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Thread: Darby Field and the "First" Ascent of Mt. Washington

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    Darby Field and the "First" Ascent of Mt. Washington

    Tuesday, 7 p.m., First Baptist Church, 188 Deerfield Rd., Candia, N.H.

    For more than 200 years historians believed that Darby Field made the first climb of Mt. Washington in 1642. However, in the last several decades, questions have emerged about his use of Native American guides, about the likelihood of prior ascents by Native Americans, about the route Field may have followed on the mountain, and about whether Field actually made the ascent as claimed. Allen Koop, Dartmouth College history professor and former A.M.C. Old Hutperson, will examine how historians reconstruct the "truth" when given scant, vague, and even contradictory evidence. Hosted by the Pitts Museum Foundation. [from blurb in N.H. Humanities Council newsletter]

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    Senior Member RoySwkr's Avatar
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    I went to a version of this talk several years ago, the topic was inspired by L&G Waterman who discuss it in F&C but while billed as co-presenters they didn't actually show up.

    (This) Dr. Koop also periodically gives talks on AMC huts and NH's POW camp, he's worth hearing even if you don't care about the topic :-)

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    Senior Member Jason Berard's Avatar
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    Thanks for the heads up! I just may be able to make this.

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    Senior Member Fisher Cat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Dasypodidae View Post
    Tuesday, 7 p.m., First Baptist Church, 188 Deerfield Rd., Candia, N.H.

    For more than 200 years historians believed that Darby Field made the first climb of Mt. Washington in 1642. However, in the last several decades, questions have emerged about his use of Native American guides, about the likelihood of prior ascents by Native Americans, about the route Field may have followed on the mountain, and about whether Field actually made the ascent as claimed. Allen Koop, Dartmouth College history professor and former A.M.C. Old Hutperson, will examine how historians reconstruct the "truth" when given scant, vague, and even contradictory evidence. Hosted by the Pitts Museum Foundation. [from blurb in N.H. Humanities Council newsletter]
    Sounds like an interesting discussion. I have a hard time believing that there weren't Native American ascents prior to Field. Are we to believe they had no sense of adventure, curiosity, or conquest? J. Rayner Edmands claims that he built the Edmands Path up to the proximity of Eisenhower based on an old footpath leading to what turned out to be exposed rhyolite, a perfect stone for tools. There was evidence it had been worked. That's not too far from reaching the summit.
    " by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in.."- From the letter of my great uncle Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry) to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.

    LIVE FREE OR DIE - DEATH IS NOT THE GREATEST OF EVILS
    Gen. John Stark July 1809

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    Member averagejoe's Avatar
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    Sorry, I recently have a lot more spare time

    I would challenge his first ascent too. I mean, in 1642 how could he find his way without GPS. How could he survive the elements without Gore-Tex. If he or anyone within a few centuries did make the FA, there must have been some devine intervention... ...or aliens helped them.

    Joe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fisher Cat View Post
    Sounds like an interesting discussion. I have a hard time believing that there weren't Native American ascents prior to Field.
    I thought the Native Americans thought it was sacriligious or they were superstitious about climbing it?

    I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
    5...4...3...2..

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    Whoops, the date is May 26th!

    Allen Koop, who lurks here, pointed out this missing detail in my post.

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    Senior Member Kevin, Judy and Emma's Avatar
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    Beer night and stuff

    Thanks for the date. I was thinkin', "I'd like to hear this lecture, but Tuesday night is "Beer Night in Manchester." Well, I wasn't gonna miss beer night, so I thought, "Maybe we could get him to come give the lecture at StrangeBrews."

    KDT
    "Use what talents you possess- the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best."

    Henry Jackson Van Dyke

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    Senior Member The Hikers's Avatar
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    The Native Americans were prevented from summitting Washington due to too many rescue missions.

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    Senior Member Fisher Cat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    I thought the Native Americans thought it was sacriligious or they were superstitious about climbing it?

    I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
    5...4...3...2..
    True, but society in general has shown that not everyone holds what others do as sacriligious or are bothered by superstitions. However,its true that that is the general supposition. There are many sacred areas, the Black Hills, Katahdin, Red Rocks in Colorado, too.

    But it would be a bold person indeed who could say that such "fears" would have held them back. Its easy to paint a general picture.There are a lot of misconceptions about ancient cultures that are derived from just studying the remains. When the white settlers came in the 1600's they were amazed to find so much cleared land not too far off the shores. Why? The First People societies had a great demand for wood for everyday life, they were clearing land on their own just like future settlers would. Think of it, man decided to get to the moon and got there in a relatively short time once they made it their goal. Generations before would have said "impossible."

    Might they may have even made it to the summit without knowing it was the highest? With the forest growth of the day, where would anyone have been able to perceive that present-day Washington was the highest? Even today, a great vantage of all the Presidentials is on Rt 115 in Jefferson. It doesn't look like Washington is the highest, but it has to do with perception. Even when on top of Washington can one tell its the tallest without today's technological measurements? If I was Field I would have gone over all four! The only thing we know about Field is based on his report, and if he did it, it would be the first documented ascent.

    One thing that could have prevented them from doing so would have been having the time to do it. History has shown that during the time of wilderness warfare, King George's War, Queen Anne's War, King Phillip's War, the F & I War, when the male population was out to war sometimes for long periods, essential duties, like hunting & trapping, went on the wane. When the tide of war changed or harsh seasons made survival difficult they had to scatter or become dependent on unfavorable terms of trade. Then again, to counter my own argument, many tribal members went on journeys of personal and spiritual development lasting an extended amount of time, perhaps on one of those it was ascended.

    We humans by nature are curious, inquisitive, we love to get answers, put things to the test to see if they are true, and we love pushing boundaries. No one is any different in those regards. I believe at some point in time its highly likely that a member of the First People were the first on top of today's Washington, as well as other peaks, and in doing so gave testimony to the power of the human spirit.

    Wow...what a tangent I've gotten myself into.
    " by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in.."- From the letter of my great uncle Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry) to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.

    LIVE FREE OR DIE - DEATH IS NOT THE GREATEST OF EVILS
    Gen. John Stark July 1809

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    Senior Member Mats Roing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fisher Cat View Post
    Even when on top of Washington can one tell its the tallest without today's technological measurements?
    Not to deviate too much off the excellent main subject Dr D brought up - but the proximity of the horizon is a good gauge to if you are standing on a higher summit. If the surrounding peaks are below the horizon you are definitely on the highest peak. Even if a peak you are looking at is slightly above the horizon you are probably still higher than that peak due to the curvature of the earth. OK DougPaul - we expect some formulas here

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mats Roing View Post
    OK DougPaul - we expect some formulas here
    Approx distance to visual horizon assuming a spherical earth.
    d=sqrt(13*h)
    d (distance) in km
    h (viewpoint height) in m

    d=sqrt(1.5*h)
    d (distance) in mi
    h (viewpoint height) in ft

    Happy now?

    Not very useful in the fog.

    Doug

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    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    Curvature of the earth isn't much of a factor at the distance between Mt Washington and Mt Adams (four miles) - something like ten feet of apparent height would be lost to curvature of the earth at that distance.

    When you stand on the summit of Mt Washington, it's obvious that you're high above the southern Presies, that Madison is lower than Adams, and, despite its proximity, Jefferson is close to or lower than Adams in height. With a little practice you can judge whether your eyes are looking upward or downward at Adams, or you can use a home-made version of fifteenth-century technology (heck, it's probably ancient Egyptian technology too):

    Tie a weight to a piece of string, and tie the other end of the string about halfway along a pole. Hold the pole up by your eye, and sight along it like a rifle as you point it at Adams. Have a friend standing to the side look at the angle between the string and the pole - is the angle larger on the side towards your eye or on the side toward Adams? The larger angle is on the side of the higher object.

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nartreb View Post
    Curvature of the earth isn't much of a factor at the distance between Mt Washington and Mt Adams (four miles) - something like ten feet of apparent height would be lost to curvature of the earth at that distance.
    Of course, but Mats demanded equations and those were the only half-way relevant ones that I could come up with on the spur of the moment...

    Sometimes it is easy to tell if one is on the highest peak in the vicinity and sometimes it isn't.

    Doug

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    Senior Member TDawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RoySwkr View Post
    (This) Dr. Koop also periodically gives talks on AMC huts and NH's POW camp, he's worth hearing even if you don't care about the topic :-)
    Not to stray from the thread topic but just thought I'd say Dr. Koop's book, "Stark Decency" is worth the read. About the former POW camp in Stark, NH, very interesting if you're into some local history. Read it for a WWII history class at PSU.

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