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Arthur Brewster Emmons II, 1910-1962


On August 22, 1962, a few days before his 52nd birthday, Arthur B. Emmons III died of cancer in Washington, D.C. His illness had lasted six months.

Climbing must have been in Art’s makeup from earliest childhood, for we are told that at age five, he managed to get his two-year-old brother atop a great glacial boulder, which for a while foiled joint rescue attempts by his mother and nursemaid. His more serious climbing began in 1926 with climbs in the Italian Dolomites and one to the summit of Mont Blanc, followed a year later by a first ascent of the North Face of Mount Hood in Oregon. In 1930, Art climbed in the Selkirks with the Harvard Mountaineering Club, and also accompanied Bradford Washburn on the latter’s first Alaskan venture, to Mount Fairweather. In 1931 he became a member of the American Alpine Club.

In late 1931, 1932, and early 1933, Art participated in the Sikong Expedition, which first surveyed and then climbed Mount Minya Konka in Chinese Tibet. The mountain party of four also included Dick Burdsall (who perished on Aconcagua in 1953), Jack Young an American born Chinese, and Terris Moore. The mountain, 24,900 feet, was climbed in late October, Art reaching 22,500 feet. Freezing his feet at the high camp, he ultimately lost the foreward part of both feet including all his toes and more; all of this is recorded in the book Men Against the Clouds, written mostly by Burdsall and Emmons.

Quite undeterred by his physical handicap, Art, in 1936, largely organized and was a member of the British-American Himalayan Expedition which was successful in climbing Nanda Devi, 25,645 feet, then the highest mountain climbed, though membership in the actual summit party was out of the question because of his feet. Art had a special pair of shortened mountaineering boots made to fit him, which he cheerfully said were "better than yours because my feet get closer to the mountain wall—they don’t stick out so far !”

Art’s professional life was given to the Foreign Service of his country, in the State Department. By the time of his early death he had reached the top echelon, Class I, which would have qualified him for ambassadorial rank. One remembers a characteristic bit: told in the middle 1930’s when he sought to enter the Foreign Service that individuals with his walking disability could not be accepted, he pointed out that the country’s then highest ranking foreign service officer—the President of the United States— was even more crippled, a polio victim in a wheel chair, but this was not deemed sufficient to interfere with his official duties! Art must have made his point tactfully for he entered the State Department in 1939. Thereafter followed an interesting career with many foreign assignments, including Canada, China, Korea, Uruguay, Spain, Australia, Ireland, and Malaya. He was in the American Consulate in Seoul, Korea, at the time of Pearl Harbor, and while interned in Tokyo witnessed the Doolittle raid from his place of detention. (Following this, he said, his Japanese captors’ attitude became noticeably more polite!) He was eventually repatriated, but returned again after the war as Political Advisor to the Commanding General occupying South Korea. During the Korean War he was Officer-in-Charge of Korean Affairs in the State Department, Washington.

Next to his wife, Evelyn, and his two daughters, mountaineering was Art’s great love. Vacations saw them in the Andes, the Wind River Range, trout fishing in Ireland, or in the New Zealand Southern Alps, wherever there were wilderness and mountains. And so Art lived his life in the foreign, the out of doors and wild places of the world. He selected a poem to preface his section of Men Against the Clouds, and this perhaps he might wish to leave with his climbing friends.

"And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round.

Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me;

For once I stood

In the white windy presence of eternity.”

Terris Moore