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Bob Bates Passes

Submitted by admin on 2007-09-20

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Extract from full obituary posted at

Robert H. Bates, teacher, author, mountaineer and first Peace Corps Director in Nepal, died on Thursday, September 13, in Exeter, New Hampshire. He was 96.

As an instructor in English at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH, from 1939 to 1976, Bates encouraged and inspired countless students with his warmth, energy and optimism. In addition to teaching in the classroom, he introduced many students to rock-climbing and winter survival in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, sharing his great enthusiasm for the outdoors.

Well-known among mountain climbers as climbing partner with Charles Houston on two early expeditions in 1938 and 1953 on K2, the second highest mountain in the world, Bates climbed during the “golden age of mountaineering,” a time when few of the world’s highest peaks had been reached. The 1938 team trekked more than 350 miles to the base of the mountain, ferried supplies to eight high camps, and reconnoitered several possible summit routes. They reached a height of 26, 000 feet before limited supplies forced the team to turn back. In 1953, a massive storm forced the expedition team of eight climbers to descend, attempting to save the life of a seriously ill team member. A fall by one climber at 25, 000 feet resulted in a tangle of ropes and bodies as each pair of roped climbers fell in turn, all miraculously held by one climber in what has come to be described as the most famous belay in mountaineering history. Accounts of these climbs were published as Five Miles High (1939), edited by Bates, and K2: The Savage Mountain (1954), co-authored by Bates and Houston.


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As a high school student at Exeter, I remember Bob Bates giving presentations from time to time about his mountaineering adventures. I was always amazed by the intensity and commitment of the expeditions he undertook back in the Thirties, when so much of the gear and skills we take for granted didn't exist.

One of my favorite anecdotes he told was when Bates, Brad Washburn and some others were sleeping in a four man tent. Those being the days before Leave No Trace, they had an old shotgun in the tent with them. Bates, sleeping farthest from the door of the tent, woke up to see a grouse hanging out right by the door. Without hesitating, he picked up the gun and shot right over the sleeping bodies of his companions, waking them up but providing a tasty breakfast.

He was a true pioneer of the mountains, and he will be missed.

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