American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

William Richard Hainsworth, 1896–1971

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1972


William Hainsworth was born in Seattle, Washington on February 22, 1896 and died at Laguna Hills, California on December 4, 1971, after a long illness. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1917, with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, from the California Institute of Technology (then Throop College) in 1918, with an M.S. in Chemistry, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he pioneered in electrical transmission of photographs) with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. From 1935 to 1952 he was vice-president in charge of engineering for Servel, Inc., then a large refrigerator manufacturer. He retired from Fluor Corporation in 1961, after serving as vice- president of their research division. He was past-president of the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers and the Industrial Research Institute, a member of the American Chemical Society and recipient of the Monroe award from the American Gas Association. He is credited with seventeen patents, mainly on absorption refrigeration.

He served in the U.S. Army Ordinance Corps, January-December, 1918.

He began climbing at an early age, on Mount Rainier in 1910, making additional ascents of this mountain in 1913 and 1925 by the Emmons glacier route. He also climbed in the Olympics and the Montana Rockies.

In 1919 he married Hawley LaFitte, who died in 1948. In this period they lived at Larchmont, N.Y., and were thus able to attend many meetings of the American Alpine Club, which Bill joined in 1926. He was on the A.A.C. Council from 1929 to 1932 and from 1948 to 1953.

In 1928 he went with Max Strumia and me to the Canadian Rockies, making camp on the Hooker icefield and first ascents of Mounts Scott, Ermatinger, and Evans. He and Strumia then continued to Maligne Lake, gaining first ascents of Mounts Charlton, Warren, Sampson and Monkhead. In 1930, with Strumia and others, he made first ascents of Mounts Christie, Belanger; Andromeda and the unnamed peak (10,700 feet) at the head of Habel creek. In 1932 he and Strumia, with H. Fuhrer as guide, were in Tonquin valley and made the first ascent of Oubliette Mountain. In 1936 he paid his only visit to the Alps.

Before and after this, however, he and Strumia made several attempts on Mount Robson by various routes. In 1938 Strumia was unable to accompany him, but Hainsworth, with J.H. Carlson and H. Fuhrer, traversed this mountain from Berg Lake by the Helmet face, descending by the Kinney Lake route. Bill considered this his finest day. The same party also traversed Whitehorn Mountain.

In 1940 Hainsworth again went with me to Canada, on a packtrain trip from Camp Parker over Nigel pass to the Brazeau valley and Olympus creek, where Bill, solo, made the second ascent of Mount Olympus.

During World War II Hainsworth frequently came to Philadelphia, where, at the Bryn Mawr Hospital, his old friend, Dr. Strumia, had developed a method of preserving blood plasma, Bill supervising the refrigeration technique.

In 1951 Bill married Viola King and moved to Hacienda heights, California to raise figs and also be nearer his home state of Washington, where they had a summer cottage.

One remembers Bill as a charming companion, even-tempered and a strong and skilled mountaineer. He bore his tragic illness with fortitude and we who are left will always miss him. He is survived by his widow, an adopted stepson, Charles, of Pasadena, and three brothers and a sister, all of Seattle.


I first met Bill when we were both serving on the Club’s Council. He was my senior, not only in years but as a mature scientist; I was a graduate student. Also our climbing records were disparate, Bill having just come home from his great days on Mount Robson and his earlier seasons with Strumia and Thorington; I with a few seasons in the Alps. So I sat at his feet in awe until I realized that Bill didn't like being beatified. We then became fast friends even though our professional paths diverged to cross again only after World War II.

One day in late 1948 I was telling Bill of the St. Elias Mountains and of the happy formula I had found to combine a life of science with a hobby of mountaineering. These elements were, of course, the core of Bill’s career and the following spring he joined us on Project “Snow Cornice,” the Arctic Institute’s field program in high mountain geography on the Seward Glacier. He was magnificent as a companion and his background as a refrigeration engineer made him invaluable to a scientific team involved with glaciological studies. As a dividend to our program, we planned an attempt on Mount Vancouver, then the highest unclimbed peak on the continent at 15,840 feet. Bill proclaimed himself “too old for this sort of thing,” but when he found that Noel Odell, who had gone to 27,000 feet on Everest in 1924 and was Bill's senior by fifteen years, was to be a member of the climbing team, the myth evaporated, and the two “old men” shook hands with Bob McCarter and Alan Bruce-Robertson on the summit on July 5, 1949.

Bill was back again with us in 1951 and we made a number of climbs and journeys together, one a memorable trek across the vast expanse of the Seward Glacier to the foot of the south face of Mount Logan with John Case. Here we climbed a very minor summit which was dubbed “Old Gentlemen’s Pinnacle,” and we secretly prided ourselves on being the first to set foot on the south face, a dubious distinction indeed, since the summit of the great mountain soared nearly 13,000 feet above us!

Not long after that season, Bill and his wife, Viola, built a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, and to this haven they retreated more and more often. Although Bill did little serious climbing after the mid ’50s, his profound love of the mountain wilderness remained as live as ever. This he shared with Viola whom, as a widower, he had married in 1951 in time to spend their honeymoon with us in the St. Elias Mountains. Later, as signs of failing health set in, Viola was a tower of strength and devotion for him; and when his affliction was diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease, her energy, warmth and humor were the admiration of all his friends. Bill died on December 4, 1971. As Henry Hall wrote me on hearing of this, He was one of the very best of our older generation.” He was indeed. As younger generations of mountaineers become senior, may they be blessed with men as fine as Bill Hainsworth.


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