Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No. 11 - American Mountaineering Museum

- by Bill Urbanski

Patrick Gensel under the Iconic Arch on Washington Ave.
      When many people think of Golden Colorado, they instantly associate it with Coors beer.  The brewing company was established by German immigrant Adolph Coors in 1873, and today, the facility in Golden is the largest single brewery facility in the world. 

Bill with Adolph Coors
        I first visited Golden on my way to climb Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain.  A steady rain caused a one-day delay in my climbing plans, so I needed to find a way to kill some time.  I did as many tourists do – I took the tour of the Coors Brewery.  I spent the night with friends and when the weather cleared, I climbed the next day.

      Last August, I once again found myself in metro Denver with some time to kill, as I waited on a late afternoon flight back east after climbing Devils Tower.  I returned to Golden, but this time I discovered a tourist gem, much more worth my time than some silly brewery tour.  I paid a visit to the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum

Main Exhibit Hall as Viewed From Above
       The museum opened in 2008 and, as its website proudly informs, is the “first and only museum in the United States dedicated to the heroism, technology, culture and spirit of mountaineering.”  It is named for Brad Washburn, a pioneer and legend in the field of mountaineering and cartography.  Washburn also served as director of the Boston Museum of Science for more than forty years.

Patrick Examining the Portaledge Display
      As you enter the museum’s main hall, be sure to watch your step.  A mock up of a glacial crevasse must be crossed.  Once you’re safely across, you will find exhibits on climbing gear, mountaineering history, mountain climate and culture, and much, much more.
      The centerpiece exhibit is a scale model of Everest, constructed in 1990 under the watchful eye of Mr. Washburn himself.

Mount Everest Scale Model
       Nearby the model of Everest is an interactive touch-screen exhibit.  Touch a region of the world, and pictures and descriptions of mountains will be displayed.

      This exhibit is a particular and personal source of pride for me, as photographs I have taken during my travels are actually a part of it.  A visitor can touch an icon for US state highpoints, and find on several states the attribution, “photo by Bill Urbanski.”  

Two of My Photographs on Display in the Museum
        Also housed in the same building is the American Alpine Club library.  It is one of the world’s largest libraries dedicated to mountaineering research and education, with over 20,000 books and video in its circulation.  I can say from personal experience, the staff is dedicated, knowledgeable and friendly. 

Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum
      So if you find yourself in the Denver area and you have some time to kill, drive on over to Golden, but skip the brewery tour.  Instead, spend an hour or two or three exploring the true gem of the city – the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum.  You will not be disappointed.


  1. I would like to go back and spend a few more hours exploring that museum, and the town of Golden for that matter. Also having some more Woody's woodfire pizza and glass of fat tire to wash it down wouldn't be so bad either.

  2. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.