American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Dyson Duncan, 1908-1975

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979



Dyson Duncan, the first member of the American Alpine Club to join the American Mountain Troops and who declined draft exemption to stay out of the Army, died on December 20 at his home in Mount Kisko, New York. He had been a member of the American Alpine Club since 1930.

Dyson could have stayed comfortably at home since he was the father of four children and an executive of Lea and Perrins, which undertook wartime supply contracts, both valid reasons for exemption. However he believed deeply in the mountain troop concept. Thus he brought to the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment in its earliest days a broad knowledge of snow-and-ice climbing as well as an enthusiasm that persuaded many an apprehensive GI to climb challenging peaks. He was, in the best sense, an exemplar of the great traditions of Victorian climbing and helped create, within the 87th, the foundations upon which daring Yosemite rock climbers built sophisticated techniques that became Army doctrine.

Before the war, Dyson had achieved an impressive record of mostly guideless climbs in the Alps and the Canadian Rockies. In the Rockies his first ascents included Peak Four (Lyell), Mounts Kaufmann, Skene, Strahan, Cambrai and Messines. These were climaxed by a boat trip (rowing, poling and lining) up the Bush River from the Columbia in 1934 to make three attempts on Mount Bush. In the Alps he made a number of the standard climbs, including the Weisshorn guideless.

In 1942 he was glacier guide for the Mountain Infantry Columbia Icefields Detachment, supervising the building of a truck road up the crevassed Saskatchewan Glacier and locating a mile-long circuit for the experimental “Weasels,” among the first workable over-snow vehicles. After becoming one of the oldest candidates to graduate from Infantry Officer School at Fort Benning, Georgia, he became transport officer for the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment in combat and helped fix ropes up which troops ascended the cliffs and ledges of Riva Ridge in the Apennines to overcome a German detachment at the summit. For this task he was awarded a Bronze Star.

He leaves his wife, Mildred Phelps Stokes Duncan, and three children.

Harold B. Burton

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.