American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

John Franklin Noxon, 1928-1985

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986



I met John Noxon in 1950 at a recruiting meeting of the Harvard Mountaineering Club. John was a first year graduate student in Physics with a developed love of hiking and winter mountaineering in New England. We climbed actively together in the next seven years over North America and the Karakoram Himalaya. John introduced me to Antarctica, which became the focus of much of my career, reading to a group of us who climbed McKinley in 1952 the Worst Journey in the World as we struggled each night into frozen sleeping bags.

We were friends until his death, meeting occasionally in his home, or his laboratory when I was not in the Antarctic or he was not flying at 40,000 feet in an airforce laboratory aircraft pursuing the illusive glows that occur in the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere.

John continued the tradition of the humanist, naturalist, explorer, mountaineer. His interests were wide ranging. He built harpsicords and played Bach fugues. He was an accomplished photographer. He blew his own glass apparatus for his laboratory experiments. He married my wife’s roommate, Patricia Warner. John is survived by his wife, their daughter, Mary, and his mother.

John dedicated his life to unravelling the secrets of the molecular changes that occur on the fringes of the earth’s atmosphere under the influence of the sun’s energy to produce that glorious nighttime event—the aurora borealis or australis, and more significantly to us survivers on earth, ozone and the recombinations of ions and molecules of such substances as the oxides of nitrogen. His colleagues, who worked with him, first at Harvard and the Blue Hill Observatory and, thereafter, at National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration where he was recognized for his work with the Department of Commerce Distinguished Service Award, will miss his curiosity, persistence and elegance of method as will those of us who had the privilege and pleasure to climb with him.

Apsley Cherry Garrard in his account of Scott’s last expedition to the Antarctic, The Worst Journey in the World, says, “… if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical express, go out and explore.—If you march your Winter Journey you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.” My one regret is that John and I never had the opportunity to share together an Antarctic adventure.

Henry S. Francis, Jr.

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