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Discovering the Bradford Washburn Archives

Posted on: February 23rd, 2011 by Luke Bauer

Topos—hand-drawn directly on to photographs—of Mt. Hunington, the Moose's Tooth, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Hunter, and more.

This entry is a guest blog from AAC Library Volunteer, Katie Worley:

My name is Katie Worley, and I am currently working as a Student Project Archivist in the American Alpine Club’s Henry S. Hall Jr. Library. I moved to Denver from Nashville in 2009 to attend The University of Denver’s Library & Science Master’s Program.

While the educational opportunities are great in Denver, I definitely miss climbing in the Southeast, where the norm involves bushwacking, hiking for what seems like forever, and rappelling down into ravines to find hidden walls. My favorite spots are in the Big South Fork and Charit Creek, which house some of the biggest yet relatively undeveloped sandstone walls in the Southeast. While they may not compare vertically with the walls here in Colorado, they are steep and full of pockets and cracks begging to be climbed.  Some might say a compass is an essential tool there, but half of the adventure for me is in getting lost and in the discovery.

Early in my library program, I toured the AAC’s archive, library, and rare books room and fell instantly in love. I was amazed to find a library dedicated solely to the niche I love. The AAC Library holds a wealth of guidebooks and videos, maps and journals, and just about every other imaginable resource that any climber could want or need. I decided, on the spot, that I would volunteer my time at the Library. I spoke to Library Director Beth Heller and have now been with the Library for a little over a year. In that time, I’ve been involved in many projects, including inventorying the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library and, most recently, working on the Bradford Washburn Archives.

Building an igloo on Mt. McKinley's Browne Tower.

As a graduate student with a focus on archives, I felt drawn to highlight at least one of the many great collections in the AAC Archives by processing material for the general public. After some deliberation, Beth and I selected the Bradford Washburn Archives. This collection spans the entire life of Bradford Washburn—mountaineer, aerial photography pioneer, cartographer, and founder of the Boston Museum of Science—and has resources for mountaineers, climbers, and researchers alike. The collection has extensive maps, correspondence, photographs, historical accounts, trip logs, and detailed hand-drawn route descriptions for mountains throughout Alaska, the greater Yukon, and includes many resources from the Everest Mapping Program.  For anyone researching Denali or Everest, in a historical context or for an upcoming ascent, the collection is invaluable.

One part of the Washburn collection that I really enjoyed discovering were the postcards, letters, and telegrams surrounding Bob Bates’ and Bradford Washburn’s expedition to Mt. Lucania in the summer of 1937. The letters allowed me to see an intimate snapshot of Washburn and the events that surrounded being marooned on the slushy Walsh glacier, knowing full well that the pilot would not be returning with the remaining members of the party. The documents reveal the emotion of surviving an epic adventure, and that is truly inspiring! Two of four combatted all odds to survive, despite running out of food and nearly drowning in the Yukon River. These letters and telegrams let me experience a personal, intimate glimpse into Washburn’s life.

The Bradford Washburn Archives represent the type of astonishing resources that reside within our library and archive. Making this hidden archive accessible will add to the depth and breadth of the American Alpine Club’s ever-growing collection of resources. These collections have to be organized, preserved, and cataloged, which takes both time and money. If you feel inspired to help, please visit the AAC Online Store to Adopt the Collection.

The Adopt A Collection project has been supported by a generous donation from the Inge Foundation, but that funding will come to an end soon. Hopefully the project will continue to receive funding so that more will be preserved after I graduate.  The goal is to further organize and identify the photographs and to digitize some parts of the collection so they will be available to those who cannot visit Golden.  If you want to learn more about the work I have done thus far, or if you would like to access the collection, drop by the library or drop us a line. I hope to see you here in the AAC library, my favorite place to be—except, of course, for those hidden sandstone walls back home!

About the AAC Library

The Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library has a circulating collection of 20,000+ climbing books, guidebooks, and videos. As an AAC benefit, the Club will ship members up to 10 books/guidebooks/videos at a time for free. Search for and check out books at (Email the library for access to our new and improved online catalog.)

To enjoy this benefit, unite with your fellow climbers by joining the AAC. Established in 1916, the library is one of the oldest alpine research facilities in the United States, and the largest outside of Europe.

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