Exploring the Unknown, Historic Diaries of Bradford Washburn’s Alaska/Yukon Expeditions. Bradford Washburn, edited by Lew Freedman. Kenmore, Washington: Epicenter Press, 2001.128 pages, softcover. $24.95.
This book contains excerpts from the diaries of Bradford Washburn that he wrote during three expeditions to Alaska and the Yukon. They give the reader a day to day glimpse of the struggles of a man and his companions who were scientists, students, and mountaineers exploring unmapped areas of Alaska’s great mountains and mountain ranges. Beyond the stunning photographic detail that has made Washburn famous, the trilogy captures his “voice.” Those of us who have been privileged to spend any time with him and his wife Barbara, will hear this through the written word. The diaries are descriptive, to the point, and often full of humor.
Washburn was perhaps the first to exploit the use of aircraft to get to places unknown, unseen, and rarely, if ever, traveled. The men from Harvard and Dartmouth who participated in these expeditions assisted Washburn in completing surveys that led to the accurate mapping of the glacial expanses of Mts. Logan, St. Elias, Fairweather, and later Denali. Under his leadership and organizational skill, these men, which include the likes of Barry Bishop and Ad Carter, spent three and four months at a time in remote, uncharted areas, patiently conducting survey activities and making first ascents of many high altitude peaks. They accomplished these feats without modern lightweight equipment, communication, and transportation.
In his time, Washburn was certainly one of a few hard men. Exploring the Unknown provides great insight into the personality and skill, both as a mountaineering leader and scientist, of Bradford Washburn, one of the true elders of American mountaineering.
Peter J. Panarese