All of this I have seen: Leigh Ortenburger, Mountaineer & Photographer

Exhibition Focuses on Lee Ortenburger's Black-and-White Photographs of the Cordillera Blanca Range in Peru


Leigh Ortenburger (1929-1991) climbed and photographed for more than forty years in the world's greatest mountain ranges. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1952 with a degree in mathematics, and earned a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1953 and a second in statistics from Stanford in 1963, where he did additional work toward a Ph.D. He worked several years as a Teton mountain guide and served a two-year stint in the Army before settling into a career as a mathematician with Sylvania. His classic guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range, is now in its third edition. Ortenburger’s extensive knowledge of the terrain equipped him to play a key role in the rescue of two climbers trapped on the North Face of the Grand Teton in 1967. Together with fellow climber Irene Beardsley, whom he met through the student-run Stanford Alpine Club in the 1950s, he raised a family in Palo Alto, California. He died October 20, 1991, in the firestorm that swept the Oakland, California hills.

The exhibition focuses on Ortenburger's black-and-white photographs of the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru, including a twenty-foot panoramic view of the upper Quebrada Alpamayo assembled from eight 4×5 negatives in the collection, now housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Also on display are manuscripts, correspondence, and memorabilia related to Ortenburger's mountaineering career.

No less impressive than the photographs themselves is the process of making them, said Glen Denny, also a mountaineering photographer and photo editor of the commemorative publication. “Few realize the difficulty of creating images like Ortenburger's. During hard climbs, while others rested, he performed a painstaking ritual countless times: Plunge the tripod legs into soft snow until they are solid, mount and level the camera, select and attach the lens, huddle under the head cloth while composing the dim, upside-down image on the ground glass, with the wind snatching at the cloth and shaking the camera. Then take off your gloves and spin the delicate dials on the light meter, calibrate the exposure, set the aperture, and cock the shutter, while your fingers still have feeling left. Insert the film holder, pull out the slide, squeeze the cable release--very gently--and replace the slide. There! One shot taken.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Libraries have published a companion book of photographs and tributes, Leigh Ortenburger in the Thin, Cold Air, commemorating the gift of Ortenburger's papers to the Libraries in 2005 by his daughters, Carolyn and Teresa Ortenburger. Ordering information:

The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be on display from January 12 through April 5, 2009. Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For Library hours, call 650-723-0931.

For further information, please contact Becky Fischbach at 650-725-1020 or via email at

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

HOURS: Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931.