Richard L. Burdsall, 1895-1953

Publication Year: 1953.



Richard L. Burdsall, son of Elwood and Louella M. Burdsall, was born at Purchase, New York, in 1895. After graduation from Swarthmore College in 1917 as a mechanical engineer, he served with the American Friends Service Committee during World War I, and afterwards joined the Russell, Burdsall & Ward Bolt and Nut Co., of which his grandfather had been a founder. He served this company until his death.

In addition to mountaineering Dick’s wide interests included ornithology, sailing, and the work of the Society of Friends. On one cruise he narrowly escaped death when his boat caught fire from gasoline fumes and was entirely destroyed. His interest in mountaineering developed relatively late, for Dick’s first real mountain climb was in 1933 to the top of Minya Konka in western China, then the second highest mountain to have been climbed. On this great expedition, one of the finest ever to go to the Himalayas, Dick shared the work with Arthur B. Emmons III and Terris Moore, two of the outstanding American climbers of the day. His success in reaching the top proved for all time his amazing courage, determination, and endurance.

Dick’s last big expedition came in 1938 as a member of the first American expedition to K2. Those of us who shared his companionship on this adventure will never forget his pjatience, kindness, good humor, and superb expedition spirit. He was the gentlest and best of companions. He not only served as treasurer of this expedition, but was also serving as treasurer of the American Alpine Club’s 1953 expedition to K2 at the time of his death.

The newspaper summary which follows sheds light on Dick’s death at 57, after being the second North American to reach the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina. It is very likely that the presence of the two Italians referred to below had a bearing upon the tragedy. Dick may have descended to get help for them and become lost and exhausted in the darkness. Had they not been there, his guide would probably have stayed with him and all would have been well. At least it is certain that Dick died after accomplishing something on which he had set his heart, and probably while in the act of seeking help for others.

Always active in civic affairs, Dick had served as president of the Port Chester YMCA and the Rotary Club, and was a trustee of the Port Chester Library. He enjoyed his membership in the Explorer’s Club and served on the Council of the American Alpine Club. But best of all, perhaps, he loved to join his mountain companions and share with them experiences of the past and hopes for the future. They will never forget him.

Robert H. Bates

The following article appeared in the Tuesday, March 3rd, issue of The Standard, an English language newspaper printed in Buenos Aires:


How Mr. Burdsall Met His Death

“Sr. Jorge Washington Flores of the Club Andinista Mendoza, who served as a guide to Mr. Richard Burdsall, the North American engineer who died after reaching the summit of Aconcagua, has given some details of the occurrence.

“He said that he left Mendoza on February 11 with Burdsall and Miss Gwendolyn Foster and three days later they were at Plaza de Mulas. By February 16 they had reached an altitude of 6,000 metres and Burdsall apparently was already feeling the effects of the rarified air. The following day they reached an altitude of 6,600 metres and late in the afternoon reached the Juan José refuge where they found Cesar Fara and Leonardo Rapicarelli of the Club Alpino Italiano. These two were in a rather bad state of health. The five of them decided to try and reach the summit next day but due to bad weather had to postpone the ascent until February 20. They set out in spite of a strong wind and at 0500 the group was at the foot of the ‘canaleta’ at an altitude of 6,900 metres. First of all, the two Italians tried to reach the top and then Flores and Burdsall did the same, reaching their objective at 2100 the same day. The two Italians and the American were completely exhausted so Flores had to return to the refuge and prepare some food and hot drinks for his companions.

“When Flores returned with the food, he found that the three men had disappeared. He started to look for them and went down to 6,700 metres where he fell asleep from exhaustion. He awoke at dawn and continued his search for Burdsall and the two Italians. He found the last two as they were descending with great difficulty, being almost blinded by the snow which had been whipped by the wind against their eyes. He took them down to Plaza de Mulas and then returned to look for Burdsall. He found him at an altitude of 6,300 metres and took the American down. He died just before being taken by mule to Puente del Inca.”

R. H. Burdsall

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