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An American Original...,
This review is from: The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer (Hardcover)
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"The Last of His Kind", by Dave Roberts, promises to be a good read. Its subject, Brad Washburn, was a precocious, highly successful American mountaineer who specialized in first ascents in the wilds of Alaska in the first half of the 20th Century, while pioneering aerial outdoor photography and while directing what became the Boston Museum of Science. The author is himself a highly competent and experienced mountaineer, and a practiced writer, who had a long friendship with Washburn.
Roberts' approach is chronological, walking the reader quickly up through Washburn's New England youth, his initial hiking experiences in New Hampshire's White Mountains, and his introduction as a teenager to mountaineering in the Alps, before plunging into a series of expeditions in the wilds of Alaska. An older Washburn enjoyed a long twilight as a senior mentor of the American mountaineering community.
Washburn, like his contemporary Eric Shipton, specialized in exploring blank spots on the map. For this reviewer, the best portions of the book are the hair-raising narratives of Washburn's traverses of the Wrangel-St. Elias, Chugach, and Alaska ranges, days to weeks away from outside assistance. Washburn's adventures on Mount McKinley (Denali to Alaska residents) are a highlight of this biography.
This book is less than fully satisfying as a biography. Roberts omits footnotes and, less forgivably, maps and pictures. The narrative has many breathless, sometimes gossipy anecdotes; Roberts cannot resist exploring sidetrails of mountaineering history that have little to do with Washburn's life. Oddly, Roberts seems reluctant to provide much insight into Washburn himself. For example, he wonders aloud why Washburn was never invited on any of the Himalayian expeditions of his day. A reader familiar with the climbing fraternity might guess that Washburn was incapable of working for anyone but himself; Roberts does not answer his own question.
"The Last of His Kind" is highly recommended to fans of mountaineering and of Alaska adventure; the average reader may find the narrative and the subject harder to appreciate.