Friday, December 14, 2001
The Hollis Room at the library was packed to capacity on Sunday afternoon to hear a talk and slide show by Dr. Bradford Washburn of Lexington. Washburn was the founder and long-time director of the Boston Museum of Science. He is also an accomplished mountaineer and cartographer. He constructed the bas relief map of the Mt. McKinley area that has been in the science museum since I was a teenager.
The subjects of his talk in Carlisle were his travels in the Mt. McKinley area in the1950s and his mapping expedition in and around Mt. Everest in the 1970s. He was accompanied, both on the expeditions and at the Carlisle talk, by his wife Barbara.
Washburn started with a lively and spellbinding slide presentation of the Alaska treks. He described in great detail the techniques they used to surmount the ice wall on the western approach to Mt. Dickey, and showed photographs pointing straight up the eastern face of that mountain. He laid out in pictures the approach to McKinley from Anchorage, and at various points closer. It turns out that at a distance of less than thirty miles from Mt. McKinley, the ground is as low as 1,000 feet above sea level! That many miles from Everest puts you at an elevation of well over 10,000 feet. His pictures of their helicopter at the foot of a major cliff were awe-inspiring, especially as you realized he climbed the same cliff and the peak above a day or two later!
His outdoor gear for that expedition and other McKinley climbs was an anachronism to those of us used to shopping for camping gear at REI or EMS. He, his wife and the other members of his expedition used aircraft suits and felt boots with a plastic outer layer. As you might imagine, the cost of his gear in 1950 was an order of magnitude less that what one spends on a weekend outing in the White Mountains today.
The second major portion of his presentation dealt with his mapping expedition of Mt. Everest. He discussed his work on the cameras he used and the help and cooperation he got from Dr. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid. Dr. Land had also created an optical-quality airplane window through which Washburn could take his photographs. At times, modifications to the airplane's exhaust pipes were required in order to keep the outside of the windows on the plane from fogging up. A striking photo was one of him and his wife taking photographs from inside the plane. While Washburn was operating the highly customized camera, focussing through a Polaroid-built window, his wife had a warm-air gun shooting at the window to keep it free of frost. Although I'm sure that being married to Dr. Washburn has been a great adventure for her, it's clear that she did a great deal of the work required in order to create the maps that he has been credited with. In fact, she is recorded as the first woman to summit Mt. McKinley, in 1947.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito