Barbara Washburn

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Barbara Washburn (November 10, 1914 – September 25, 2014) was an American mountaineer. She became the first woman to climb Denali (Mount McKinley) on June 6, 1947. She was the wife of mountaineer and scientist Bradford Washburn. Barbara died a few weeks short of her 100th birthday.[1]

Biography[edit]

Barbara Washburn, nee Polk, was born in the Boston area and graduated from Smith College.[2] As a young woman, she took courses at Harvard University and worked as a secretary for the New England Museum of Natural History (now the Boston Museum of Science). There, she met her husband, Bradford Washburn , then the director of the museum.[3] They married in 1940 and honeymooned in Alaska.[4]

The Washburns often worked in tandem, in areas of mountaineering, exploring, mapping, and museum administration. She did not realize that she had been the first woman to climb Denali until after their ascent,.[5] She typically accompanied her husband on his expeditions, and contributed to his work at the Boston Museum of Science.

With her husband, she completed a large-scale map of the Grand Canyon, published as a National Geographic magazine supplement in July 1978. For that achievement and others, the Washburns received in 1980 the Alexander Graham Bell Medal from the National Geographic Society.[6][7] In 1981, the Washburns produced the most detailed and accurate map ever made of Mount Everest.

Washburn's memoir is The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mt. McKinley by Barbara Washburn, Lew Freedman, and Bradford Washburn, Epicenter Press, May 2001.

Barbara and Bradford Washburn raised three children, Dorothy, Edward and Elizabeth.[8]

Mountaineering and First Ascents[edit]

Washburn was the first woman to climb Denali (1947). Other notable Alaskan first ascents included Mt Bertha (1940) and Mount Hayes (1941), which she completed alongside her husband and a team of other mountaineers. Washburn wrote that prior to her marriage, "I had no mountaineering background" and described training for the Denali climb by pushing her baby's carriage.[9] According to an anecdote related by husband Bradford Washburn, Barbara learned to rappel on the fly during their first ascent of Mt Bertha, when a slope proved icier than expected.[10]

Despite a relative lack of training, Washburn became an accomplished mountain climber. She led the ascent of the corniced north ridge section of Mt Hayes,[11] a section other climbers have described as "so narrow and the snow so soft that you could not put your feet side by side."[12] The couple were known for their meticulous planning on expeditions,[10] with Washburn noting how important it was for her to be able to return home to her children.

Washburn was a pioneer for women in climbing at a time when there were few in the field. As she wrote in the Alpinist, "Like most women of my generation, I'd been raised to believe that my place was in the home. Yet in the end, the places where I would make that home wouldn't always be in warm Massachusetts suburban houses, surrounded by the bright voices of our children. Sometimes that home would be in an igloo, at 12,000 feet, sharing Tang-flavored fig pudding with my husband; or as the lightest climber going first to test the cornices on a narrow exposed ridge; or staring out at summit views that no one else had seen."[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bailey, Michael J. (25 September 2014). "Barbara Polk Washburn, 99; first woman to ascend Mount McKinley". Boston Globbe. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Barbara Washburn, 1914–2014 - AAC Publications - Search The American Alpine Journal and Accidents". publications.americanalpineclub.org. Retrieved 2017-03-06. 
  3. ^ "Barbara Washburn: Accidentally Adventurous, Deliberately Brave - Alpinist.com". www.alpinist.com. Retrieved 2017-03-06. 
  4. ^ Borneman, Walter R. (2003). Alaska : saga of a bold land (1st ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins. p. 324. ISBN 0-06-050306-8. 
  5. ^ The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mt. McKinley by Barbara Washburn, Lew Freedman and Bradford Washburn, Epicenter Press, May 2001.
  6. ^ "Bradford and Barbara Washburn, Climbers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011. 
  7. ^ David Braun (July 13, 2010). "Nat Geo awards Alexander Graham Bell Medals to GIS pioneers". National Geographic Society. Retrieved June 22, 2011.  "Bradford and Barbara Washburn ... received it in 1980 for their contributions to geography and cartography".
  8. ^ "Barbara Washburn: Accidentally Adventurous, Deliberately Brave - Alpinist.com". www.alpinist.com. Retrieved 2018-05-30. 
  9. ^ "Barbara Polk Washburn, 99; 'Accidental Adventurer' was first woman to ascend Mount McKinley - The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved 2018-05-30. 
  10. ^ a b McCombs, Phil (2001-05-21). "Married Adventures And Tales of Amelia Earhart". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-05-30. 
  11. ^ Brenden Leonard (October 15, 2014). "Historical Badass: Accidental adventurer Barbara Washburn". adventure journal. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 
  12. ^ Charles R Wilson (1975). "Mt Hayes: North Ridge". Alpina Americana. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Barbara Washburn: Accidentally Adventurous, Deliberately Brave - Alpinist.com". www.alpinist.com. Retrieved 2018-05-30. 

External links[edit]