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A Tribute to Bob Bates


On disply in the Robert H. Bates Mountaineering Collection are the boots and hand-knit wool socks worn by Mr. Bates during the 1938 K2 summit attempt and an original down parka created by Eddie Bauer for the 1953 K2 attempt. In addition the collection contains photographs, newspaper clippngs, and climbing gear; all relating to Mr. Bates extensive mountaineering career. We thank the Phillips Exeter Academy Library for this photo. [Photo] Courtesty of Joseph Montibello

Bates, Houston and six other climbers were involved in another attempt on K2 in 1953, one year before the mountain's first ascent. They nearly reached their highpoint of 1938 when a massive storm and an ill teammate forced their retreat. They descended, pulling Art Gilkey behind them; Gilkey had developed thrombophlebitis, and soon blood clots were entering his lungs.

During their descent an enormous avalanche caused a series of unfortunate slips and rope tangles that led to "the most famous belay in mountaineering history." One rope team was ripped down by the avalanche, entangling and pulling down the three lower teams. Art Gilkey was lost; the remaining six were saved from sliding off onto the glacier, thousands of feet below, by the twists in the ropes that led to Pete Schoening, the only climber who had managed to stay in one place. Gilkey's body was found forty years later, four miles from the scene.

We were numbed by what happened. Art was gone. It didn't seem possible that he had been swept away without a trace from the "escape route"... We shouted, but the only answer came from the wind.

...Now he was gone, and it was obvious that we had the fight of our lives ahead to get ourselves down, including the injured, the extent of whose hurts was not yet clear. (Page 283)

Lhasa's marketplace, The Barkhor. Bates and his wife, Gail, spent time in Kathmandu between 1961-1963. When they returned to the US, Tsering Yangdon, a refugee from this town, accompanied them and studied at the University of New Hampshire. [Photo] Courtesy of Nathan Freitas

For most of his life, Bates was a teacher and a climber. In his mid-seventies Bates led an expedition that made the first ascent of Ulugh Muztagh in China. But perhaps more notable than his climbing accomplishments are his human ones.


Bates joined the US Army in 1941, before the United States entered World War II. No stranger to harsh conditions in cold climates—and poorly insulated clothing—Bates was assigned to the Office of the Quartermaster General. There he managed the testing and improvement of equipment and clothing to be used by the Army's mountain divisions. (He and an "Alaskan Testing Team" also managed to sneak in the third ascent of Denali in 1942.)

These tools are a part of the Robert H. Bates Mountaineering Collection at Phillips Exeter Academy, where Mr. Bates was an instructor from 1939 to 1976. The collection offers more than 500 titles on the history of mountaineering in the last two centuries. We thank the Phillips Exeter Academy Library for this photo. [Photo] Courtesy of Joseph Montibello

He spent more than a year in Kathmandu directing the first Peace Corps volunteers project. When he and his wife, Gail, left for the States, they encouraged a Tibetan refugee from Lhasa, Tsering Yangdon, to return with them and study at the University of New Hampshire. She was embraced by the Bates' and was taken in as part of their family.

Those who knew Bates describe him as a perpetual teacher, one who did not climb or live for himself alone. His civil outreach in local communities of New England, for example in Exeter, New Hampshire—where he studied, taught and died—was as strong as his passion for the mountains he best loved and shared.

Denali (20,320'), Alaska Range, Alaska. Bates led a group of mountain soldiers up the peak for its third ascent in 1942. They were testing cold weather/high mountain clothing and equipment, a program Bates governed. [Photo] Courtesy of National Park Service

Bates is survived by his wife, Gail (Oberlin) Bates, two nieces, three great-nieces, two great-nephews, two great-great-nephews, and Tsering Yangdon and her son, Nima Taylor.

Check this Weekly Feature again, as it will be updated with more photos of Bates and his adventures. Thanks to for much of the information.

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