Photo courtesy of obit.brewittfuneralhome.co
Robert Hicks Bates, a pioneer of American climbing in the Yukon and the Himalaya, died on September 13 at age 96.
Bates was among the generation of great Harvard Mountaineering Club climbers who came of age in the 1930s. Partnered with Bradford Washburn, he made an epic ascent of Mt. Lucania and Mt. Steele in the Yukon in 1935, walking more than 70 miles to escape the mountains after their successful climb when the plane that dropped them off could not return. Bates and others made the first ascents of Mt. Walsh, Mt. Alverstone, and Mt. Hubbard, all major peaks in the St. Elias Range.
During World War II, Bates helped develop climbing gear for the U.S. military, part of a revolution in clothing and equipment that spurred major advances in postwar mountaineering. He also orchestrated an Army expedition that made the third ascent of Denali in 1942.
Bates was a member of the American expeditions to K2 in both 1938 and 1953. His book K2: The Savage Mountain about the epic retreat from K2 during the ’53 expedition, coauthored with Charles Houston, is one of the classics of American climbing literature. He also wrote or edited several other books about his climbs and exploration.
Bates was a much-loved teacher of English at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire for more than 35 years; he retired in 1976. During leaves from his teaching job in the 1960s, Bates served as the first director of the Peace Corps in Nepal and as assistant director of the Outward Bound School. He is survived by his wife, Gail Oberlin Bates.