One of the titans now walks in the clouds. Bradford Washburn, mountaineer, cartographer and pioneering aerial photographer whose work his friend Ansel Adams praised as "almost inevitable, perfectly composed", died this week at the age of 96. This portrait was taken by Tom Winship in 1940, after Washburn and his wife Barbara made the first ascent to the summit of Alaska's Mt. Bertha. Barbara (Polk) Washburn accompanied Brad on many expeditions, and in 1947 became the first woman to summit Denali. The Washburns were friends of my grandmother's and sent her a copy of this photograph on her 75th birthday. They were a true team, devoted partners, and share in many of the honors and achievements of their long lives together.
Brad Washburn's accomplishments are the stuff of legend. His exquisite black and white photographs span more than 50 years, many of which he spent hanging out of aircraft with his 53-pound Fairchild K-6 camera that took a 7 x 9 inch negative. He envisioned, built, and for 41 years was the head of Boston's Museum of Science, a place I credit with instilling in me as a child a lifelong fascination with natural history. He interviewed to be Amelia Earhart's navigator on her ill-fated flight over the Pacific but they disagreed over his recommendation to place a radio beacon on Howland Island and he was not selected. He made some of the best maps of many of the world's remote alpine regions ever drafted, and age 89, "he was part of a US team that used hikers and Global Positioning Satellites to determine Everest's height."
Ansel Adams said of Brad, only partly in jest: “I fully expect to hear someday that Bradford Washburn has visited the moon, climbed Copernicus, and photographed the lunar Apennines from a private, orbiting module." I like imagining him that way, but it would not be a solo flight. He'll want Barbara as his co-pilot.