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National Geographic Special Collections: Archives & Film Preservation Blog

The Exploration of Mount Kennedy (1965)

by Karen Cerka on 2023-10-27T11:53:00-04:00 | 0 Comments


Mount Kennedy was named by Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson after our late President, John F. Kennedy.

This film documents the mapping and exploration of Mt. Kennedy, an expedition co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Boston’s Museum of Science and led by Bradford Washburn, who first discovered the peak on his NGS sponsored Yukon Expedition of 1935.


Senator Robert F. Kennedy wished to be among the first climbers to set foot on the peak named in honor of his brother, so he was invited on the expedition by the National Geographic Society and assigned to place a survey marker there.

In Senator Kennedy’s own words (from the July 1965 issue of NGM):

“I climbed Mount Kennedy for compelling personal reasons.  I gained other rewards as well.  There was the unassuming courage and dedication, intelligence and good humor of the climbers. There was the mountain itself, and there was the knowledge that we had helped bring this remote part of the world closer to all of us.

The complete explanation of why men leave their families to huddle in a cold little tent on the side of a difficult mountain is something that perhaps can’t be explained until we can explain man himself.  I tried to figure it out as I looked around our crowded, uncomfortable tent.

Why did these men who had climbed and faced death so many times now wait on this high glacier—a glacier interspersed with crevasses, some huge, some small, some breathtaking in their starkness, some hidden and far more sinister?

Why did these men wait here, dwarfed by vast mountains on all sides, to climb this peak who’s summit had never been reached?

I think of Jim Whittaker’s favorite quote, the words of James Ramsey Ullman, noted author and chronicler of the Geographic-sponsored American Mount Everest Expedition:  ‘Challenge is the core and mainspring of all human activity.  If there is an ocean, we cross it; if there’s a disease, we cure it; if there’s a wrong, we right it; if there’s a record, we break it; and finally, if there’s a mountain, we climb it.’ (Pages 6 and 9).”

Senator Kennedy was the first to each the summit, and planted the family flag on the top of the peak.


For more information about the expedition please read the July 1965 issue of the magazine which features the following three articles:

“Canada's Mount Kennedy : I. The Discovery” by Bradford Washburn

“Canada's Mount Kennedy : II. A Peak Worthy of the President” by Robert F. Kennedy

“Canada's Mount Kennedy : III. The First Ascent” by James W. Whittaker

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Banner Photo Credit: Renan Ozturk.