Paul Jay Bradt (1904–1978) has been called the father of rock climbing in the Washington, D.C., area. He was instrumental in developing interest in the sport, was a founding member and first chair of the rock climbing branch of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and pioneered historic climbs and cave explorations in the 1930s and 1940s. Bradt was introduced to rock climbing by Gustave Gambs (1868-1958) who had learned the sport in Europe. He soon became an active proponent of rock climbing, introducing many people to the sport, some of whom became leaders in the field, such as Don Hubbard, Arnold Wexler, and Herb and Jan Conn. Bradt and his colleagues explored and developed early climbing routes at Great Falls, VA, Carderock, MD, Seneca Rocks, WV, Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, VA, and in the Teton Range.
Early life and education
Bradt was born in Portland, Indiana, on October 21, 1904, grew up on a farm in Versailles, Indiana, and as a teenager and student, lived in Bloomington, Indiana, where his father taught in the high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics (1927) at Indiana University and a master’s degree in mathematics (1931) at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. During his long residence in Washington, he first worked as an examiner at the U.S. Patent Office and then had a long career as a physicist at the National Bureau of Standards. He recruited climbers from among his fellow workers at the Bureau.
Bradt married Josephine Irey (1908–1975) of Washington, DC in 1942. They had two sons, Alan and Peter. He was a quiet, self-effacing person who set a standard of encouraging beginning climbers and who embraced a safety-first mentality that persists to this day in the Washington climbing community.
At Seneca Rocks, Bradt made the first documented roped descent – the ascent was a steep hike – of the North Peak with Florence Perry in 1935 and the first documented ascent of the South Peak (east face) with Hubbard and Sam Moore in 1939. The latter was a heroic two-day effort via the routes now known as Lower Skyline Direct, Skyline Traverse, Cockscomb Chimney, and Windy Corner. The same team also made the first documented ascent in 1940 of the precariously-perched narrow pinnacle at Seneca Rocks known as the Gendarme. 
Bradt and his climbing partners also brought rock-climbing techniques to cave exploration. Over several years they defined routes and mapped the passages and rooms of Schoolhouse and Hellhole caves in West Virginia, the former beginning about 1938, and the latter beginning with a famous New Year’s weekend exploration with Tom Culverwell, Don Hubbard, Sam Moore and Bill Schlect. They left the following sign at the cave entrance to forestall an unneeded rescue effort: “Notice, Saturday, December 31st, 1939. Five men in Hellhole. Will come out about noon, Sunday January 1, 1940,” and listed the names.
Potomac Appalachian Mountain Club
Bradt was the primary force behind the founding of the Rock Climbing Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in about 1937; it survives today as the Mountaineering Section, also known as the Potomac Mountain Club. Bradt served as its chair through 1942. Bradt and his wife, Josephine Irey Bradt, edited the Section Newsletter “Up Rope” from 1945 to 1947. During the 1940-41 school year, Bradt organized a weekly rock-climbing course that included caving techniques at George Washington University. It entailed 12 class sessions and 12 field trips.
First ascent in the Grand Tetons
On August 4, 1944, Bradt and Sterling Hendricks completed the first ascent of the Glacier Route on Middle Teton in Wyoming. This route is described as a "classic," and is one of the few early-season, purely ice-and-snow routes in the Grand Tetons.
- Post, Todd. "Local Climbing History, Climbers’ History". Potomac Appalachian Trail Club-Mountaineering Section (PATC-MS). Retrieved 13 December 2013. See also the sound tracks of the archival videos on this website.
- Hörst, Eric J. (2013). Rock Climbing, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland. Morris Book Publishing, LLC. pp. xv, 95, 173. Note: This reference misspells Bradt's name as "Brandt."
- Barnes, Tony (2006). The Climber's Guide, 2nd Edit. Earthbound Sports, LLC. pp. 18–24. Note: the solo photos of Bradt and Hubbard are improperly identified in the 2nd Edition; Bradt is the climber on p. 14 and Hubbard is on p. 15. They are correctly identified in the earlier “Revised Edition” (1995) – [ref. H. Bradt, nephew of PB, pvt. comm.]
- Kastning, Karen M. (January 1991). "Cavers: A Different Breed, Interview with John Meenehan,". NSS News (National Speleological Society 49 (49–01): 8–15. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Conn, Herb and Jan. ""Letter from Herb & Jan Conn" August 2006". Seneca Rocks Museum. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Rossiter, Richard (1994). Teton Classics: 50 Selected Climbs in Grand Teton National Park. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9780934641715.
- Ortenburger, Leigh N.; Jackson, Reynold G. (1996). A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range, 3rd Edit. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 140, 145. ISBN 9781594854330.
- Biasca, Cynthia Brott (1990). Descendants of Albert and Aren't Andriessen Bradt. Wolfe City, TX: Henington Publishing Co. p. 568.
- Archivists at Indiana University and George Washington University
- "Josephine Irey will be married to Paul Bradt". Washington Post Archives. June 25, 1942. p. 14.
- "Club Officers". Potomac Mountain Club. Retrieved 18 December 2013.