Featuring original and previously unpublished research, this Unabridged version of Episode 7 reveals the untold story of H. Adams Carter, the Harvard Five, and their groundbreaking efforts to make the 10th Mountain Division the best-trained, best-fed, best-equipped mountain unit in the world.

The Harvard Five—Carter, Bob Bates, Terry Moore, Charlie Houston and Bradford Washburn—were pioneers of American mountaineering during the 1930s. When World War II erupted, they harnessed their extensive expertise on the mountain troops’s behalf. The hub of their efforts was Carter’s intelligence work, which established the cornerstone of American mountain warfare doctrine.

Despite their pivotal roles in the 10th’s development, their contributions have remained hidden from the public eye—until now. Join us as we uncover the forgotten saga of these trailblazers and their profound impact on the foundations of American mountain warfare.

Episode 7: Mountain Intelligence

Welcome back to Ninety-Pound Rucksack. I’m your host, Christian Beckwith, and I’m so glad you’re joining me here today, because we’re about to explore a subject that is both deeply personal and almost completely absent from the 10th Mountain Division’s history. 

My goal with this podcast is to share the stories that made the unit famous, but I also want to dive into the stories that have never been told as well. Today’s episode is one of those. Recounting it requires that we take temporary leave of our hero, John McCown, because this story takes place at the division’s margins rather than at its heart; but it is, nevertheless, as important to our tale as it was critical to the unit’s success. 

Our show today is made possible by our partners, The 10th Mountain Division Foundation, the Denver Public Library, The American Alpine Club and the 10th Mountain Division Descendants, as well as by our sponsors, CiloGear and the 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company. I gotta say, I love having sponsors I can personally endorse, and I love it even more when they’re complimentary. And if you love mountains, and getting into the mountains, and celebrating the mountains once you’re safe and sound back home, there’s no finer one-two punch than today’s sponsors.

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So here’s my recommendation: grab a great pack from Cilogear, have a great day in the hills, and polish it off with a glass of your favorite spirit from 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company. Even better, go to their website, www.10thWhiskey.com, and use the discount code Rucksack to get 10% off your order. Purchases over $150 get complimentary shipping.

Please drink responsibly. Must be of legal drinking age to consume alcoholic beverages or purchase them. 

Ninety-Pound Rucksack is also made possible by our community of patrons, whose support allows us to continue doing all the research that goes into the show. If you’d like to hear exclusive interviews and get behind-the-scenes content that complements everything you’ll hear here today, please go to christianbeckwith.com and click the bright orange Patreon button. While you’re there, sign up for the newsletter so you never miss an update. And if you enjoy today’s show, please remember to give it five stars on your podcast app, leave a review and tell your friends about it so we can continue to keep it all going. 

And now, let’s get this party started.


An essential part of the 10th Mountain Division’s development was its training. To date, we’ve explored the topic from the perspective of its in-the-field component, including the exploratory ski patrols of the winter of 1940-1941 and the one-year period, from November 1941 until November 1942, when the 87th Infantry Mountain Regiment trained at Ft. Lewis and on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. We’ve also made slight detours to cover the Manual of Ski Mountaineering and the Handbook of American Mountaineering, two instructional manuals that captured, for the first time, the country’s institutional knowledge on the subjects and the publication of which was expedited to help the Army teach its troops to climb and ski.

But there was another facet of training that we’ve yet to discuss, and it was equally important to the 10th’s success. As Major John Jay wrote in his history of the Division, “One of the many handicaps to the training of mountain troops was from the very start the almost complete lack of training literature on the subject.” 

At the war’s onset, the War Department’s 1941 Basic Field Manual: Operations in Snow and Extreme Cold contained the military’s best available knowledge on the topic. Nuggets of wisdom included insulation (“Dried grass stuffed loosely into the shoe outside of the socks … makes a splendid insulating material”), rations (“[M]en can live indefinitely without ill effects upon a diet composed entirely of fresh meat. About 1/3 pounds of lean meat and l/2 pounds of fat per man per day will suffice. This must be served rare.”) and first aid in cold conditions (“In stopping the flow of blood, care must be taken not to apply pressure for too long a period, otherwise freezing will result”). Outside of that, wrote Jay, “the shelf of military manuals was practically bare of anything dealing with mountain warfare. Bare also were the files of training films, film strips, film bulletins, and training aids in general.” 

If you were the US Army in 1939 and you wanted to start your very first unit of mountain troops out of thin air, it would be helpful to study the military mountaineering experiences of other countries. European nations, as we’ve discussed, had been conducting warfare in the mountains for generations—and they’d been taking notes. Even better, those notes, in the form of books and reports and papers and articles and training films, existed in both public and private libraries throughout America. Problematically, they had never been collected into one place, and the notes on the troops that mattered most—in particular the German and Austrian Gebirgsjäger, the French Chasseurs Alpins and the Italian Alpini—had never been translated into English. 

The solution, in hindsight, was obvious: find someone to collect the material, consolidate it into a bibliography, sort it by topic, and then translate the lot of it, highlighting the parts that were relevant to American considerations.

Such an effort, of course, would be a PhD-level undertaking, one that would require years to complete. It would also require someone fluent in numerous foreign languages as well as the nuances of cold-weather maneuvers and military and civilian mountaineering alike. But with Hitler’s nightmarish advances across Europe accelerating, America didn’t have many options: it needed to find the right person for the job and get them started ASAP—by which I mean yesterday.

The 10th Mountain Division’s success was made possible by numerous people. We’ve profiled many of them already: the Army’s Chief of Staff, General George C Marshall, who, in early 1940, directed Lieutenant Colonels Nelson Walker and Charles Hurdis to help start the mountain troops; General Henry Twaddle, the unit’s greatest proponent within the War Department itself; and Colonel Onslow Rolfe, who oversaw the test force at Ft. Lewis that became the Division’s foundation. 

We’ve talked about civilian skiers such as the National Ski Patrol System’s Minnie Dole whose lobbying efforts helped spark the Division’s inception; and the American Alpine Club’s climbers, including Walter Wood Jr. and Henry Hall, whose assistance would become instrumental to the unit’s ability to live and fight in the mountains.

Today, I want to do a deeper dive into the contributions of H. Adams Carter and Bob Bates, two young climbers we’ve come to know in past episodes. Though neither served with the Divison, their work on its behalf was critical to its success. 

Hubert Adams Carter, the godfather of American mountain intelligence.

I knew Bob Bates. I never met H. Adams Carter, whom I’ll always think of him not as Carter but as Ad. And because my personal connection to him is also my bias in this story, this episode will focus on him. And rather than start with the formative experiences that made him the right man for the job in question, I want to start with his end, which is when my relationship with him began.

Robert Hicks Bates was one of the country’s earliest proponents of an American mountain unit. When the war started, he became a key member of the Office of the Quartermaster General, where he worked on the development of equipment and clothing for the 10th Mountain Division.

Hubert Adams Carter passed away on April 1, 1995. He’d been eating a sandwich when an aneurism dropped him at the dining room table before his startled wife, Ann. The couple had been married for more than half a century, and Ann, ever the practical New Englander, called the American Alpine Club that afternoon to assure them that the final files for that year’s volume of The American Alpine Journal had been sent to the printer’s the week before. 

The AAJ was the Club’s crown jewel: a six-inch by nine-inch, three- to four-hundred page brick of a book that had collected the world’s significant ascents between its covers since 1929.

It had commenced publication under the editorial direction of Allen Carpe, an accomplished veteran of Canadian and Alaskan expeditions who also served, at the time, as the Club’s Chair. Over the next thirty years, the Journal would go on to be edited by a who’s-who of American mountaineering, many of whom would go on to play important roles in the 10th’s development—but not Carpe. He would perish, rather famously, in a crevasse fall on Mt. McKinley, as Denali was then called, in 1932.

Allen Carpe (1894-1932), one of the pioneers of American mountaineering, was responsible for numerous exploratory climbs in Alaska and Canada. He was also the AAJ’s first editor, launching it in 1929, when he served as the American Alpine Club’s Chair. He and partner Theodore Koven perished in a tragic crevasse fall on Mt. McKinley as part of the “Cosmic Ray” Expedition.
An illustration of the crevasse fall that claimed Carpe and Koven from the 1933 AAJ.

Ad was teaching at Milton Academy when he became Assistant Editor in 1954. In 1959, he took over the full suite of editorial duties. To this point, the Journal had primarily covered the exploits of American climbers. Over the course of the next three and a half decades, always as a volunteer and while working full time at Milton, Ad expanded the coverage to include important routes done by climbers from every country. A global network of mountaineers would alert him whenever someone climbed anything of note, and he’d send them a typewritten letter, politely requesting a brief report on the climb for the next volume. As Bates would later recall, Ad “probably knew or communicated with more climbers than anyone on any continent, sometimes writing as many as 40 letters a day to get accurate information…. His encyclopedic knowledge of mountains and mountaineering was extraordinary.”

Carter described his experiences as the AAJ’s editor in the 1994 Himalayan Journal. It was one of the few times he spoke publicly about his 35-year editorship.

“My climbing in most of the great ranges of the world… has been an enormous help,” Ad would later admit. So did his facility with foreign languages. “Writing to climbers in English, German, French and Spanish assists in getting replies. I even write letters in Italian, which I have never studied, and get answers to the questions I have asked.” 

The results captured climbing’s zeitgeist. It also made the AAJ the world’s “journal of record.” And now, with Ad’s passing, its editor, the greatest living authority on mountaineering, was gone. When Bates wrote, in Ad’s obituary, that the high quality of his journals might “never again be equaled,” he was channeling the Club’s anxiety.

Ad’s lifelong friend Charlie Houston described him as “an atlas of mountain information who could answer most climbers’ questions from memory,” but his success with the Journal hinged on something equally important: relationships. Bates, who recalled Ad as being “always enthusiastic and cheerful,” and “always good-natured,” noted that people were his “major interest all his life…. His enjoyment of [them] was contagious and reciprocated…. I never heard him say he had met someone he didn’t like.”  

Replacing Ad was thus a tall order. His bonafides as a climber were beyond dispute. He was a veteran of expeditions to exotic ranges and high altitudes in places that some found hard to pronounce. He had traveled the world many times over, made friends wherever he went and moved between countries the way most people moved between rooms in their own home. His language skills allowed him to solicit reports from climbers around the world, and his mastery of English allowed him to arrange the results into elegant coherence on the printed page. More than just an editor, the Club needed a paragon of mountaineering fluent in the world’s cultures and tongues who could build relationships, design the Journal, choose its photographs, position them for maximum impact, and shepherd the final files to the printer’s in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. 

In short, what they needed was another Ad.

Instead, they got me: a 28-year-old Wyoming transplant whose mountaineering resume included three seasons in the Tetons and whose editorial experience consisted of five issues of an irreverent climbing ‘zine, published erratically on newsprint and handed out to climbers in parking lots for free. I’d grown up on a farm in rural, redneck mid-coast Maine, gone to public schools, knew almost nothing about the world’s mountains and had burned through twenty-five jobs in the preceding twelve months so I could keep my magazine going. Also, unlike Ad, I’d never been described as a people-person.

Portrait of the editor as a young man–in this case, in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, two years after I’d taken over as editor of the AAJ.

I had, however, gotten to know climbing pioneer Yvon Chouinard, who has a house here in Jackson’s Hole. I’d left a copy of my magazine on his porch, and he’d thrown my name into the AAJ’s editorial hat. Apparently, that did the trick. The Club, hedging its bets, offered me $12,000 to edit the 1996 volume, and assigned Jed Williamson, editor of the Journal’s sister publication, Accidents in North American Mountaineering, to ensure I didn’t muck it up. 

My first magazine, The Mountain Yodel, led to the position of Editor of the AAJ. In 2001, I started Alpinist Magazine, a coffee-table quarterly that expanded the celebration of the climbs and climbers I’d come to know while editing the AAJ.

For the Club, it was a test run. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the most money I’d ever been offered. 

A head-on collision with an elk had shattered the windshield of my $800 sedan. In January 1996, I loaded it with everything I owned and, peering out of the only rectangle of glass not held together by duct tape, drove to Golden, Colorado, where the Club was renovating an old high school into its new headquarters. When I arrived, disheveled, a skeptical employee looked me up and down  and showed me to my office, a windowless boy’s JV locker room in the basement that reeked of urine and old socks. That night, I settled into my sleeping bag among the demolished cinder blocks of the second floor. It would be my bedroom for the next two weeks.

Ad had managed his “voluminous global correspondence on an old manual typewriter.” About the only thing I had going for me was the internet. By the mid-nineties, its use had exploded, and people around the world were beginning to communicate with email. With Jed’s guidance and the help of Ad’s friends like Bob, not to mention a lot of cut-copy-paste, I began to reach out in search of the climbs and expeditions that would comprise the heart of the book. 

Day after day, week after week, as winter turned to spring and spring bled into summer, I stared at the dark blue screen of my computer, sending emails, receiving responses, then assembling them into what I hoped would not be a disaster under the hum of the locker room’s fluorescent lights. I finished in August. It had taken me nearly nine months of nonstop work to complete my first volume. Ad had edited 35 volumes as an unpaid side hustle. How, I wondered, had he done it?

And what, you may well be thinking, does any of this have to do with the 10th Mountain Division? 

Before I began this podcast, I had a cursory understanding of Ad’s personal and professional history. I also knew a little bit about his involvement with the 10th. Now I know far more about both. And because they’re connected, and because they had a profound impact on the Division and its ability to operate in cold weather and mountainous terrain, I’m going to share what I know with you.

Ad was born lucky. The Carter family tree stretched back to the Mayflower, and by the time Ad arrived, in 1914, his father had guided the family business, Carter, Rice and Company, out of the ashes of The Great Boston Fire of 1872  to prosperity. The family was also outdoorsy: his father had learned to climb in Switzerland, and his mother had lived in Germany in her youth, where she’d caught the climbing bug. They had a second home in Jefferson, New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains, and Ad started climbing almost as soon as he could walk. Courtesy of a German governess and parents who spoke German at home, he grew up bilingual.

We don’t choose our opening hand of cards, but we do have a degree of latitude over how we play them, and Ad played his enthusiastically well. An extrovert with a near photographic memory, he was also insatiably curious, and to an affable lad of means, the world beyond New England was both vast and beckoning. In 1929, at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the family spent the summer in Switzerland, where Ad’s love of climbing and traveling took off. In the company of guides, the fifteen-year-old made ascents of famous Alpine peaks like the Matterhorn, the Jungfrau, and the Monch, visiting Germany and France between climbs.  

Ad resumed his studies at Milton Academy in the autumn. Shortly thereafter, the stock market crashed, but Boston still needed paper, and the Carter family weathered the fallout in relative comfort. He returned to Switzerland two years later, spending the summer with one of the country’s foremost guiding families, the Ogis. Under the supervision of the patriarch, Hermann, and in the company of his son, Killian, Ad climbed more than half a dozen significant routes. Three of them were first ascents. 

Back at Milton, he began ski racing. Rope tows had yet to arrive in America, and to ski a slope, one first had to climb up it. It was a perfect fit. For the next ten years, as Hannes Schneider’s Arlberg Technique began to displace the Nordic traditions of ski jumping and cross country skiing, and then, later, as the ski trains and the mechanized lifts caused the popularity of the sport to explode, Ad could be found racing down mountains in winter and climbing them all year round. By the time he began his studies at Harvard in the fall of 1932, he’d become proficient at both. He’d also complemented his German skills with a growing familiarity with French, played violin and football, and rowed crew and horses. While the physical activities began to fill out his frame—he would grow to  5’11” and 185 pounds at his peak—the intellectual pursuits satisfied his curiosity. 

A biographical outline from Carter’s files in the Denver Public Library, which holds the archives of the 10th Mountain Division. His pace as a youth was unrelenting.

Given Ad’s mutual love of mountains and people, it was natural that he would be drawn to The Harvard Mountaineering Club.

The HMC had been founded eight years earlier by Henry Hall, the pioneering climber and American Alpine Club official we’ve met in previous episodes. 

Hall’s early climbing had gained its definition amidst the wild reaches of the Canadian Rockies. 

But there is another stretch of peaks even wilder and more remote that would come to capture his imagination. 

And due to the sway he held over the members of the HMC, it would eventually become the object of their fascination as well. 

The northwestern periphery of the North American landmass is defined by a range of heavily glaciated, snow-covered mountains that arc up the Pacific coast like the wisps of high-cirrus clouds heralding an imminent storm. The northern-most wisp contains the Alaska Range and its monarch, Denali, the highest peak in North America. The largest concentration of white centers around the nearly perpendicular jog of the Alaskan/Yukon border. Its fulcrum is Mt. St. Elias, a massive pyramidal mountain that rises from the Gulf of Alaska to its 18,000-foot summit in less than a dozen miles. Fifty miles inland lies Mt. Logan, a hulking, sprawling behemoth of a massif so large that the AAJ’s first editor, Allen Carpe, called it “a respectable mountain range in its own right, with peaks thousands of feet high, perpetually closed in solid ice, all at elevations of from 17,000 to nearly 20,000 feet above the sea.” In between these two peaks, and to their north and west and south and east, lie half a dozen sub ranges and hundreds upon hundreds of other mountains, all of them locked in the icy embrace of the world’s largest glaciers.  

Screenshot, from Google Earth, showing the Pacific Coast Mountains.

The peaks at the ocean’s edge, which exist in a maritime climate, are subject to the intense fury of the humid storms that roll in from the Pacific. The deeper one goes inland, the colder it gets: the median annual temperature of the Mt. Logan massif is -17 below zero. In winter, it’s -49. These extremes would come to serve as a crucible for Ad and his peers. And when war broke out, they would serve as the laboratory for the food, gear and clothing these same climbers developed on behalf of the mountain troops.

Close-up of the St. Elias and Fairweather ranges, showing Mt. St. Elias, Mt. Logan, Mt. Fairweather and Mt. Crillon. Courtesy Google Earth

In 1925, Hall, who was then thirty, participated in Logan’s first ascent alongside Allen Carpe and six other teammates. The mountain lay in a place so wild and remote even the smallest mistakes could end in disaster, and it is remarkable that their expedition, which lasted 65 days, suffered only from hunger, exhaustion, altitude sickness and frostbite. While Hall and another climber turned back at 18,700 feet, Carpe and the rest of the team slogged on for another ten days before reaching the summit, which is barely a thousand feet higher. It would be thirty-two years before the mountain was climbed a second time.

The Mt. Logan massif, showing the route of the 1925 first ascent.

Following his Logan ordeal, Hall’s imagination turned to the Coast Range, a largely unexplored area some five hundred miles to the south. These mountains, the southernmost wisp of those high cirrus clouds, were surrounded by glaciers as well, but they were less vast and the summits were pointier, with superior rock and much more of it to climb. They became Hall’s obsession. He mounted eight expeditions to the range in the 1930s, approaching from the ocean and interior alike as he ventured ever deeper into its midst.

Photo of Mt. Gedde from the Scimitar Glacier in British Columbia’s Coast Range, from Hall’s 1932 expedition. Hall would mount eight expeditions to the range in the 1930s. In 1941, he would share insights from his reconnaissances with John McCown and Ed McNeill, who would follow his 1932 itinerary (without horses) to a point atop the cascading glacier at Geddes’ base.

By the time Ad arrived at Harvard, Hall and his wife had formed a salon of sorts, albeit one of an Alpine nature. 

“The Hall residence in Cambridge was always open to visiting alpinists, from all over the world,” recalled Bill Putnam, a 10th Mountain Division veteran and member of both the HMC and the AAC. The couple received with gentle graciousness their guests, who, as Putnam put it, “planned expeditions while sitting around [their] living room floor, studied the records and maps in [Hall’s] enormous library, and picked his brains on approaches, sources of supply, people to look up and the myriad trivia of getting set to go into new country.”

The young climbers of the HMC were in frequent attendance. Terry Moore, six years Ad’s senior, was pursuing his post-doctoral studies at the Harvard School of Business Administration. The summer before, with William Ladd and Allan Carpe, Hall’s teammate on the Logan expedition, Moore had made the first ascent of Mt Fairweather, a 15,000-foot peak some 150 miles to the southeast of Mt. St. Elias that rears up with alluring, thunderous mystery from the water’s edge. The namesake of the Fairweather Range, the mountain crowns a glaciated tangle of snow-covered peaks that preside over the Gulf of Alaska, and though its altitude is relatively modest, its vertical rise from sea to summit makes it one of the largest coastal mountains in the world.

Terrence Moore, one of the “Harvard Five,” helped push the standards of American mountaineering in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Their ascent, which took two months, illustrates the ways these mountains shaped the climbers’ perspectives. 

They began on April 18 by shuttling enormous loads along the beach. Six weeks later, they established base camp some 20 miles up the Fairweather Glacier. It had rained or snowed for 18 days in a row in May alone. When they weren’t in the midst of a storm, they were enveloped by what Ladd called “[g]reat banks of fog [that] continually drift[ed] in toward the coast from the ocean…. These move up the glaciers, often making glacier travel difficult unless markers are used….”

The weather forced the team to contend with the navigation of technical terrain in adverse conditions. It also made them “plan the food supply”—which included, among other items, 12 small cans of chicken, 4 cans of sardines, 3 lbs. Cheese, 24 slices of bacon, 1 lb. dried milk, 1 lb. butter and 1 lb. dried potatoes—“so that at any [point] during a climb [we could] reach food and shelter and hole up for a week at a time.” 

Dressing for such conditions presented its own set of challenges. “Windproof and waterproof parkas seemed essential,” Ladd wrote. Fur was out, as it would wet, mat, and freeze. Instead, he continued, “We wore woolen underwear for the high climbing, with windproof, light canvas trousers and heavy woolen shirts. We wore no vest or jacket, but relied for extra warmth on an extra wool shirt and the parka.”

Mt. Fairweather (high summit on left) as seen from Lituya Bay. The ascent was made via the southeast shoulder, which takes the sun-shadow line on looker’s left.

The most difficult problem was that of footwear. Typically, climbers of the day wore leather shoes with short, thick-headed nails driven into the soles for traction. In the coastal mountains, such shoes were useless. “Hobnailed shoes had proved to wet through and chill quickly no matter what efforts were taken to make them waterproof,” Ladd recalled. “We therefore wore only regulation shoe packs, the lower part, as far as the instep, of rubber, the uppers of leather. These shoe packs were of large size, allowing room for two felt insoles and at least two pairs of heavy, woolen socks.”

To surmount rock bands, they carried extra pairs of hobnailed boots or felt-soled climbing shoes. To combat the condensation generated by the rubber soles of the shoe packs, they brought extra pairs of felt insoles that they could swap out whenever one pair became saturated by moisture. It all added up to enormous loads. And when, a decade later, Moore became part of the team charged with outfitting the 10th, all of these considerations—the rations necessary for a two-month, self-supported expedition, the clothing that kept the climbers warm and the footwear that kept them dry—would inform his work. 

Bob Bates, a junior, and Bradford Washburn, a senior, were members of the HMC as well. They’d spent the summer of 1932 some twenty-five miles southeast of Mt. Fairweather reconnoitering Mount Crillon, the range’s second highest peak. It, too, rose almost directly from the sea to its 12,700-foot summit, which was similarly guarded by glaciers and besieged by storms. Though their probe of the mountain’s icy defenses came up short, it identified a possible line of ascent, as well as what food, clothing and equipment did and didn’t work on extended outings in the mountains. 

Bradford Washburn. When he and Bates met, the 21-year-old Washburn was already famous. A member of the Explorers’ Club in New York as well as the youngest American member of the French Alpine Club’s High Mountain Group, he’d published a popular book, Among the Alps with Bradford, in 1927, when he was just 17, and used the proceeds to pay his way through college.  

Charlie Houston was a year older than Ad, and had a similar handful of summers in the Alps under his belt. Compared to the adventures recounted by Moore and Washburn and Bates in Hall’s living room, though, the Alps must have seemed downright pedestrian. In 1933, when Washburn took out a large life insurance policy and used it as collateral to fund another attempt on Crillon with Bates, Ad and Houston signed up.

Charlie Houston. Houston would parlay his experiences in the mountains into a career studying the effects of high altitude on human physiology.

Informed by the previous year’s expedition, the team, which included Bill Child and Walt Everett, navigated the icebergs that dotted the bay, humped hundred-pound loads through the forest then continued up glaciers on skis. They fell into crevasses, climbed kitty-litter rock, and played hide and seek with the sun as it precipitated avalanches all around them. On summit day, they broke into two parties. Ad, Houston and Child made the first ascent of Mt. Dagelet, a neighboring peak, while Bates, Washburn and Everett reached what they thought was Crillon’s summit. They were tying an American flag onto a willow wand for a celebratory photo when a moment of clearing revealed the true summit, a quarter mile further along the ridge. Dismayed, they began postholing onward, but were soon turned back by waist-deep snow. 

“PLANE DROPS FOOD ON MOUNT CRILLON,” the headline in the New York Times reported a year later. Washburn had organized a third engagement, and this time, he’d secured airplane support, which saved the team ten days of carries. He’d also arranged to have reliable radio communications with the outside world—a first for a mountaineering expedition—as well as coverage in one of the country’s premier papers.

The northeast face of Mt. Crillon.

Ad, who’d become captain of the Harvard Ski Team that winter, had joined him. The four-man expedition was half scientific, and the team took seismic depth soundings of the glaciers as they retraced their way through Crillon’s defenses. Over the course of three weeks, they fixed pitches up rock steps, shoveled through cornices, shoulder-stood their way across bergschrunds and cut hand- and footholds in vertical snow as they engaged the mountain. While their partners waited below, Washburn and Ad made their summit push in deteriorating conditions, burrowing, trenching and climbing until they could go no higher. 

“CRILLON IS SCALED BY COLLEGE PARTY,” crowed the headlines on July 23. “…Pair Surmount 7,000-Foot Cliff, Reach Alaskan Summit. CUT STEPS IN RIDGE OF ICE Use Ropes Amid Gale-Driven, Powdery Snow in Climb to Pyramid of Peak.”

The ascent of Mt. Crillon marked another in a string of successes for the Harvard Five, as Ad and his new friends would come to be known. In 1932, Moore had participated in a four-person expedition to the 24,000-foot Minya Konka in southwestern China, spending three arduous months approaching and reconnoitering the peak before making what the American Alpine Journal called “one of the greatest feats of American mountaineering, however regarded.” The mountain, higher than any in the western hemisphere, lay in one of the least known parts of the world, and the team made a detailed reconnaissance of the area, surveying and mapping 27 peaks and accumulating a groundbreaking zoological collection as part of the expedition. The summit, when they reached it, was the highest ever attained by Americans, and their success constituted what the Journal called “a milestone in mountaineering history.”

The northwest ridge (left) and west face of Minya Konka (now called Gongga Shan, 24,790′) in Sichuan, China. When Moore and his teammates reached the summit, it was several thousand feet higher than any yet achieved by an American.

While Ad and Washburn were on Crillon, Houston was farther north, in the Alaska Range, making the first ascent of a 17,000-foot peak the indigenous inhabitants knew as Sultana, Denali’s wife, and which Caucasians called Mt. Foraker. Because it’s deeper inland and the peaks are higher, the Alaskan Range is far colder than the mountains on the coast, which added another factor to the climbers’ education. 

As we’ve discussed in previous episodes, American climbing in the 1930s, while arguably out of its infancy, was still very much in diapers. The sorts of climbs undertaken by Hall and his acolytes were both psychologically and physically demanding to a degree nearly incomprehensible to mountaineers today. Though the ascents of Sultana and Crillon and Fairweather were primarily snow climbs, they were nonetheless laborious affairs that took place in locations so remote the possibility of rescue simply didn’t exist. They required organizational planning of the highest order. Not only did aspirants need to overcome the logistical hurdles of travel and provisioning in an era shockingly free of infrastructure and institutional knowledge. They had to persevere for days under incessant rain, making trailless approaches through thick underbrush laced with devilish spines that pierced clothing and skin alike with similar ease. They had to determine the sort of food they’d need for expeditions that could last a month or longer, and then carry it along with all their other supplies in gagantuan packs up glaciated terrain riddled with unseen crevasses that could swallow a rope team without a sound. Once they actually reached the base of a mountain, if they reached it at all, they endured soul-wrenching wallows up bottomless snow slopes that were avalanche-prone and threatened by seracs and cornices. They weathered storms that destroyed camps with debilitating winds and buried tents under unrelenting deposits of feet upon feet of heavy snow, all amidst a cold that worked its way through one’s layers to insinuate itself in one’s very bones. On these outings, suffering was guaranteed. A summit, to say nothing of a safe return, was not.

These climbs had something else in common: they were undertaken in service to something bigger than the routes themselves. Hall had dedicated himself to alpinism at a time when expeditions doubled as scientific and geographical explorations of terra incognita, and under his influence Ad, Bates and their fellow HMC members applied a similar lens to their adventures. Though Hall’s contributions to community and public endeavors in the greater Boston area would play a prominent role in his life, mountaineering was his passion, and his service extended to the AAC, which he guided to both financial and spiritual maturity over the course of his forty-year involvement. Mentorship, too, was part of his ethos. In 1941, Hall would help John McCown and Ed McNeill plan their expedition to the Coast Range. When war broke out, he’d help coordinate the Club’s involvement with the mountain troops. Neither were flukes. Service was his jam, and the group of young men who gathered in his living room adopted his perspective as if by osmosis.

Following Hall’s lead, the Harvard Five joined the AAC, and quickly became influential in its affairs. Their climbs had garnered international recognition, and in 1935 Ad, Bates and Washburn added Arctic cold to their resumes. 

With the exception of Hall’s expedition to Mt. Logan, the 5,000 square miles of peaks and glaciers surrounding the mountain remained almost completely unknown. Washburn, with the support of the National Geographic Society, had put together an expedition to survey it. Unlike their previous adventutes, this one would not contend with coastal conditions or perpetual daylight. Instead, it would begin in darkness, in the midst of winter, when the crevasses were buried in snow. 

“Our plan was to enter the territory in February,” Bates explained, “using the great glaciers as avenues for exploration, and “get out“ in late May before melting snow caused treacherous cracks to appear, making travel either impossible or too dangerous to risk.”

The area they sought to explore was so remote, no airplane had ever flown over it, let alone landed on its glaciers. While Washburn and Bates began a series of cartographic reconnaissances that included the first flights over Mt. Logan, a bush pilot landed Ad and four teammates, 1,000 pounds of food, six dogs, 250 pounds of dog food, a dogsled, a musher, fifty gallons of gasoline and enough surveying and mountaineering equipment to last three months in the heart of the icecap. It was 45° below zero. It would be a month before the violent storms that raked the camp abated long enough for Bates and Washburn to join them. 

When they did, the survey began in earnest. In between storms that pinned them down for days at a time, the team took advantage of the increasing daylight to cover ground in 24-hour pushes. They set up survey markers on the sides of magnificent snow and rock peaks that had never been seen. They discovered and named 13,000-foot mountains and vast glaciers. The Hubbard Glacier, to cite just one example, turned out to be 90 miles long.

By the end of May, their surveying work done and the long days of the solstice nearly upon them, they split up. Bates and his party headed for the Alsek River to float on homemade rafts to the ocean. Ad and two others headed south for the St. Elias Mountains, pulling 300-pound loads on sleds over treacherous glaciers and yawning crevasses. When they could no longer use the sleds, they shouldered 100-pound packs and continued to the sea. When it was over, they had not only made the first crossing of the Saint Elias Range; they’d eliminated the last large blank on the map of North America as well. 

The 1935 Yukon Expedition, exploring the last great blank on the North American map by dogsled.

I could go on and on about their adventures, but by now you’ve got the point. 

With the exception of Hall and Walter Wood, Jr., the inveterate climber and explorer who served as chair of the AAC’s national defense committee, Ad, Bates and their friends were, by the time of the war, the most experienced mountaineers in American history. They’d learned how to put together small, completely self-sufficient teams that could enter some of the most technical and climatically challenging regions in the world and then spend weeks and sometimes months figuring their way up a mountain. They pioneered the use of radio communications and air support. They dialed the food, clothing and equipment necessary to survive rain, blizzards and blinding glacial heat alike. They learned how to travel by ski, snowshoe, foot and dogsled, navigate their way through whiteouts while living out of their packs, and conduct cartographic, geological, zoological and botanical studies along the way. They entered foreign lands that had never been visited by Westerners and learned how to navigate the mountains there as well. And when it came time to serve their country, the wealth of experience they’d accumulated throughout the 1930s would ensure the soldiers of the 10th had what they needed to do their jobs.

Ad graduated from Harvard in 1936 with degrees in German history and literature. He would return the following year to begin his MBA from the Harvard Business School, but before he did, he went to work for his father’s company as a paper salesman, then sailed from San Francisco to Shanghai via Japan, Malaya, Sumatra, Siam, and Burma, to catch up with Houston and four other teammates at the base of India’s Nanda Devi, The Blessed Goddess, a sacred mountain more than 25,000 feet high that had turned back half a dozen attempts by some of the world’s best mountaineers to climb it. As the team made its way up the only feasible line on the mountain, Ad wore a windproof parka suit from London and a sweater and socks from the Shetland Isles, slept in a ten-pound sleeping bag and an eleven-pound tent, and subsisted on cheddar cheese and Danish pemmican and dried vegetables made for the team by Mrs. H. F. Kelly of Pittsfield, Mass. He climbed to 24,000 feet in support of the summit team as they made the first ascent of the highest mountain ever climbed. By the time the team returned to base, Ad had added one more layer of insight to his understanding of how to live and climb in the mountains.  

Nanda Devi (25,643′). The sacred mountain is surrounded by summits and ridges and a precipitous, five-mile gorge and rain-swollen river that hid an inner sanctuary: a verdant valley painted in a sublime blush of fantastic flowers that rolled out for miles below the mountain’s soaring walls.  The six man team that made the first ascent included Ad, Houston, and two of Britain’s most famous alpinists. Noel Odell had participated in the 1924 Everest Expedition, while HW Tillman had been the first to enter the Nanda Devi Sanctuary the year before.

The expedition had lasted five months. Ad took the scenic route home, traveling from Afghanistan to Iran to Iraq to Syria to Palestine to Egypt and finally to the Alps, where, as a member of the US Ski Team, he trained and skied and competed for three months, including in the world championships at Chamonix.

The next summer, he worked for the paper company in Denver, climbing in Colorado and more extensively in Wyoming, where he made the fourth ascent of the Grand Teton’s north ridge with Paul Petzoldt. In 1938, while Petzoldt joined Bates, Houston and Bill House for an attempt that established the world altitude record of 8100 meters on K2, the world’s second highest mountain, Ad traveled to Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, where he captained the US Ski Team in Pan-American Championships. Importantly for our story, he also spent a week with the Chilean mountain troops, getting his first good look at military mountaineering.

Which brings us to 1939, the year we first made his acquaintance. While pursuing his MBA at Harvard, Ad had taken a job as a schoolmaster of French and German at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts. Once school let out, he traveled back to Europe, spending six weeks studying French at the Sorbonne before continuing on to the Alps—which is where we met him, dear listener, way back in Episode 1, alongside his friend Bob Bates, observing the maneuvers of the Swiss mountain troops at the start of Hitler’s diabolical plans.

None of the heretofore mentioned points about Ad and his friends have ever been presented in the context of the 10th Mountain Division. I’m sharing them with you now to deepen your appreciation of the perspective they would bring to bear on their work on the country’s behalf. Houston would be commissioned in the US Navy, where he advanced the understanding of high altitude physiology, a topic he would master over the course of his career. Bates, as we’ll detail more in our next episode, would become the first member of the Research and Development Branch of the Quartermaster Corps, leading a team that developed everything the Division needed to fight in the mountains and putting together an expedition to test it in the same area in the Yukon that he’d explored with Ad. Washburn leveraged his experiences with aerial reconnaissance to develop cold weather clothing for air crews. When a heart murmur prevented Moore, a pilot, from joining the Army Air Forces, he went to work beside Bates in Washington developing materiel—and testing it, alongside Bates and Washburn, on Denali, the highest cold-weather lab in North America, as part of an Army expedition that made the mountain’s third ascent. 

As you now know, Ad had the ability to pull together information on foreign mountain troops into a source America could use to develop a similar division of her own. But why would he? Apart from him and Bates and one or two visionaries in the War Department, almost nobody was thinking of America’s cold-weather and mountain fighting capacities in 1939, and America’s entry into the war was anything but certain.

Plus, Ad already had a job: on top of his studies at Harvard, he’d been promoted to head of the Middlesex German department, in which capacity he was now making $2,330 a year. The last thing he needed was to embark on a quixotic and unpaid journey to identify, collect and translate material on cold-weather and mountain warfare for an American military that had no background or defined interest in either.

But begin he did. What I haven’t been able to figure out is why.

I’ve pored over Ad files in the AAC and Denver Public libraries, searching for clues. From whence, I wondered, came the spark? Apart from Ad’s efforts in the fall of 1940 to connect with statesmen and lower-level military officials, I’ve found nothing I could pinpoint as the catalyst.

Ad’s expeditions to Alaska, his three-month odyssey in the Yukon and his decision to attempt Nanda Devi speak to a mind drawn to, if not the impossible, at least the allure of the unknown. Perhaps a similar curiosity drew him to the idea of developing a bibliography the War Department could use in the event America ever needed it. Maybe our hindsight was his foresight, and he understood that such information could soon be a prerequisite to America’s entry into the war.

Whatever the reason, sometime between his return to the US in the fall of 1939 and November 22, 1940, the date of a typewritten bibliography I found in his papers in the Denver Public Library, Ad launched in.

He identified books and articles from the German and Austrian Gebirgsjager, the French Chasseurs Alpin and the Italian Alpini. He found seventeen books and twenty-nine articles devoted to the World War I slugfest between Italy and Austria in the Dolomites and Julian Alps. He cited twenty references on avalanches, sixteen on mountain medical corps, ninety-four on mountain warfare, forty-nine on military mountaineering, fifty on skiing and three on alpine maneuvers immediately preceding Hitler’s invasion of Poland. He cited 87 titles from the Army War College Library in Washington DC on everything from the influence of winter conditions on military operations to the value of winter camouflage to the importance of mountaineering training on successful cold-weather operations. And as he compiled his bibliography, he read, absorbing the insights, experiences and recommendations of foreign troops and synthesizing them into a mental map of how America might go about developing such a force of her own.

Part of the bibliography Ad completed in the fall of 1940. The bibliography would serve as the basis for his translations, which in turn would become the bedrock of American military mountaineering doctrine.

In October 1940—weeks before the Army launched the series of experimental ski patrols we discussed in Episode 4—Ad condensed his takeaways into an eight-page report, “Suggestions About Mountain Troops,” that 10th historian John Imbrie,  would later observe “anticipated many of the elements eventually incorporated into the … Division.” It was filled with how-to’s: how the country could stand up such a unit from scratch, how to recruit for it, make it mobile, and train its troops. Ad emphasized the need for engineering groups that could construct portable tramways for the evacuation of wounded in mountainous terrain. Informed in no small part by his own expeditions, he underscored the significance of developing proper mountain rations with which to feed such troops and of lightweight gear and clothing with which to equip them. And, without calling attention to himself or his Harvard Five friends, he noted that, should the War Department be so inclined, there were a number of experienced climbers and skiers in the country it could call upon for help. 

A bibliography and a report were a start. If the country were truly to be prepared to fight a war in the mountains, though, it would need more than a list of books on the subject. It would need the information contained between their covers as well. 

The need was obvious, if only to Ad. “The War Department’s normal translators in 1941 knew nothing about mountaineering jargon,” he would later write, “and the one or two articles which they had translated were nearly unintelligible. A piton was a ‘nail’; a downhill skier was an ‘off-walking snowshoer.’ Entire concepts were misunderstood and translated into meaningless words.”

So Ad embarked on phase two of his undertaking. For nearly a year, he worked full time, without pay, “translating”(as he put it) “articles, and books from German, French, Swiss and Italian sources, interviewing former [European] mountain troopers who were living in the U.S…. and making digests of some of the most important lessons.”  

By the time Ad finished writing his initial suggestions in 1940, he was arguably the country’s foremost expert on military mountaineering. By the time he finished his translations, he may well have been the leading authority in the world.

Had Ad’s translations remained his singular focus, they would have been heroic. They were not.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities at Middlesex, he was also working on numerous other projects critical to the 10th’s viability.

While he was translating, for example, an article from the May 1941 edition of Die Alpen about a film on the patrols of the Swiss mountain troops, he was also developing the outline for a training film on military mountaineering for the US War Department.

As he was writing to Agustin Edwards, a member of one of Chile’s most powerful families, for the recipe for a mountain ration he’d chanced upon while training with the Chilean mountain troops, he was also formulating a “mountain ration” the Army could use to feed the soldiers of the 10th.

And while he was translating a November 1935 article from the French Alpine Club’s magazine on moving the injured in difficult country, he was also working on a lightweight, functional stretcher American troops could use to evacuate the wounded from mountainous terrain. 

“The need for such a stretcher was unfortunately brought home to me yesterday,” he wrote a colleague in the War Department in the fall of ‘41. “We had three men arrive at the house at almost midnight with a tale of more people up on the Presidential Range. All the available manpower, three of us, turned out and arrived at the bivouac place of the others at 3:30 in the morning. One man had already died, and two others were near exhaustion. We had to carry these two, pick-a-back, off the rocks until we…arriv[ed] at the smooth path. Ordinary stretchers were useless for so small a number. When the corpse was brought down on an ordinary stretcher, the next day, it took 12 men.” The stretcher Ad began developing would’ve taken two.

And then there was the matter of footwear.

“For three years the Army had been trying to cut down on the vast amount of equipment … necessary for a mountain trooper in battle,” wrote Major John Jay in his history. “Footwear had always been a problem; ski boots without climbing nails proved unsatisfactory for mountain climbing, and mountain boots with climbing nails could not be successfully used for skiing. The nails balled up with damp snow, damaged the binding, and froze the wearer’s feet. So two sets of heavy boots had to go into the mountain trooper’s already bulging pack.”

You’ll remember Ad’s Harvard Five companion Terry Moore had experienced a similar problem on Mt. Fairweather in 1932, but there was another consideration as well. During World War I, trench warfare had given rise to a condition so endemic it resulted in its own medical term. Unlike frostbite, which occurs when body tissue is exposed to extreme cold, trench foot is caused by prolonged exposure to cold, damp conditions. If left untreated, the skin and tissue of the foot breaks down, which in turn increases the risk of infection. Some 75,000 British soldiers had died of trench foot in the Great War alone. Hundreds of thousands of others had been incapacitated.

Typical hobnailed (aka tricouni-nailed or Swiss-nailed boot) from 1932. Such boots failed to keep soldiers feet warm and dry, and the nails tore up the bindings of their skis.

Problematically, no one in America had developed a pair of boots that could keep a soldier’s feet warm, dry, and trench-foot-free, and that could also hike, climb and ski. 

The Italians, on the other hand, as Ad had learned during his 1939 climbing trip to Switzerland, had.

“Dear Bob,” he wrote to Bates in October 1941. “The other day when you and I were discussing equipment for the mountain troops, among other things we discussed the special type of rubber soles, which the Alpini [Italian Mountain Troops] are using now. I have dug up a little more information on them since. 

“They were invented by Vitale Bramani and Dr. Ettori Castalioni [who] saw the need for a sole of rubber that was hard, durable, and flexible, and had good traction and adherence to rock…, ice and snow. The form of the sole is such that they look like a rather heavily nailed pair of boots with edge nails. To test them, they tried them on numerous extremely difficult ascents under all kinds of conditions…” (which he then proceeded to list). “They were further tested by the mountain warfare school of the Italian army at Aosta, and are now standard equipment for the Alpini. As you remember, I borrowed Killian‘s pair when we were last in Switzerland, and found them [to be] marvelous. 

“The principal advantages of the soles for mountain troops,” Ad continued, “are that they are lighter, and therefore less tiring on long marches, they are warmer, because there is no metal as a conductor of heat, they wear longer, they are waterproof, and (perhaps the most important advantage) they do not make such a racket on the rough, mountainous terrain as nails do, and make a stealthy approach possible.”

They also didn’t give off sparks—a notable consideration for night-time attacks.

The boot Killian had loaned him was, Ad realized, the perfect solution to the Army’s one-boot-does-all problem, but the war had disrupted imports, and finding a pair in the US was nearly impossible. So, while Ad was translating Gunter Langes’ 1937 book The Front in Rock and Ice from the German and Chilean author M A Mozza’s book on transporting the wounded from the Spanish, he was also embarking on a mad letter-writing and networking campaign in search of the elusive rubber-cleated boot.

He alerted climbers on the Pacific coast and in New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain and the Pinkham Notch Camp at the base of Mt. Washington to be on the lookout. He conspired with AAC officials to send out a memo to all its members in search of a pair. He chased down dead ends in Boston, New York and Baltimore. He translated an article on the Bramani soles from the July, 1939, issue of Der Bergsteiger, that Bates might be able to use to reverse engineer a sole from scratch. 

Finally, as Hal Burton recounted in his book, The Ski Troops, Ad struck gold. “One weekend we were testing equipment at Pinkham Notch Camp… when a climber walked in with a pair of Bramanis on. We practically wrestled him to the floor and wouldn’t let him up until he promised us those boots. In return, we generously permitted him to complete his climb the next day.”

Ad shuttled the pair off to Bates in Washington. The Charles Goodyear company, which had developed the rubber compound Bramani had used for his sole, provided the rubber, and a year’s worth of testing in every kind of terrain and weather ensued.  

“The results,” wrote Jay, “were sensational. Not only was the new boot comfortable for hiking, but it was an excellent climbing boot and a good ski boot as well. Its rubber-cleated sole afforded fine traction on rock, snow, grass, mud, and even to a degree on ice. Furthermore, it proved to be the warmest boot yet developed for skiing.” 

The Army dubbed it the “Ski/Mountain Boot.” It was, according to Bill House, Bates’ partner on K2, who was now working alongside him in Washington, better than the original ‘Bramani’ sole,” and it remained “the standard mountain boot for winter or cold weather mountaineering” throughout the war. Today we know it by another name: Vibram, after its inventor, Vitale Bramani.

The US Army’s Ski/Mountain Boot. Note the rubber sole as well as the wide toebox, which permitted soldiers to wear additional pairs of socks and felt insoles. The expeditions of the Harvard Five to Alaska and the Yukon in the 1930s had identified the need for both socks and insoles to keep one’s feet warm and dry.

Ad hadn’t stopped moving since he was a child, and as America’s entry into the war seemed more and more inevitable, he actually quickened his pace. Remember, way back in Episode 3, when we discussed the unsigned, 13-page letter the so-called American Mountain Warfare Research Institute sent to Minnie Dole in late November, 1940? The institute, which billed itself as “the most productive source of inside information on the international standards of military mountaineering and winter warfare,” pledged its resources in support of Dole’s efforts to launch a mountain unit. Who wrote it? Turns out it was Ad, who, though perhaps taking liberties with the Institute’s title, was indeed quickly becoming the country’s leading authority on the subject. 

Ad also reached out to metal manufacturers in the Boston area to see if they could make pitons, carabiners, and piton hammers for the Army. He helped the Army source production for its packboards. On December 1, 1941, as Colonel Onslow Rolfe was activating America’s first winter test force at Ft. Lewis, Washington, he sent him two articles he’d translated on mountain warfare to assist in the effort. He became a one-man recruitment team. “Dozens of boys who I have had in class have come to me for advice on what to do,” he wrote Bates. “99.44% are now headed for Fort Lewis.” 

He worked with Ken Henderson on his forthcoming Handbook of American Mountaineering, and in the process likely gave the word “carabiners” the spelling we employ today. (In German, they were “karabiners” with a “k”. Henderson suggested calling them “snap rings” to avoid using the German. In his translations, Ad kept the word carabiners but changed its spelling to a “c”.). And to enhance his understanding of mountain warfare, he interviewed European experts on the topic.

You’ll remember Hannes Schneider, the Father of Modern Day Skiing, whose Arlberg Technique sparked the sport’s explosion in popularity. You’ll also recall that in 1938, after Germany annexed Austria, Schneider, an outspoken critic of Hitler and the Nazis, had been stripped of his ski school and imprisoned, then brought to North Conway, New Hampshire, by an American captain of industry and reopened his ski school at Cranmore Mountain—which is where Ad went to see him.

“I had a very interesting talk with Hannes Schneider,” he wrote Bates. “He was a member of a “climbing-guide company“ during all four years of the last war, and spent the whole time on the high mountain front…. There were two … points that he wanted me to put across very strongly if I had the chance…. The first was that he felt that too much emphasis was being placed onto “ski troops,“ which he feels have no more place than “crampon troops“ or “ice-ax troops.“ He feels that they should all be “mountain troops“ first and foremost. Skiing is being put on too big a pedestal and the fact that they are a means to an end and not the end in itself is being forgotten.”

Schneider’s second point went to the heart of Ad and Bates’ concerns. “[T]he army is going to suffer terrific and needless losses and lose tactical advantages if no system of mountaineering advisors is set up,” Ad wrote his friend. “These men have the last word on all mountaineering matters and are superior even to a general in these affairs when they are purely and simply mountaineering. They are responsible for avalanche danger, the number of men who can climb a certain route or slope,… and all the other points which we have already discussed about them.”

Accordingly, Ad began working with Joel Fisher, the AAC’s treasurer, on a course of instruction for the troops, adding one more thing to his to-do list.

Ad’s whirlwind of activity entailed a combination of networking, sleuthing, and the persistent use of his manual typewriter. As the scope of his frenzied efforts expanded, an appreciation of their value developed from within the War Department itself. Which was good, because the entire time he was working on his translations and various other projects, he was also trying to stay ahead of the draft.

Ad was in close communication with Walter Wood, who, as chair of the AAC’s National Defence committee, had begun sharing news of Ad’s progress with key military officials. One of these was Colonel Charles Hurdis, who had been tasked by General Marshall with setting up the mountain troops. 

On June 13, 1941, Colonel Hurdis wrote a letter to Ad’s local draft board. “Dear Sirs,” he began. “Mr. H. Adams Carter, a member of the American Alpine Club, is considered to be one of the foremost mountaineers of the country and is also an instructor in foreign languages. Some time ago he volunteered his services to the Army, without compensation, to furnish translations covering operations of foreign mountain troops. In order to facilitate this work for the Army he has been given access to the foreign language material to be found in the Army War College, Washington, DC. While many translators of foreign languages can be found, there are few who also possess the background in mountaineering which is a requisite to a sound translation. It is believed desirable and in the best interest of National Defense that Mr. Carter be given deferment from selective service until September 15, 1941, in order that he may be able to complete this work.”

Hurdis’s letter bought Ad more time, but the task was monumental. By the middle of August, he was so far down the rabbit hole he could see neither the entrance nor the end. “I have been working feverishly with that awful date, September 15, when my deferment ends staring me in the face,” he wrote Fisher. “It is rather discouraging to feel that now I may not be able to finish what … is an infinitely bigger subject than I ever realized. … I now have some five complete books on the subject left to [translate] without counting hundreds of pages of articles in military periodicals. I keep bumping up against something new all the time. I almost feel that I have enough knowledge of the subject to have a theoretical smattering which will help in sorting out material better. I have been working seven days a week morning, afternoon, and evening, but”—he added, with characteristic optimism— “it is fascinating, and I like the work.”

Hurdis wrote another letter. The draft board granted Ad another deferment, and he kept working.  

By early winter 1942, his value to the War Department was beyond dispute. He’d translated, as he would later write, “nearly all of the material on which [future] tactical manuals on mountain warfare and on operations in snow and extreme cold were based. Important articles and manuals were also translated which could not be entrusted to regular War Department translators, and I wrote the English script for such training movies as the Swiss film on avalanches. Later I was loaned to the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department General Staff to translate and edit their publications of several of the German tactical manuals, such as ‘Mountain Warfare,’ ‘Winter Warfare,’ ‘Ski Training and Combat,’ and also wrote sections and found numerous illustrations for a Military Intelligence book on German Mountain Troops.”

His race to finish before being drafted was over as well. He’d been commissioned by the War Department to join Bates and company in DC, where he would spend the rest of the war working on, as he called it, mountain intelligence. He even got paid: he was now making $5,400 per year. 

Today we go into the mountains, by and large, for personal gratification. Ad and his friends did so in service to something greater than themselves. Service shaped their wartime contributions, and it continued to define their lives once the war was over. 

Washburn, whose black and white photographs of the world’s greatest mountains became iconic, mapped the Grand Canyon, Denali and Mt. Everest. Appointed director of the New England Society of Natural History in 1939, he transformed it into the Boston Museum of Science, which he led for forty years. Moore helped Washburn reshape that institution while serving as its president; he also served as president of the University of Alaska and helped establish the High Altitude Observatory on Alaska’s Mount Wrangell. Houston continued the high-altitude research he began during the war, becoming the topic’s leading authority. He would practice general internal medicine for three decades and teach it as a faculty member of the University of Vermont’s School of Medicine; he would also serve as the first director of the Peace Corps in India. Bates, who returned to K2 with Houston in 1953 on an expedition that reached 7800 meters, taught English for more than forty years, spent a year in Kathmandu with the Peace Corps and continued mountaineering well into his seventies. 

Ad’s thirty-year teaching career was outlasted only by his editorship of the Journal. At the heart of both was his passion for people. The camaraderie that made him such a beloved figure within the climbing community extended to his students, many of whom he introduced to the mountains. When Milton Academy created a fellowship in his name, an alumni donated half a million dollars. Ad, he said, had changed his life.

And all of these men would continue to serve the climbing community in various capacities throughout their lives. Perhaps most impressively, they remained close friends for more than sixty years. 

In 1945, Ad was awarded a Commendation for Meritorious Civilian Service for his wartime contributions. His translations became the foundation of American mountain warfare. His work on the mountain ration helped create the food that fueled the troops. His efforts to develop the Vibram-soled boot allowed them to climb and ski in comfort. His collaboration on the training programs helped ensure their fighting expertise, and his work on packs, clothing and equipment allowed them to survive and fight in the mountains. 

Ad is but one of the dozens of people who, though they never served with the 10th Mountain Division, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure it was the best trained, best fed, best clothed, best equipped mountain unit in the world. Though his contributions have largely been forgotten, they were as integral to the 10th’s success as those of his more famous peers.

By the time I finished my first Journal, my respect for Ad was profound. That regard has deepened as I’ve researched this episode. Now, he is one of my heroes.

I hope he can be, if only in this moment, one of yours as well.


And that concludes Episode 7 of Ninety-Pound Rucksack. Thank you for listening.  

And thanks again to our sponsors, CiloGear and the 10th Mountain Division Whiskey and Spirits Company; our partners, The 10th Mountain Division Foundation, the Denver Public Library, the American Alpine Club and the 10th Mountain Division Descendants; and our advisory board members, Lance Blythe, McKay Jenkins, Chris Juergens, Jeff Leich, David Little, Sepp Scanlin, Keli Schmid and Doug Schmidt, for their help in putting this episode together.  

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Until next time, thanks for joining, and I hope you get outside and do something wild today. Remember, climbing and ski mountaineering are dangerous—but without risk, there is no adventure. Have fun, stay safe, and stay in touch.