnificent but desiccated and vertiginous wilderness,” the team produced a map of the Inner Canyon in 1974 and then a map of the center of the Grand Canyon in 1978.

In the end, all that work paid off exactly as the Washburns hoped: the map is exceptional, both technically and aesthetically. National Geographic produced two versions of “The Heart of the Grand Canyon” map, one at the full 33-by-34-inch size and another covering slightly less territory as a supplement to the July 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine, putting it in the hands of more than ten million readers around the world.

For this cartography achievement, the Washburn couple was awarded the 1980 Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society. Eight years later in 1988, the couple also received the National Geographic Centennial award together with 15 other legends like Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Edmund Hillary.

For more details about Barbara’s life and climbing adventures, listen to her oral history from the University of Alaska’s Project Jukebox.


The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mt. McKinley

While I enjoyed the story and think the book is worth reading, I found myself frustrated by her lack of self-reflection. My guess is is her co-writers strung together bits of her journals into a coherent story. But the reasons behind her actions were never clear, and my book club argued over her intentions. Those that enjoyed the book more than I did saw her as traditional New Englander who was brought up not to dwell on emotions. For me, the book read as a very repressed and privileged woman wh While I enjoyed the story and think the book is worth reading, I found myself frustrated by her lack of self-reflection. My guess is is her co-writers strung together bits of her journals into a coherent story. But the reasons behind her actions were never clear, and my book club argued over her intentions. Those that enjoyed the book more than I did saw her as traditional New Englander who was brought up not to dwell on emotions. For me, the book read as a very repressed and privileged woman who did exactly what was expected of her without questioning it. It's hard to defend it as typical of the times because her contemporaries, like Mary Austin, expressed themselves much more freely about the mountains and nature. Barbara Washburn clearly seemed to enjoy mountaineering, but the book often made it seem like she was doing it only because her husband wanted her to.

The book is a fast read and contains enough interesting information about Alaska and Brad Washburn to make it a worthwhile read. But I finished it feeling like while I knew what Barbara had accomplished in her like, I had no understanding of who Barabra Washburn was and why she lived the live she did. . more


Barbara Washburn on Climbing Mount McKinley - HISTORY

The Accidental Adventurer

by Barbara Washburn with Lew Freedman

Published by Epicenter Press

Exploring the Unknown

by Bradford Washburn and edited by Lew Freedman

Published by Epicenter Press

In the photographs, their faces disarm me. He has the open visage of the born adventurer: the weathered look of someone who has spent much of his life outdoors. Rugged and craggy beyond the 30 years he could claim at the time, he stands on the mountain peak with the knowing look of someone who is saying: Sure, another summit. Bring on the next.

In the same photo -- and the same summit -- her look is quite different. The photo is black and white -- it was 1940, after all -- and her blonde curls are pushed back by mountaineers' sunglasses. And there can be no doubt that she is, in fact a mountaineer. She's there, isn't she? She looks slightly sheepish as though she might be doubting the facts. She was then all of 26 years old, had been married less than a year and was at a time in her life and her culture when she might seriously have expected to be playing out the role society had cast for her as a young matron, perhaps with a brood at her hemline.

As Barbara Washburn explains in her fascinating and long overdue book, The Accidental Adventurer: Memoirs of the First Woman to Climb Mount McKinley, at the moment that the photo was taken, the brood was closer than she could have imagined. Right after that first climb -- the first successful ascent of Alaska's Mount Bertha -- Barbara thought she was coming down with "the grippe." Her husband Bradford insisted she see a doctor friend of his who was practicing in Juneau, Alaska, their last stop before heading home to Massachusetts. The doctor "took me in and looked me over briefly, then opened his door and called out to Brad: 'Hell, there's nothing wrong with this girl, she's just pregnant!'"

Barbara asserts that, through that first climb and all of the other historic climbs that came after, her goal was not to be a hero or even a role model for young women:

It would be nice to say that I considered myself to be a pioneer and that I wanted to climb Mount McKinley to prove something for all women. But that would not be true. I did not think that way.

To be perfectly honest, the main reason I wanted to go to Mount McKinley was that my husband was going and I wanted to be with him. That was perfectly logical thinking back then, I did not feel I had anything to prove.

These thoughts explain the title: The Accidental Adventurer. She is the first to admit she was not a "highly trained mountaineer," when she made the Denali ascent that put her in the record books as the first woman to climb McKinley, an honor she accepts almost as though she must: it is fact, after all. She was there.

She recounts that groundbreaking moment:

Just as we approached the last steps to the summit, Shorty [Lange] stepped aside and said, "You go first. You're the first woman to stand on the summit of the highest peak in North America!"

That sounds pretty dramatic, but at the moment the accomplishment did not seem very important to me. Still, this was not the place for an argument.

Barbara's book is charming, candid and warm. Though she didn't fully know what she was signing up for when she married Dr. Bradford Washburn, the then-29-year-old wunderkind director of Boston's Museum of Science, she has approached her challenges gamely: she has been mother, teacher, explorer and cartographer. And, of course, the woman history will remember as the first to scale McKinley.

While The Accidental Adventurer is a memoir, told by a woman with incredible stories to recount, Exploring the Unknown: Historic Diaries of Bradford Washburn's Alaska/Yukon Expeditions, published simultaneously by the same press, is the expedition diaries of a man whose life has been dedicated not merely to adventure but, most importantly, to education. This might explain his tremendous success, at least in part. Bradford Washburn embarked on each expedition with a desire to share what he found. As editor Lew Freeman tells us in the preface to Exploring the Unknown:

Bradford's Exploring the Unknown takes a very different format than Barbara's book. Produced more like a small coffee table book, the pages are highly glossy in order to show Bradford's excellent photographs, as well as the maps he surveyed and edited, to advantage.

Three historic expeditions are detailed: The Harvard - Dartmouth Mount Crillon Expedition of 1931, the National Geographic Society Yukon expedition of 1935 and the Mount McKinley: First Ascent of the West Buttress of 1951. Each section begins with a Washburn map of the area under discussion and a concise preface by Freedman introducing the expedition, its team members and their purpose. Bradford Washburn's expedition diaries, interspersed with photos from the ascent in question, make up the bulk of the book. Washburn's diaries are succinct. Here, Washburn and his party attain the summit in 1951, his final ascent of Mount McKinley. Washburn has held back to take photographs:

Seasoned journalist Freedman is largely responsible for getting both books going. Presently covering the outdoor adventures beat for the Chicago Tribune, it's difficult to imagine anyone better suited for the dual Washburn project. Freedman is a graduate of Boston University, earned his master's degree from Alaska Pacific University and built a friendship with the Washburns during the 1980s while working at the Anchorage Daily News as sports editor. His hand in both works -- The Accidental Adventurer and Exploring the Unknown -- is a delicate one. Freedman is never a presence, but rather, he seems to have guided both books to their -- very different -- potentials. The quiet skill with which he does this attests to his abilities as a journalist and editor. | August 2001


Barbara Washburn on Climbing Mount McKinley - HISTORY

At the age of 24, a Smith College graduate, Barbara Polk was happily employed as the secretary of the Harvard biology department. But in the spring of 1939, Clarkie, the mailman, convinced her to audition for a job opening at the New England Museum of Natural History, whose leadership had just been taken over by an ambitious young mountaineer named Bradford Washburn.

Barbara was so sure she didn’t want the job that she had her boyfriend double-park outside the venerable building in Boston’s Back Bay. “I will make short shrift of this guy,” she told him. As Barbara later recalled, “I didn’t want to work in a dusty old museum, and I definitely didn’t want to work for a crazy mountain climber!”

Brad was instantly smitten. And Barbara was surprised to find that the crazy mountain climber didn’t look anything like “the pictures of explorers I had seen in picture books, pictures of men like Lewis and Clark.” Her stint as Brad’s secretary was short-lived. The two were married on April 27, 1940. Three months later, with a trio of male teammates, Barbara and Brad stood on the summit of Mt. Bertha, a 10,200-foot snow and ice peak near Alaska’s Glacier Bay, having forged the mountain’s first ascent&mdashthis despite the fact that Barbara’s sole previous climb was a summer stroll up Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire. She found out in a Juneau hospital after the expedition that she was pregnant.

On September 25, 2014, Barbara Washburn died in her home in Lexington, Massachusetts, less than two months short of her 100 th birthday. With her passing, America lost one of its truly great adventurers and pioneer climbers.

In 1941, Brad set his sights on an objective considerably tougher than Mt. Bertha&mdash13,832-foot Mt. Hayes in the Alaska Range. The same drive and vision that led Brad to transform the moribund Museum of Natural History into the world-class Boston Museum of Science, and to revolutionize Alaskan mountaineering, made him a hard man to say no to. So when Brad insisted that Barbara come along on the Hayes expedition, she said yes, even though it meant leaving a newborn daughter behind.

The only previous attempt on Hayes had been led by Brad’s close friend Charlie Houston in 1937. High on the north ridge, that strong team had been stopped cold by a serpentine, corniced knife-edge. In 1941, after weeks of effort interrupted by prolonged storms, Brad’s team faced the same ridge, clearly the crux of the route. And at that moment, Brad, Ben Ferris, Sterling Hendricks, and Bill Shand put Barbara in the lead. Their rationale was that, as the lightest member of the team, if she slipped or broke off a cornice and took a horrendous fall, she would be the climber the others would have the best chance of safely belaying.

As Barbara wrote many years later, “I tried to appear calm and confident, but I was really trembling with fear as I climbed ahead&hellip. But I did not slip and none of the cornices gave way, and everyone followed safely behind me.” What was probably the hardest bit of technical climbing Brad ever performed in his long Alaskan career was a ridge traverse led by his wife.

After a wartime separation during which Brad served as a consultant on cold-weather gear for the troops, he led his second expedition to Mt. McKinley in 1947. Barbara was along again, despite her misgivings about leaving behind a family that by then consisted of three young children. On June 6, outperforming most of her male teammates, she became the first woman to stand on the highest point in North America. (The second female ascent of McKinley would not come for another two decades.)

Barbara and Brad were married for 67 years. They were ideal companions and partners in the field, not only in Alaska but also in such monumental projects as mapping the Grand Canyon (697 helicopter landings on obscure buttes and ledges in the 1970s). Late in life, Barbara started writing down sketches of her adventures, in a typescript intended only to serve as a legacy for her children. But Alaska journalist Lew Freedman borrowed the only copy of the typescript, read it overnight, and persuaded her to publish it as a memoir. The Accidental Adventurer (Epicenter Press, 2001) is a classic and a delight, every page of which breathes the modesty and yet gumption of this extraordinary woman and explorer.

I knew Barbara for 50 years. The behind-the-scenes stories she told me about her life with Brad, and the hijinks and foibles of their companions on various expeditions, easily could have filled another charming memoir. In 2008 I persuaded her to tell her life’s story to the Harvard Travellers Club, an occasion she dreaded for months beforehand. Her talk, however, had the audience alternatingly gasping and in stitches, and many of us thought it was the best presentation the club had hosted in years.

Beginning in 1964, and continuing for two decades, Barbara taught kids with dyslexia and other reading disorders at Shady Hill School in Cambridge. Some of the most gratifying rewards in her life came when those tutees returned as adults to thank her for steering them along paths of professional success.

Barbara won many honors, including the Centennial Award from the National Geographic Society and an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Alaska. In the face of such acclaim, she remained eternally humble, even self-effacing. In 1997, when the National Park Service celebrated the 50 th anniversary of her ascent of Denali, she characteristically addressed an audience in Talkeetna thus: “I reminded people that it wasn’t really my ambition to be the first woman to climb Mt. McKinley. It just happened: I was an accidental mountaineer.”


Barbara’s life

Born in 1914, Barbara, like most women of her generation, was brought up with the idea that her place was in the home. She graduated from Smith College, took courses at Harvard, and eventually ended up as the director of the New England Museum of Natural History.

However, everything changed after she met her future husband, Bradford Washburn, who was an explorer, mountaineer, and scientist.

After their marriage in April 1940, the couple went on a trip to Alaska. Together with six other people, the couple signed up for an expedition to ascend Mt. Bertha, which stands 10,812 feet tall.

Barbara had no experience whatsoever with mountaineering. But she decided to accompany her husband. The first attempt failed and the team had to turn back. It was during the second attempt that they succeeded. After returning home, Barbara discovered that she was pregnant.

Barbara had no experience whatsoever with mountaineering prior to joining her husband for an expedition in Alaska. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

In 1947, she climbed Denali (Mount McKinley), which stands at 20,310 feet above sea level. Her husband had already climbed the mountain during his stint with the military in the Second World War.

For his second trip, he decided to take his wife with him. Initially, Barbara did not want to make the expedition since she worried that it would somehow affect her three children.

After a physician gave his assurance that a lengthy absence would be okay, she went together with her husband and created history by becoming the first-ever woman to reach the summit of the mountain. Though it became a huge headline the world over, Barbara herself never thought much about her achievement initially.

“Reporters expected me to come up with some deep psychological reason why I needed to be the first woman on the summit of Mount McKinley — why I felt I needed to excel like this. They were always disappointed when I said I simply wanted to be with my husband. I explained that when I was first asked to join the expedition, I didn’t want to go because I had three small children… Today I’m smart enough to know I was doing something special,” she writes in her book The Accidental Adventurer ( Adventure Journal ).

The reason Barbara climbed Denali (Mount McKinley) was simply to be with her husband. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)


Barbara Washburn, first woman to climb Denali, dead at 99

Barbara Washburn, wife of the late mountaineer Bradford Washburn and the first woman to climb Mount McKinley died on Sept. 25 in Lexington, Massachusetts. She was 99.

Washburn, nee Polk, was born Nov. 10, 1914, in the Boston area. She married Washburn in 1940 and they honeymooned by making the first ascent of 10,200 foot Mount Bertha near Glacier Bay. In 1941 they led the party of climbers who made the first ascent of Mount Hayes, the highest mountain in the eastern Alaska Range.

In 1947 the RKO movie company arranged to send a camera crew with Bradford Washburn on his second ascent of Mount McKinley. Barbara, who had by then become the mother of three children, accompanied him. On June 6 of that year, she became the first woman to reach the summit of North America's tallest peak. She quipped that she got in shape for the climb by pushing a baby carriage.

The Washburns continued to work as a team doing scientific and cartographic work for the next half century. Among other accomplishments, they produced detailed maps of Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon. They received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society in 1980. Barbara also received the society's Centennial Award in 1988 she shared the honors with such notable explorers as Edmund Hillary, Jacques Cousteau and John Glenn.

The couple made a number of subsequent trips and photographic expeditions to Alaska. In 1991 they made the keynote address at the 26th annual Alaska Surveying and Mapping Conference. In 1999 they took part in the grand opening of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge hotel. But age began to wear. In 2000 they canceled an appearance at a meeting of the Anchorage Museum Association and sent a video greeting instead.


The Exasperated Historian

Barbara was the first woman to summit Mount Denali (in 1947—when it was still called Mount McKinley). Her famous climb, alongside a team of scientists, photographers, members of the armed forces, and other mountaineers (all men) was called Operation White Tower. Besides being the first woman to summit Denali, Barbara was also one of the first twenty people ever to reach the top.

Barbara said any woman was capable of climbing Denali or any other mountain so long as they had, “The desire to be uncomfortable.”

Her husband was a mountaineer as well and got her into climbing in the first place. They met after Barbara applied to be a secretary at the New England Museum of Natural History, where Bradford, her future husband, worked as director of the museum.

Barbara and Bradford would go on to work on several other expeditions, including attempts to map Mt. Everest and the Grand Canyon, the latter of which took the couple seven years.

Barbara was a mother of three and also helped transform the Museum of Science in Boston into a world-famous institution. Her job was that of a reading specialist at an elementary school.


Transcript

Section 1: 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|

Section 2: 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|

Section 3: 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|

Section 4: 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|

Section 5: lecture Hartford, CT Navy war -- prior Annapolis, MD science museum train auditorium Washburn, Brad New York, NY train -- berth secretary breakfast Thomas, Lowell boss|

Section 6: 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|

Section 7: Washburn, Brad children marriage Alaska -- expedition food -- dehydrated boys -- college Harvard ski team -- captain Thomas, Lowell -- son adventure ski Jackson, NH|

Section 8: 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|

Section 9: 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|

Section 10: Muldrow Route RKO Mt. Everest interview The White Tower -- Ullman, James Ramsey western world Nepal Mt. McKinley climbers children -- nurse grandparents pediatrician|

Section 11: 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|

Section 12: 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|

Section 13: 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|

Section 14: 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|

Section 15: 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|

Section 16: 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|

Section 17: 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|

Section 18: trail crampons Hackett, Bill climber Victerine, Hugo climbing physicist sugar pack slope -- steep side hill rope snow crying rest day -- long Denali Pass|

Section 19: Hackett, Bill pack Washburn, Brad horizon hat -- fur researchers -- cosmic ray Gale, Jim Victoreen, Hugo high altitude deterioration red blood cells|

Section 20: 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|

Section 21: 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|

Section 22: weather -- cold North Peak Washburn, Brad work -- survey lunch -- picnic frostbite socks gloves -- thin descent Karstens Ridge Browne Tower clouds -- lenticular storm duffel bag|

Section 23: 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|

Section 24: 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|

Section 25: radios family children nurse books Mt. McKinley daughter -- enemy Boston, MA newspapers friends -- female war mothers Curley, Jim -- mayor|

Section 26: Alaska -- reception daughter -- Washburn, Barbara autographs Mt. McKinley -- solo reporter -- Anchorage, AK climb -- sociability experience -- sharing companionship friendship children -- discipline|


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