American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Harrison Wood, 1914-1938

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1939

HARRISON WOOD

1914-1938

Harrison Wood died on September 1, 1938, after a short illness in Berne, Switzerland. From the balcony outside his room he could look up the Aar Valley, fair and green, to the tremendous throne of the Bernese Oberland. Before going to the hospital, he had spent several weeks above Bex, close to the Dents du Midi, the mountains he loved best. As a climber, although he was only twenty-four years old, Wood had great experience and ability. He showed promise of ranking with the foremost if inclination had so drawn him.

Wood was born in Philadelphia on October 22, 1914, and in 1924 moved with his family to Switzerland where he stayed winter and summer for the following nine years. As mountains create the horizon around the Mont Pelerin above Vevey, where he lived, so they quickly marked imagination’s path for him. At the age of eleven he had climbed three peaks of the Dents du Midi, and during the next eight years made over 200 climbs in the Pennine, Oberland and Mont Blanc groups, usually in the company of his older brother, Walter, or his good friend and guide, Maurice Crettex, of Champex.

The peculiar attraction which mountains held for and exercised over him, and the material for reaction and thought and emotional composition with which they provided, especially signified his character—as it does that of every climber, distinguishing each man who has looked upon and climbed a mountain from each that precedes or follows him up the same peak. To him, climbing was more palpable than a sport, an adventure, a test of power and endurance, a testimony of skill and triumph. Climbing had the power of projecting his personality directly into the motion and music and companionship of mountains. Mountains were the touchstone which magnetized his emotions and established his sympathies. And yet at the same time, they stimulated his keenest sense of appraisal. They could never cajole his discrimination.

On his return from Switzerland in the autumn of 1932, Wood entered Harvard University and graduated four years later with an A.B. degree, cum laude. During the summers following his third and last years there, he joined and helped to organize the current Wood Yukon Expeditions. In 1935, he was a member of the party to make the first ascent of Mt. Steele, and during the next summer was energetic in scientific as well as further mountaineering objectives. In that colossal setting of the St. Elias Mountains he developed his greatest enthusiasm. He had found his perfect combination of a completely remote land of mountains and valleys. It is likely that he would have returned there in other years.

C. N.

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