Alpinist 22 - Featuring Washburn's Camera

Our friends at Alpinist magazine have done a fine job of highlighting one of the exquisite artifacts of our collection. Appropriately, it is one of Bradford Washburn's early cameras. Click on the photo below to read the article, or find Alpinist #22 and flip to page 15. Enjoy.


The Schoening Axe

The famed Schoening Ice Axe. Courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society

Fred Poyner, of the Washington State Historical Society, inspects the axe after removing it from the shipping crate.

Next, Museum Director Niña Johnson has a look.

The installation team from Quatrefoil positions the axe within its secure case, as the director looks on.

The position is marked and the axe is ready to be installed.

On December 5, 2007, the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum took delivery of one of the most historic artifacts in the world of mountaineering – the Schoening ice axe. The axe was used to save the lives of five men, and has come to represent the pinnacle of mountaineering ethics. The axe will be on loan from the Washington State Historical Society.

The year 1953 was a great one for mountaineering. By its end, the summit of Mt. Everest was achieved after so many previous failures. Austrian Hermann Buhl climbed alone to the summit of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan to become the first person ever to complete a solo first ascent of an 8000 meter peak. On K2, the world’s second highest mountain, however, a saga unfolded that has forever remained etched in the annals of mountaineering. It was not to be a successful expedition—the summit would remain unclimbed until the following year. But the tenacity and strength displayed by the members of the expedition team remain legendary.

A storm on the Abruzzi Ridge—25,000 feet up on the slopes of K2—sent climbers led by Charles Houston, a doctor from Seattle, scrambling to save the life of a fellow mountaineer. Climbing alpine style without the aid of oxygen, team member Art Gilkey’s legs were filling with blood clots. With no other option than to get Gilkey to a lower elevation as fast as possible, the team began to maneuver him down the precariously steep and icy slope in the middle of a vicious storm, in his sleeping bag. That is until George Bell lost his footing and, in the ensuing entanglement of ropes and climbers, five men started plunging towards their deaths off the face of the mountain.

The youngest and strongest man on this expedition team, however, would keep this expedition from being remembered solely for its tragedies. Moments after Gilkey, still in his sleeping bag, and the other five men began sliding to their deaths, a chemist from Seattle, Pete Schoening, instinctually jammed his ice axe behind a boulder— an impromptu rope belay, with the rope wrapped around his hip and the wooden shaft of the axe—and instantaneously arrested five men from hurtling to their deaths.

Unfortunately, Gilkey would later be swept into the void by an avalanche. Still, Schoening’s simple yet life-altering act has since defined the expedition: “The Belay” is now recognized as one of the most heroic acts in all of mountaineering history.

The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum is now the home of this iconic piece of equipment and the story of Pete Schoening and his exemplary behavior in the thin air of the Karakoram Range.

The five lives that dangled from Schoening’s ice axe so far away in Pakistan have since blossomed into what has been described, by the daughter of a dangling expedition member, as “Children of the Belay.” Karen Molenaar Terrell, daughter of team member Dee Molenaar, was able to bring the children, grandchildren, and other relatives of those dangling souls together for a reunion—the photograph tells you there are more than 30 people alive today because of “The Belay”—because of Pete Schoening.

Schoening was not just a heroic mountaineer, however. He was a pioneering one as well. He led the first ascents of Mount Augusta and the East Ridge of King Peak in the Yukon in 1952. Along with Andy Kaufmann, he summited Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak) in 1958, thus completing the only American first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak. In 1966, he made the first ascent of Antarctica’s highest summit, Vinson Massif.

But it was that day in August of 1953 that has become the classic mountaineering tale and a symbol for many of alpine ethics at its best: friendship between climbing partners had prevailed above all other considerations. As was later recounted in the book K2: The Savage Mountain, it was upon the cold, precipitous slopes of one of the world's wildest mountains, with hypoxia-challenged minds their only aid for survival, that these mountaineers felt as though they had reached "the core of life itself."


The new adventure shop of the museum, Base Camp, has officially opened. Our opening weekend was a great success. Read more about the store in this Rocky Mountain News story.

The store hours will be Tuesday-Thursday, 3-7 and Friday & Saturday 12-5, until the museum officially opens to the public on February 16, 2008, when its hours will be revised.

Please stop by and check it out. The store, located within the American Mountaineering Center, features exciting items from the museum and the world of mountaineering that can be found few other places in the country. Featuring official products from the partnering organizations of The Colorado Mountain Club, American Alpine Club, and National Geographic Society, including:

  • National Geographic Society items, including topographic maps
  • Photography prints from the museum exhibit
  • CMC Press books
  • Gift items such as calenders, note cards, and jewelry
  • Unique holiday items including stocking stuffers
  • Mountain art
  • Books from culture to Colorado, from mountaineering to the world's mountains


To Build a Museum

The day has finally come. We say that a lot around here. But this time, it means that the museum is really being installed. The pieces have arrived from the East Coast, along with the crew to assemble it. And up it goes. Here are a few photos of the first stages of installation.

To Build a Crevasse: Part 2

A few more photos of the crevasse for you to enjoy. The process continues...


To Build a Crevasse

Frank Ayala and the others from Monolithic Sculpture, Inc. have really outdone themselves this time. The crevasse they were hired to make has been a much anticipated part of the construction of the museum, and it is finally under way. Not only that, it is a work of art, and a time consuming one at that. The same construction method was used for the crevasse as was earlier employed for the creation of the faux rock formations. This time, however, it was the shape and space that the styrofoam and concrete structure had to fit into that made it such a compelling piece to watch take form.

Here are some of the more intriguing photos from the process. Soon, we'll be able to show you the final piece. Then comes the installation of exhibits, as Quatrefoil has already begun to pack up the prefabricated pieces in its workshops in Maryland and drive them to Golden. The transformation from construction zone to museum hall will be fast, and amazing.


Two Grand Openings Announced

The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum has announced that it will open its doors to the public for its Grand Opening on February 16, 2008. Before then, however, the museum will open its new gift store, Base Camp, on November 23, 2007. The store, located within the American Mountaineering Center, will feature exciting items from the museum and the world of mountaineering that can be found few other places in the country. Featuring official products from the partnering organizations of The Colorado Mountain Club, American Alpine Club, and National Geographic Society, including:

  • National Geographic Society items, including topographic maps
  • Photography prints from the museum exhibit
  • CMC Press books
  • Gift items such as calenders, note cards, and jewelry
  • Unique holiday items including stocking stuffers
  • Mountain art
  • Books from culture to Colorado, from mountaineering to the world's mountains
Today, we unveiled a new banner that hangs from the outside of the American Mountaineering Center. Phil Powers, Executive Director of the AAC, and Doug Skiba, Development Director of the CMC, rappelled down the face of the building to help unfurl the banner. Have a look...


We've Got Stairs!

If there's any indication that the museum is getting closer to opening, it just may be the completion of the grand staircase. When the museum opens, it will take visitors from the mezzanine to the level of the museum. Sweeping down to the center of the exhibit, visitors will then be able to choose what to see and experience first. The ornamentation of the staircase mimics that of the existing staircases throughout the American Mountaineering Center.

The images below take you through the transformation -- from piles of steel to finished staircase.

Before the staircase was pieced together, it had to be worked into the museum space on a boom, guided by hand.


Mike David Event

What: "Spirit of Adventure"
Where: Univ. of Denver's Newman Center for the Performing Arts
When: 7:45, Friday, October 5, 2007

Acclaimed photographer Mike David will host his "Spirit of Adventure" event on Friday, October 5, 2007, as a benefit for the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum. The museum is a joint venture of the Colorado Mountain Club, American Alpine Club, and National Geographic Society.

The event will begin its 11th season on Friday evening at 7:45 pm. The night will also be used to announce the date when the museum will open to the public, as well as the dates of special grand opening events.

During this spectacular large screen presentation you will see 450 of David's award winning images from around the world. The images from each country are accompanied live on stage by the best world musicians who perform the music and song of the cultures.

Ticket prices are $48 for the orchestra section at the Newman Center, and can be purchased at www.cmc.org.

To purchase tickets in other sections of the Newman Center, please contact Mike David Photography at (303)618-0646 or mdavidone@comcast.net.


The Final Review

Quatrefoil, the designer of our museum, has delivered the final graphic plans to us at the BWAMM, and it's now our turn to review them for approval. They patiently await our comments, and our signatures.

Thanks to Donald Tallman and our friends at the Colorado Railroad Museum we were able to focus for our initial review amongst the rich woodwork of the "96 Car." The rail car was formerly a turn-of-the-century businessman's car, complete with dining room (seen here), kitchen, meeting rooms, and bedrooms.

Museum Director Niña Johnson and Development Coordinator Kathy Dremann are seen here working hard. Note the large bag of chocolate.

The review continues...


Slow, But Faster Than Nature

The process of turning Styrofoam blocks into faux rocks has been a long one. Still, it is faster than waiting for nature.

Behind giant curtains of plastic, the artists from Monolithic have been spraying concrete, carving, and sand-blasting to create granite formations with great detail. Soon enough, the process will be completed with some paint, faux ice, and other final touches. Then, the curtain will be raised on one of the most exciting attributes of the mountain environment of the museum.


Bradford Washburn: The Legacy Lives On

Bradford Washburn defined what it was to be a pioneer. From his early years of climbing, to his passion for photography, to his lifelong pursuits of cartography and the advancement of science, he epitomized what it was to humbly lead and educate. We honor his legacy and accomplishments here at the American Mountaineering Museum, and hope to carry on his pioneering spirit.

His travels to Alaska are what defined him. For over 60 years he visited the last frontiers of the state, climbing Denali multiple times, photographing its ramparts from every angle. He and his wife, Barbara, were always by each other's side.

This shortened video clip gives you more detail into the life of this man, his passions, and, perhaps, into the reasons why we chose his name to grace the title of our museum.


More Fab Pics!

Construction of the museum continues to move along steadily here in Golden. Meanwhile, at the design studios of Quatrefoil in Maryland, pieces of the museum are being fabricated. Here are some more photos of the fabrication process of the reader rails.


Moving Mountains

As you may know, we will prominently feature a very large model of Mt. Everest in the new museum. Fourteen feet square, the model was crafted using aerial images and maps created by a team under Bradford Washburn.

You may have seen the model in the past, as it was on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science some years ago. Since that time, it has been in the care of the American Alpine Club. Today, we handed the model over to Condit, a three-dimensional marketing specialist that will help us to restore the model in preparation for its installation in the museum.

The four sections of the model were in storage and needed to be brought to Condit's studios in Denver. Today, we literally moved mountains.


Faux Rocks!

The men from Monolithic have arrived bearing rocks. Experts in the field of artificial rock sculpting, we have contracted them to create granite spires within the museum, on which we will have historic and modern climbing mannequins.

Their process is quite interesting (following the photographs): (1) A scale model (12" tall) is created at their studios in Boulder, and then a full scale model is cut to mimic that design. (2) Much like puzzle pieces, the rocks are reassembled on site. No, they are not that heavy, but they serve as a great core material over which to spray concrete, which can then be further sculpted to mimic the rock of choice. (3) Two spires are being built, one of which is much taller and will represent a mixed face of rock and ice. This is where visitors will see the modern climber ascending. (4) The joints are filled with special foam in preparation for the spraying of concrete. That will happen in a month's time.

Meanwhile, we anxiously await the modeling and installation of the crevasse.


International Attention

As the construction of the museum gears up, so too does our marketing campaign. Many thanks go to Tamotsu Nakamura, Editor of the Japanese Alpine News, for getting us a mention in Volume 8 (May 2007) of that acclaimed journal. Be on the lookout for other articles and essays in your favorite climbing magazines and journals in the coming months.


Construction, Day 52: The Mezzanine

The real building has begun.

The mezzanine, which will eventually serve as the entrance to the museum, as well as the visitors' first experience of the mountain-like environment, has begun to take shape.

The structure was welded together and the concrete slab was poured last week. Next steps include building the arching staircase that will take visitors over the crevasse feature of the entrance, and down to the level of the museum, into the self-selecting gallery. This format allows visitors to go anywhere they please, at their own pace.

Keep watch for more photos of that phase of construction as they are sure to be exciting.


New Artifacts

Artifacts keep coming to us here at the museum. Some of the details have yet to be worked out on major acquisitions, but no less important are the treasures that people come across when they're cleaning out their garage.

This 10th Mountain Division tent came to us recently, and so we set it up outside of the AMC to give it some fresh air. The label reads "Dickey Mfg. 1943."

We'll keep you posted with more news on acquisitions as they become final. And keep checking back with us here as images of the construction of the mezzanine are soon to appear.

And if you uncover any treasures in your garage, be sure to let us know. Contact information is available to the right.


Construction, Day 36 : Fireworks

We've been anxiously awaiting this day for quite a while here at the BWAMM. The beam--the really big beam that seems to be holding up part of the ceiling, and the floor of the auditorium above--has begun to come down, in pieces.

The previous post illustrates the work that went into crafting a new steel structure meant to take the place of this old, riveted beam. But at 150 pounds a linear foot, we knew the removal of this big beam would serve as a distraction for days. And distract it did. From the cascading sparks of the oxyacetylene torches, to the wobbling scaffolding that shivered under the weight of these hefty pieces of metal, the past two days have been entertaining to say the least.

But what a view we will have once it is finally gone and the mezzanine is put into place.

Check out these images and let us know how we're doing. Comments are always welcome. Just click the link below.