American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Donald Winchester Brown, 1910-1952

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953



Donald Brown died on 21 December 1952 in a tragic automobile accident near Poughkeepsie, New York. Thus ended a career into which a love of mountains and travel were inextricably woven.

Donald was drawn to the mountains, as are so many others, through the good fortune of attending preparatory school in Switzerland. As early as 1921 he rambled among the trailed summits of the Vaudoise Alps and, as his experience and enthusiasm grew, he tasted the delights of the Bernese Oberland, Pennine, and Mont Blanc ranges.

In 1929 he entered Harvard College and, during his residence there, his love of the mountains found a sympathetic response among the young mountaineers who have since blazed such distinguished trails across the high ranges. Thus it was that he joined college companions in summer excursions to the Alps in 1930 and 1932. Upon graduation in 1933 he passed several weeks in the Coast Range of British Columbia, where poor weather and bad luck restricted his climbing activities.

The high peaks alone could not lay full claim to Donald’s enthusiasm for the out-of-doors. He was as content to wander across the lake-dotted tundra of Finnish and Swedish Lapland, or through the sub-Arctic reaches of Norway, the Outer Hebrides, or Iceland, as he was to seek the granite of the Chamonix Aiguilles or the snows of the Combin. And during the greater part of these excursions he traveled alone, living with isolated groups and studying their customs.

Undeveloped country held a particular fascination for Donald, and in 1937 and 1946 he accompanied Wiessner on reconnaissance trips to the Stikine Ice Field of British Columbia and Alaska, during which especial attention was given to the approaches to Kate’s Needle.

In World War II he served with the Army Ground Forces, and, rising from a private soldier at the Mountain Training Center, he was relieved of active duty with the War Department General Staff, having attained the rank of Major.

During the post-war years Donald’s law practice permitted fewer opportunities to climb, yet he was able to visit the Tetons in 1947, and in the following year he paid a final visit to the Alps, during which he travelled on foot from Klosters to Zermatt via Pontresina. This trip, a noteworthy accomplishment in itself, included many notable ascents along the way and in the vicinity of Zermatt.

A strong and enthusiastic climber, Donald sought the mountains not alone for the satisfaction of physical accomplishment, but especially through an intense desire to understand and appreciate the fullest expression of nature. That he succeeded in such large measure and in so short a life is a tribute to his boundless energy and determination, qualities that he brought not only to his avocation but to his professional life as well. His sense of humor, dynamic companionship, and loyalty to his friends are assets that mountaineering can ill afford to lose, but they stand as bright monuments that will long be remembered and respected.

Walter A. Wood

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