Escape from Lucania: An Epic Story of Survival

Escape from Lucania: An Epic Story of Survival

by David Roberts

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In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America. Located deep within the Saint Elias mountain range, which straddles the border of Alaska and the Yukon, and surrounded by glacial peaks, Lucania was all but inaccessible. The leader of one failed expedition deemed it "impregnable." But in that year, a pair of daring young climbers would attempt a… See more details below


In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America. Located deep within the Saint Elias mountain range, which straddles the border of Alaska and the Yukon, and surrounded by glacial peaks, Lucania was all but inaccessible. The leader of one failed expedition deemed it "impregnable." But in that year, a pair of daring young climbers would attempt a first ascent, not knowing that their quest would turn into a perilous struggle for survival. Escape from Lucania is their remarkable story.

Classmates and fellow members of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, Brad Washburn and Bob Bates were two talented young men -- handsome, intelligent, and filled with a zest for exploring. Both were ambitious climbers, part of a small group whose first ascents in the great mountain ranges during the 1930s and 1940s changed the face of American mountaineering. Setting their sights on summitting Lucania in the summer of 1937, Washburn and Bates put together a team of four climbers for the expedition. But when Bates and Washburn flew to the Walsh Glacier at the foot of Lucania, they discovered that freakish weather conditions had turned the ice to slush. Their pilot was barely able to take off again alone, and there was no question of returning with the other two climbers or more supplies. Washburn and Bates found themselves marooned on the glacier, more than a hundred miles from help, in forbidding and desolate territory. Eschewing a trek out to the nearest mining town -- eighty miles away by air -- they decided to press ahead with their expedition.

Escape from Lucania recounts Washburn and Bates's determined drive toward Lucania's 17,150-foot summit under constant threat of avalanches, blinding snowstorms, and hidden crevasses. Against awesome odds they became the first to set foot on Lucania's peak, not realizing that their greatest challenge still lay beyond. Nearly a month after being stranded on the glacier and with their supplies running dangerously low, they would have to navigate their way out through uncharted Yukon territory, racing against time as the summer warmth caused rivers to swell and flood to unfordable depths. But even as their situation grew more and more desperate, they refused to give up.

Escape from Lucania tells this amazing story in thrilling and vivid detail, from the climbers' exultation at reaching the summit to their darkest moments confronting seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It is a tale of awesome adventure and harrowing danger. But above all it is the story of two men of extraordinary spirit, inspiring comradeship, and great courage.

Today Washburn and Bates, now in their nineties, are legends in climbing circles. Bates co-led 1938 and 1953 expeditions to K2, the world's second-highest mountain. Washburn, whose record of Alaskan first ascents is unmatched, became founding director of Boston's Museum of Science and is one of the premier mountain photographers in the world. Some of his remarkable images from the 1937 Lucania expedition are included in this book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This short but sweet look at the ascent two Harvard buddies made of Mt. Lucania in the Yukon Valley in 1937-at the time, the highest unclimbed North American peak at 17,150 feet-is a welcome respite from the high-tech, thrill-a-minute climbing tales that have descended like an avalanche. With their friendship cemented in the elite ranks of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, the brash Brad Washburn and the more reserved Bob Bates decide to explore their "passion" for Lucania, but are immediately faced with hardship when their pilot, who lands them at an unexpectedly slushy base of the mountain, is unable to return to pick them up. Roberts's narrative shows how the resourceful duo decided to climb the mountain and then head more than 100 miles on foot to the nearest town, dressed in clothing that "essentially consisted of layers of wool and cotton." In this day of high-tech expedition gear, it's good to know that Washburn's headgear was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police hat. Roberts (True Summit), a longtime chronicler of adventure and exploration, deftly details a time when "the American public remained almost completely ignorant of mountaineering." Roberts's book reveals the true story behind one of the earliest and most remarkable expeditions of the 20th century. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As adamantine as its protagonists, this chilling and exhilarating story of the travails on the ascent of the Yukon's Mount Lucania is ably retold by Roberts (Points Unknown, 2000, etc.). It was 1937 when Brad Washburn and Bob Bates made their bid to climb Mount Lucania, in back-of-beyond Canada, a peak then unscaled. The two young men were veterans of the Harvard Mountain Club (as is Roberts), which specialized in remote Canadian and Alaskan climbs, so they were no strangers to the area. But when it became clear that the plane they took into base camp would not be able to return with supplies and their two climbing mates-not to mention providing planned extrication-Washburn and Bates trusted their talents and resourcefulness, "not yet willing to abandon the expedition's original goal just to ensure an outcome so mundane as survival." It falls to Roberts, with his own experience on North American peaks, to tether Washburn and Bates's aw-shucks panache-the now nonagenarian men were interviewed at length for the book, and Washburn's diary liberally dipped into-to the reality of the adventure, and to give it dramatic curve. He captures both the personality of the climbers-one salty, the other serene, a combination that likely helped avoid the apoplexy of cabin fever-and the arduousness of their achievement. They managed to scale Lucania and another nearby peak, climbing in whiteout conditions in bitter cold, hauling loads back and forth until they were essentially forced to pioneer the light-and-fast technique, with one sleeping bag they shared, then making the horrendous walk out-dodging quicksand, scrabbling through the taiga's fiendish terrain, winding through ankle-spraining tussocks,crawling on their knees through alder thickets, then fording (and nearly drowning in) a glacial-melt river-with little food and less luck. A bold deed that's rattling and-given the character displayed by Washburn and Bates-exemplary. (Photographs)

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Simon & Schuster
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