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Guide to the Leigh N. Ortenburger Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Leigh N. Ortenburger papers
    Dates: 1929-1996
    Collection number: M1503
    Creator: Leigh N. Ortenburger
    Collection Size: 37 linear feet 53 manuscript boxes, 6 4x6 boxes, 16 flat boxes, 2 map folders
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Abstract: The papers of Leigh N. Ortenburger contain correspondence, personal papers, maps, manuscripts, and photographic negatives and prints, with emphasis on the Cordillera Blanca in Peru and the Teton Range in Wyoming. He was the early author and eventual co-author of the definitive climber?s guide to the Teton Range, had nearly finished a manuscript on the early exploration of the range, including the controversy on the first ascent of the Grand Teton, and in ten trips to the Cordillera Blanca had obtained extensive material for a photo essay on the range which was never finished.
    Physical location: Special Collections materials are stored offsite and must be paged in advance. For more information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/spc.html.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection is open for research; materials must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94304-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubserv/permissions.html.

    Preferred Citation

    Leigh N. Ortenburger papers, M1503. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Acquisition Information

    Accession number: 2005-282
    Carolyn and Teresa Ortenburger in October 2005 gave the bulk of this collection to Stanford University, Special Collections and University Archives.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Irene A. Beardsley in 2006-2009.

    Biography / Administrative History

    Leigh Natus Ortenburger was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1929, the youngest of three brothers. He came by his passion for completeness and accuracy naturally; his father, Arthur I. Ortenburger, was a professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma, specializing in herpetology, and his mother, Roberta Deam, was the only living child of Charles C. Deam, a renowned, self-educated botanist who received honorary degrees and wrote a complete Flora of Indiana. He had two older brothers, Robert D. Ortenburger and Arthur I. Ortenburger, Jr. Leigh was class photographer for his yearbook at Norman High School, and several early trips to Colorado with the family of a friend, Jack Whistler, attracted him to mountaineering.
    Leigh began his university studies in 1947 with a year at the University of Oklahoma, majoring in mathematics and working at the university photo lab. During the summer of 1948 he first visited the Tetons, where he began climbing and photographing mountains under the tutelage of Dick Pownall and Glenn Exum of the Petzoldt-Exum School of American Mountaineering. He decided to spend his sophomore year at Deep Springs, an unusual two-year liberal arts college with a maximum of 26 male students, located on the high desert east of the Sierras near Westgard Pass. The students governed themselves and ran the ranch. On the July 4th weekend in 1949 he used his new mountaineering skills to lead two fellow students, Curt Karplus and Lee Talbot, up the East Face of Mt. Whitney. After several false starts they climbed the face and spent the night on a ledge near the summit. A ranger called up to them, and when he could not hear their answer, reported them missing to the college. Irate at their climb and mostly at their late return, the faculty demanded a disciplinary meeting of the student body governing committee, but aside from the president, Dave Werdegar, the other three members were the culprits themselves.
    After a full year at Deep Springs, Leigh returned to Norman and the University of Oklahoma, where he completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics and continued to work at the university photo lab. Every summer from 1950 through 1955 he returned to the Tetons, where he was included as photographer on guided climbs, climbing with guides Dick Pownall, Bob Merriam, and Glenn Exum. By the end of 1950 he was a guide himself, but he soon became more interested in photographing the range with his 2¼" x 3¼" camera and doing the research for a new guidebook. From then on, Leigh was a frequent sight in the back of the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, questioning the rangers and returning climbers and poring through the cards containing the climbing records for each year. He made many climbs during the summer of 1951, with partners including the Merriams, John and George Mowat and Nick Clinch from the Stanford Alpine Club, Richard Irvin from UC Berkeley, and the chemistry professor, Fred Ayres, from Reed College.
    Leigh's class at OU graduated in 1951, but by a technicality he received his degree in 1952. In the winter of 1951-52 he had already moved to Berkeley, enrolled as a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics, and become active in the Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club. An opportunity came to go on the California Peruvian Expedition, which was studying high altitude physiology in several laboratories in Peru, when a mountaineering team was added to obtain studies of the effects of altitude on the climbers themselves. Leigh shot many stunning images of the Cordillera Blanca with his new Linhof Technika III 4x5 camera, including aerials, thanks to transportation by the United States Air Force. In typical fashion he was able to fit in a visit the Tetons late that summer, after the trip to Peru. New climbing partners included the famous guide Willi Unsoeld, as well as Beatrice Vogel, the first of several climbing girlfriends from the Stanford Alpine Club.
    Leigh received a master's degree from Berkeley in 1953 and continued to take courses towards a PhD in the fundamentals of mathematics. He guided and climbed in the Tetons all that summer, particularly with Bill Buckingham, a young and talented resident of Wilson, Wyoming. The 1952 Peru trip had been run in a military fashion, and Leigh had acquired a permanent dislike for this type of expedition. The next Peru trip in 1954 was organized by eight friends who succeeded in making seven ascents amicably, although it should be noted that the West Peak of Huandoy was climbed on three different days by three lonely individuals. Again Leigh visited the Tetons both before and after the Peru trip, climbing extensively in the fall with Gary Hemming.
    Later that year it became clear that Leigh was not going to get a position with the one professor under whom he wanted to study. He dropped out of Berkeley to work full time on the Teton guidebook. This led to his being drafted during peacetime after the Korean War. He went to the Tetons in June of 1955 for one climb, completed basic training at Ford Ord during the summer, and then passed through the Tetons again on his way to his post at the Army Chemical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. With his fiancée, Irene Beardsley, another Stanford Alpine Club member, he made a new route on the Grand Teton by climbing Okie's Thorn (eponymous), rappelling into the notch separating the Thorn from the Grand, doing a short Tyrolean traverse across the gap by lassoing a horn, and then climbing a steep face with good holds to link up with the East Ridge route.
    In Maryland the army put him to work doing computer modeling of chemical warfare. This made use of statistics and operations research methods, which would help him in his eventual career. In June of 1956 Leigh and Irene were married, A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range was published by the Sierra Club, and Leigh managed to get time off from the army that summer to go as a guide on an expedition to Mt. Wood in the Yukon Territories led by Al Baxter. Getting out of the army a month early in 1957 for "seasonal employment," Leigh made his last trip with clients up the Grand that summer. In the fall he reported for his first and only job at GTE Sylvania in Mtn. View, CA, where he would work for the next 30 years. His work was highly classified, but it can be said now that it involved electronic countermeasures and he became an expert in predicting the propagation of radio waves in the earth?s atmosphere.
    He spent every summer of his adult life in the Tetons or the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. The one exception was when he was invited by Sir Edmund Hillary to take part in the latter half of the Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition of 1960-1961. He and Irene took advantage of the free round-the-world ticket to spend nine months visiting and photographing ruins, attempting Mt. Blanc, and otherwise sightseeing. During the climbing season of spring 1961 the expedition attempted Makalu, at 27,824 feet the fifth highest mountain in the world. When Peter Mulgrew had a pulmonary infarct at roughly 27,000 feet on the first summit attempt, Leigh, aided eventually by a group of loyal Sherpas, was responsible for his rescue. Leigh later was the first to receive the prestigious David A. Sowles Memorial Award from the American Alpine Club for selfless behavior in going to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains. David had been a member of the Stanford Alpine Club in the 1950s.
    Leigh would return to the Cordillera Blanca in 1958, 1959, 1964, 1971, 1977, 1981, 1982, and 1985, making a total of ten trips to the range. His intention was to obtain enough high-quality photos to publish a large-format book on the range. Generally he would publish an account of each expedition in the American Alpine Journal, complete with photographs, except for the last three years, for which there are no written records. He made extensive enlargements of the photographs from 1952 and 1954, numbered the better negatives from those two years (but not in chronological order), and filed them with contact prints and enlarging instructions. After that time the negatives were filed by year, but not always with contact prints or numbers and again in no particular order. Of the many 8x10" prints in the collection, some were dated and some were identified on the back. Hence there are many negatives in the collection identified only by year, and much more work could be done to link the 8 x 10 prints with years, negatives, and subject matter.
    However, this project took second place to the struggle to keep the Teton guidebook up to date. Climbers will keep on making new routes, so any attempt to be complete is bound to fail by the time of publication. The Sierra Club permitted a revised hardback edition in 1965, with many more pages and routes. When that went out of print they published small paperback condensed editions in 1973 and 1979. Leigh was becoming more frustrated with the Sierra Club, and he joined forces with the outstanding Jenny Lake climbing ranger Reynold G. Jackson (Renny) to bring out the condensed edition, volume II in 1987; meanwhile they began work on an ultimate, complete version which would be almost completely up to date when published. Each year they would get closer to completion but more new routes would be climbed. In 1990 they brought out a self-published draft edition in two soft-cover volumes, complete with many improvements and with topos of the more difficult or interesting climbs replacing the Dye drawings of the first edition.
    Leigh and Irene's daughter Carolyn was born in 1962 and Teresa followed in 1966. They spent all their early summers in the Tetons in a small cabin built in 1967. With very few houses yet built in the quarter section, they were able to rent horses for the summer and spent much time galloping over ditches and riding along the quiet roads to their grandparents' house. There they would tie up the horses, play cards, and enjoy cold drinks and cookies. Carolyn's name began appearing in summit registers in 1969, on Symmetry Spire, and Teresa's in 1972 on Buck Mountain. Carolyn still holds the girls' age record on the Grand, after climbing the Exum Ridge at the age of seven.
    After thirty years at GTE Sylvania, broken by rather long summer vacations, Leigh retired in 1987. The following summer he went to Argentina and climbed Aconcagua. He remained remarkably fit all his life, running in local races and biking. He had only one serious medical issue, in the early 1980s. There was a noncancerous tumor wrapped around his cervical spine, which was discovered because of a slight temperature difference between his hands. A painstaking, long surgery removed the tumor without any additional damage. After retirement he was able to spend more time in the Tetons, and with Renny Jackson. In spite of the fact that Renny was working a stressful, full-time job for the park, they were able to finish and self-publish the draft edition in two volumes in 1990. Of course there were new climbs in 1990 and 1991.
    Leigh was visiting his friends Al and Gail Baxter in the Oakland hills on October 20, 1991. Al had been a founder of the Stanford Alpine Club in 1946 and Gail, an architect, had drawn up the plans for the house in Jackson Hole. The Oakland Hills Fire, started and supposedly extinguished the day before, blew up suddenly in the thick eucalyptus forest and the narrow roads were blocked with cars trying to escape the firestorm. Leigh and Gail were among the 25 who died, and miraculously Al survived in a puddle of water, although he was very badly burned. Memorial services were held in the Palo Alto Cultural Center and the following summer at Lupine Meadows in the Tetons. Thanks to very dedicated work by Renny Jackson and others the 3rd edition of A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range was finally finished, and Mountaineers Books in Seattle published it in 1996.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers of Leigh N. Ortenburger contain correspondence, personal papers, maps, manuscripts, and photographic negatives and prints, with emphasis on the Cordillera Blanca in Peru and the Teton Range. He was the early author and eventual co-author of the definitive climber?s guide to the Teton Range, had nearly finished a manuscript on the early exploration of the range, including the controversy on the first ascent of the Grand Teton, and in ten trips to the Cordillera Blanca had obtained extensive material for a photo essay on the range. His papers were left divided into subject matter, and this division has been maintained in the collection. As a result, the incoming and outgoing correspondence appears in many different series. Besides large-format photography and mountaineering in general, he was deeply involved with the American Alpine Club and the Sierra Club. He was a masterful writer of letters and maintained serious and playful correspondence with many people. His outgoing correspondence for the last three years of his life were found on his computer and included in the collection.


    The collection is arranged in series:
    Series 1. Teton Place Names
    Series 2. Teton History
    Series 3. Teton Climber's Guides
    Series 4. Grand Teton National Park Plans and Development
    Series 5. Family and Personal Interests
    Series 6. Employment at GTE Sylvania
    Series 7. Mountaineering Equipment, Food, and Literature
    Series 8. Sierra Club
    Series 9. American Alpine Club
    Series 10. Expeditions
    Series 11. Maps
    Series 12. Typescripts by Other Authors
    Series 13. Correspondence, Incoming and Outgoing
    Series 14. Original Writings
    Series 15. Photography

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Ayres, Fred D.
    Bonney, Orrin H.
    Buckingham, William J.
    Carter, H. Adams.
    Clinch, Nicholas, 1930-
    Clyde, Norman, 1885-1972.
    Cohen, Michael P.
    Corbet, Barry.
    Crow, Pieter.
    Doig, Desmond.
    Dornan, David.
    Dye, Eldon.
    Fryxell, Fritiof, 1900-
    Green, Peter G.
    Gressley, Gene M.
    Harlin, John, 1935-1966.
    Harrington, Randall P.
    Hayden, Elizabeth W.
    Hechtel, Richard.
    Hillary, Edmund, 1919-2008.
    Hultgren, Herbert N.
    Jackson, Reynold G.
    Kendall, Henry Way, 1926-
    Kraus, Hans.
    Love, J. David.
    McWherter, Michael.
    Murphy, T.F.
    Peck, Annie.
    Reed, John C., Jr.
    Reese, Rick.
    Sinclair, pete.
    Turiano, Thomas.
    Unsoeld, William Francis, 1926-
    Whittlesey, Lee H.
    Wilson, Ted.
    Woolsey, Elizabeth D.
    American Alpine Club--History.
    Sierra Club--History.
    Cordillera Blanca (Peru)
    Grand Teton National Park (Wyo.)--History.
    Teton Range (Wyo. and Idaho).


    Mountaineers--United States.