Mount McKinley’s West Buttress: The First Ascent—
Brad Washburn's Logbook, 1951. Williston, Vermont: Top of the World Press, 2003. 142 pages; 72 photos. Paperback. $23.00. (There is also a hardbound limited edition, signed and numbered, and priced at $93.00—a dollar for every year of Washburn’s age the year this book was published.)
Few individuals have so powerful a bond with an individual mountain as does Bradford Washburn with Mt. McKinley. Washburn not only pioneered one of the most widely recognized and popular climbing routes in the history of mountaineering—the West Buttress—but he surveyed, photographed, mapped, researched, and wrote about this great peak. Of course, anyone who has even the slightest interest in McKinley knows that his aerial photography of this mountain is without peer and the 1:50,000 scale map he produced is one of the greatest of cartographic accomplishments.
While Brad Washburn has published numerous articles and contributed to an impressive array of books about McKinley, we finally have a book detailing the explorer-photographercartographer’s McKinley triumphs and travails in his own words—and what a book it is.
This magnificent tome combines the best attributes of a coffee table book and a narrative. Publisher Greg Glade painstakingly transcribed Brad’s field diary from cursive to Times Roman, and obviously was vigilant about straying as little as possible from the spirit of the original work, including underlined words, Brad’s shorthand (“Fbks” for Fairbanks, “McK” for McKinley, etc.), and marginal notes. Glade edited virtually nothing—Washburn’s diary didn’t need any. The passages are elegant, fluid, his prose often memorable. Because it was a diary—something that Washburn probably never thought would be read by anyone other than himself—the writing is relaxed and utterly unpretentious. You forget you are reading a book and feel as if you are standing in Washburn’s “Thermopac” insulated rubber boots, surveying the glacial landscape around the upper Kahiltna.
After just a few pages, it becomes clear that Brad Washburn is a renaissance explorer. His thoughts range from flying, to photography, to history, to surveying, to geology, and a variety of other interests. And he does more than just ponder these subjects: you learn how he forges new ground in them. Washburn clearly is no egomaniac. He often expresses concern for others on the mountain, and berates those who, in his eyes, act with disregard for others. It is wonderful to have such a lucid, autobiographical perspective of an explorer I have known primarily from the writings of others
In addition to the text, this book contains 79 duotone reproductions of Brad’s stunning black and white images, four sketches, and two maps. As a matter of fact it took me a few days to begin actually reading the book, as I couldn’t stop scanning Brad’s tack-sharp, large format panchromatic images. Brad exposed thousands of 7 by 9-inch black and white images of Denali with his Fairchild K-9 aerial camera. This book contains the best of the best of these. Many of his 35-mm photos of day-to-day expeditioning are included also.
The production quality is high-end. The paper stock is bright and sturdy; the binding allows for easy, even perusing; and obviously, great care was taken during the pre-press and printing processes. (I couldn’t find a speck of dust or any printing aberrations in the entire book.)
Mount McKinley’s West Buttress: The First Ascent—Brad Washburn’s Logbook, 1951 is a must-have title for any McKinleyophile—whether a seasoned guide, a prospective summiteer, or simply a dreamer.