A petite, broad-shouldered woman, puffy in thick polar garb, leans over the sideboard, the wind pulling wisps of gray-blonde hair away from her face, as giant ice floes drift past the boat. She aims a camera at two polar bears on a distant gravel shore. Snap. Hold that long lens steady. Snap snap.
She is ecstatic: that makes eleven bears they’ve seen so far. Plus musk ox, whales, and northern lights. Plus visits to Inuit villages. Plus hikes on the Baffin Island tundra.
That last brought up powerful memories. First in 1971, when she was on Baffin assisting her husband with his geophysics research. Then twice more, gathering data of her own. The painstaking work of collecting soil samples, keeping careful records of where and when and how, because once you’re back in the lab running tests, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. Loving the remoteness of the place, the shocking sparseness of life, the winds buffeting the tent at night, the physical and intellectual challenge of wresting nature’s secrets from ice. The Arctic was a place where one could feel truly and maximally alive.
Anyway, the cruise was fabulous. Not as arduous as her earlier visits, but a really good time.
This year, 2016, the year of Dana Isherwood’s eightieth birthday, had checked off a few items on her endlessly lengthening bucket list. She was in London, Scotland, the Shetland Islands, and the Orkneys, where she spent several days in pursuit of puffins.
She really didn’t mind turning eighty. On that day in April, she got up, looked in a mirror expecting, as she later said, “a Dorian Gray experience,” but found that she was, so far as she could tell, unchanged.
A couple years previously, when a friend turned ninety, she asked him what he was going to do with his life now.
He said: “Anything I want.”
She said: “Right on.”
Of course, she had always done just what she wanted. Obstacles were not obstacles but motivators: she stomped on them. Like in 2008 when she learned she had stage III breast cancer, was treated with radiation and chemotherapy, and underwent a mastectomy. Afterwards, when the wound in her chest didn’t heal, she endured forty sessions in a hyperbaric chamber. It didn’t close the wound, but afterwards she jetted off anyway, to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador’s valley of volcanos.
In Ecuador, she was able to come home again, if briefly, at Whymper Refuge, a stone shelter at 16,400 feet elevation on the slopes of Mount Chimborazo. The ultraviolet glare on the barren rockscape was like a comfortable pair of shoes that walked her back to her mountaineering days.
What days those had been.
Restlessness flowed like hot lava in her veins, the urge to go up, go far, climb high! For her first thirty years she had lived on the flatlands until her wanderings brought her to California, where she earned a chemistry degree, then took a job as a high school teacher. In California she found her passion when she walked into the Sierras and stared up into their granite heights.
Then a climber and polar explorer named William Isherwood came into her life. He was tall, dark, exceedingly smart, and charmingly self-effacing. Dana had loved before—she even had two daughters, Darlene and Jan. But Bill Isherwood swept away all who came before him, for he detonated her yearning for adventure into a raging fireball fever. She was smitten, and he likewise toward her. Bill became Dana’s partner of half a century, steadfast by her side and helping in all ways to realize her dreams.
It says something about Dana that only a few months after they met, Bill took her with him to Peru. There they joined a team of twenty high-octane eccentrics with the shared goal of summitting the Nevado Huascarán, the country’s highest peak at 22,205 feet. Veteran climber Betsy White was among them. Dana and Bill made an immediate impression. “They were young and crazy and in love and pursuing a big mountain,” she later recalled. “It was a neat thing to see.”
Dana had climbed some respectable routes, and she had also done some winter ascents, but this was her first major expedition. On a truck bouncing over ruts through Peruvian villages, Dana sat in the cab with Betsy and the driver, listening to Radio Huaraz, taking it all in as Huascarán and Huandoy loomed larger with every turn. It was all glorious: the rustic guest houses, improvised menus, children chasing after them, even the intestinal infirmities and altitude sickness. Heaps of equipment were loaded onto burros for the trek to base camp, then a fulsome share went into Dana’s own backpack for the stages that followed. She wasn’t a tall woman, but she had broad shoulders, large Hobbit feet, indomitable lungs, and an iron will.
On that trip, she and the others were twenty-two days on the mountain and three camps on the way to the summit, trudging like ants over glaciers and ridges, skirting deadly hidden crevasses, clinging to undulating heaps of blinding, sparkling snow. She learned to doze through the nighttime tent flapping and the jet-engine roar of distant avalanches. At times, the climbers were packed so tightly they had to roll over in unison. By day there were jostling egos and life-or-death calculations of weather, snowpack, and ice. She proved she could manage the complicated climbing equipment, stay cheerful in all weather, and carry heavy loads.
She didn’t reach Huascarán’s summit, but she did stand on top of a lesser peak: Maparaju (17,500 ft). And she was learning and getting stronger.
Not long after Peru, Dana and Bill were in Yosemite rappelling down the Glacier Point Apron, when they met two women on their way up. Women climbers! That by itself was remarkable, but this was a 5.8 route—not for beginners. A thunderstorm was brewing, so Dana and Bill joined them on a ledge to wait for it to pass.
One of the two women, Arlene Blum, shared that she had recently contacted a California adventure travel company about joining their guided climb to the summit of Denali, the highest peak in North America. What she heard was most disappointing: the company had said that women were insufficiently strong and emotionally stable to carry heavy loads to 20,000 feet amid killer arctic storms. Arlene was welcome to help with the cooking chores, they added, but she could go no higher than base camp.
Dana listened sympathetically to Arlene’s story. Between the two of them, a revolutionary idea was born: a team of women would climb Denali–without any men at all. They dubbed the team “Denali Damsels.”
The following June (1970), six climbers and their twelve hundred pounds of gear were ferried by air from Talkeetna, Alaska to Denali base camp at the foot of the Kahiltna Glacier. There would be 13,000 vertical feet to climb, much of it more than once as they set up and provisioned four more camps en route to the summit. The next day, Dana and the other women set out for Camp I carrying seventy-pound backpacks—about half of Dana’s body weight.
Dana was fiercely pragmatic and analytical. She knew that mountains could be unriddled with logic, skill, and determination, and these were her superpowers. But she was also a woman in love, for she and Bill had wed the previous year, honeymooning in the Himalayas. Once back in California, her love for Bill had almost killed her during a training session with the Damsels on the north side of Mount Shasta. Dana had made the rash decision to leave early and hike down alone so she could rejoin Bill. Arlene watched her descend thru a telephoto lens and saw her abruptly disappear. The women went down after her and found Dana had fallen deep into a crevasse. Trapped and unable to climb out unassisted, she was rescued by the other women.
Arlene would later say, “Dana was very strong. I remember her climbs because of her strength, but because she started at an older age, she hadn’t really developed mountain judgment. She was a great organizer–getting gear and everything. She was fantastic at that.”
Now on Denali, Dana was steady and patient, but she brooked no wasted time. This brought her into conflict with the expedition leader, Grace Hoeman. Despite having climbed over a hundred Alaskan peaks, Grace was susceptible to altitude sickness. Not long after they began ascending, Grace became ill but ignored her symptoms. As the team slowly progressed toward the summit, Grace was weakening, but she refused to turn back.
With Grace shepherded by her fellow climbers, the team finally reached the summit. Soon they headed down, with clouds signaling an Arctic storm. Only a few hundred feet below the top, Grace could walk no further. She slumped to the snow, moaning that they should leave her there to die.
This was a grave emergency that would sorely test Dana and the other women. In such circumstances, climbers are sometimes forced to leave their fallen comrade behind, because a rescue effort carries grave risks and might easily end up killing the entire party. Fortunately, Dana had carried up a frame pack. The women also had a sleeping bag, given to them by another climbing team they had met, a group from Seattle. They cocooned the comatose Grace in the sleeping bag and lashed her to the backpack frame. Then they lowered, dragged, and carried Grace down while she slipped in and out of consciousness. Progress was terribly slow. Meanwhile, below them, the storm was brewing.
At eleven pm, still high on the mountain, they reached a steep stretch that was too dangerous to descend in the dark. There was no shelter, the thermometer was dropping, and they could not safely lower Grace any further.They decided to split up, Dana heading down with one other climber to get help, while Arlene and another climber, Faye Kerr, remained with Grace.
Dana and a climber named Margaret Clark descended to High Camp where they found the Seattle climbers. Two Seattle team members accompanied them back up to a saddle known as Denali Pass at 20,000 feet. There they pitched a small tent for Arlene, Grace, and Kaye to use when–or if–they made it down.
For Dana, it had been an unbelievable day of climbing: first up to the 20,320-foot summit of Denali, then half-carrying, half-pushing Grace’s stretcher for about a mile, then continuing down to High Camp at 17,200 feet only to turn around and climb back up to Denali Pass.
Margaret and one of the Seattle climbers ascended to the place where Arlene and Faye were huddled with Grace in the lee of a rock. The three had been waiting for hours in thirty-below temperatures. Supported by others, Grace revived enough to get down to the tent.
The women had survived, yet they still had far to descend. More hazards waited, but ultimately everyone got down safely.
Returned from Alaska and reunited with Bill, Dana enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Colorado, in the foothills of the Rockies. She and Bill both became graduate students in the Department of Geological Sciences, where they shared an office. Somehow, between classes, research, and climbing, they carved out time to build themselves a small, ranch-style home on Claremont Drive in Boulder, beneath the stony folds of the Flatirons.
In 1971, women made up only 5.6% of Americans earning doctorates in the physical sciences, a figure that by 1976 would rise to a still-paltry 8.7%. Dana aimed to join a tribe where many would regard her as an interloper. She didn’t let that stop her.
Her close call on Denali hadn’t quelled her lust for adventure; now she could add science to her list of reasons for heading to remote, frigid places. In 1971, she accompanied Bill to his research site on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Bill had already spent many seasons on the Juneau Ice Field and in the Antarctic, where he had wintered at Byrd station. Now, Dana was following in his footsteps as a polar geologist.
The field site she chose was the Maktak Fjord on the Cumberland Peninsula, a place where winter lasted nine months a year. Her field of specialization—Arctic soils—was new, with many basic questions unanswered. Supported by grants from the Geological Society of America and others, she trekked up and down the fjord and on nearby coastline gathering soil samples for later laboratory analysis and making observations of rock formations called tors.
At that time, processes that created soils and carved rocks into curved and pitted slabs were not well understood. Chemistry was part of the story, but there was much more. Dana’s research produced 173 bond pages packed with graphs, charts, tables, and a concise, dispassionate narrative of her methods and findings, shedding light on mysteries long hidden. The finished volume included a score of black and white photos carefully pasted onto the pages.
Meanwhile, Bill worked on his own research on movement of the island’s crust. Although Dana had far less prior experience than Bill, the two completed their dissertations at the same time, and both graduated in 1975. In her dissertation’s acknowledgements, she wrote, “A very special gratitude is due my husband, Bill, for sharing with me the beauty of the Arctic… Bill’s enthusiasm for my interests and goals made all things possible.”
Diplomas in hand, the Drs. Isherwood returned to California, where both took jobs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They moved into the vibrant San Francisco East Bay, a place replete with intellectuals and artists and hippies. Dana became the leader of the lab’s Radionuclide Migration in the Ground Project, an investigation of how radioactive material left by nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site are transported by groundwater below the surface.
To Dana, the effects of radioactivity on human health were not merely an abstract science problem; they were acutely personal. As a teenager growing up in Richland, Washington, she had lost her father, Irving Wallace Taylor, to renal cancer. The cause was suspected to be his work as a rigger at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. It would be many years before the Department of Energy would recognize that Dana’s father was one of many casualties of America’squest to build bombs out of plutonium. The loss of a parent at such a young age, and the unanswered questions surrounding it, had no doubt left deep scars in her psyche. Now, at LLNL, she had the opportunity to advance mankind’s understanding of the impacts of radioactive contamination.
One problem she investigated was the movement of two specific radionuclides, Ruthenium and Technetium, which are produced by nuclear fission and are water soluble. Pumping up samples of groundwater was difficult because the concentrations were sometimes too low for instruments to measure accurately, and one could never drill enough wells to precisely track the movement of large plumes. Instead, Dana worked the problem from the theoretical side: studying the thermodynamic properties of the two radioactive elements and the chemical reactions they have with other materials underground. In this way, she advanced the use of modeling techniques to predict the impacts of Nevada’s nuclear tests.
Go up, go far, climb high!
Meanwhile, she saved her vacation for climbing trips. In 1978, she led a seven-member team of Americans climbing Pik Kommunizma (24,590 feet), the highest peak in the Soviet Union. They didn’t summit, so the next year they tried again, an attempt that also failed.
Three years later she returned to the Soviet Union to climb in the Caucasus, on the wild divide between Asia and Europe. Bill went also, and their good friend Cleo Dymott, an oncologist. Cleo’s journal recorded their journey past civilization’s tattered edges: unreliable vehicles, unfamiliar foods like kefir and kasha, sketchy hotels, never enough hot water, abhorrent toilets, and nobody but the guides speaking English. But Dana was not only unbothered, she relished all the challenges, for she was supremely adaptable. As each of her fellow travelers took their turn falling ill, Dana handed out medicines from the kit she always took with her, one of the tools she perfected over her many adventures.
In the Caucasus, as elsewhere, Dana sprinted past others, the drumbeat in her head—go up, go far, climb high—too loud to ignore. Even Bill with his long loping legs could not always keep up with her. Her disregard for those she left behind rankled many. Yet at the end of the day, gathered around a hot meal, hard feelings faded. “She was such a charismatic person, and dynamic, and fun to do things with,” Cleo recalled. “I had some really good times.”
The year 1984 found Dana, Bill, and Cleo in western China, at Four Maidens Mountain (Siguniang Shan), in a group of fifteen organized by the American Alpine Club. It was October, a season of sapphire skies, sunny days, and frosty nights.
The Isherwoods and six others summited one peak and were looking to do another, but cloudy weather sent everyone down to base camp, which was pitched in a valley between the Four Maidens and Celestial Peak. A colorful tent city set up on yak pasture housed the climbers, their hosts from the Chinese Mountaineering Association, assigned liaison officers, and trekking staff.
Meanwhile, a second group, also organized by AAC and including several Californians, was camped beneath Celestial Peak, poised to attempt its southwest face. That night, two Celestial climbers came around to the Four Maidens base camp bearing a gift most precious: a bottle of Jack Daniels. The people didn’t all know each other, but they belonged to the same cherished brotherhood and sisterhood of climbing and so were automatically best friends. Only in their elite world would such a reunion take place on a yak pasture thousands of miles from home.
Dana’s group dug snacks out of their rucksacks, lit a fire, and made the two visitors welcome. As the sun set behind Celestial Peak and mountain shadows bloomed, the assembled brethren tippled Tennessee whiskey, celebrated their friendship, and unspooled stories of the high mountains.
In the middle of the party, Dana suddenly grew thoughtful; then she made a declaration verging on a vow: “Climbing is a major commitment, a good addiction,” she told the circle of faces lit by a campfire under a star-spattered sky. “I plan to maintain it for the rest of my life.”
This was Dana’s first visit to the Tibetan plateau, but it would not be her last.
Congressional Science Fellow
While Dana’s first life was in the mountains, at home she had a passionate interest in public affairs. By this time, America had been building nuclear weapons for forty years, producing uncountable tons of radioactive waste that polluted land, air, rivers, and groundwater. Policymakers needed to hear from scientists to get the facts about this dangerous Cold War legacy and hundreds of other complicated but important scientific problems.
To make sure policymakers wouldn’t be in the dark, Dana applied to go to Capitol Hill as a Congressional Science Fellow. These fellowships place accomplished scientists in a variety of fields in congressional offices for a one-year assignment. Dana was accepted in the fall of 1985. She wasn’t an environmental crusader or a dreamy-eyed idealist; she was, as usual, practical and pragmatic. “Congress needs guidance from the scientific community,” she was quoted in the American Geophysical Union newsletter, “to develop spending and research priorities that make sense both politically and scientifically.”
After arriving in Washington and completing orientation, she did a round of interviews with different offices. In the end, Dana decided to join the staff of the junior senator from Tennessee. Her new boss was Al Gore, a self-described “raging moderate” who would later be elected vice president of the United States.
Dana’s title was Legislative Assistant for Energy Issues. Her job to advise the senator on nuclear waste and groundwater pollution, and to provide input on the National Science Foundation budget and matters related to Gore’s work on the Environmental and Energy Study Conference. She was also the go-to person anytime someone in the office had a science question.
In 1985, women were a novelty in the Capitol building. Another Science Fellow, Heather Huyck, recalled: “In those days, women staffers had no bathroom near the Floor—the male staffers could go to the Cloakroom, but not us. Women Members of Congress finally got a lounge for their use, [but] we had to do about a 10-minute round trip to a public restroom.”
Every day Dana was researching complex technical issues, fielding questions from constituents, and providing objective information to Senator Gore to guide his legislative decisions. She called the work, “exciting, demanding, and challenging.”
–Some might have added “exhausting,” but not Dana. Hard work was her superpower. When, during the second half of her tenure, she took a vacation, she didn’t head for a beach; instead, she flew to Pakistan. There, in the remote Karakorum Mountains, she and Bill carried loads and set up camps for others attempting to reach the summit of Gasherbrum I.
After Dana returned to LLNL, she became head of the lab’s Office of Congressional Affairs, commuting about twice monthly to Washington.
In 1993 Dana met her greatest obstacle yet when she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Here, too, she followed a path of practical pragmatism: she did as the doctors recommended and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In time, she made a full recovery. Along the way, she built a personal support network of other breast cancer survivors.
After that close call, Dana doubled down on her determination to enjoy everything that planet Earth had to offer. Less than two years after her diagnosis, she went with Bill back to their beloved Baffin Island, sea kayaking with narwhals along the north coast.
Two years after that, when LLNL decided to downsize its workforce, she grabbed the proffered buyout and retired, a move that freed her to do what she really loved: travel and climb. In November of 1996, she joined a group of breast cancer survivors with their sights set on Mount Vinson, the highest peak on the Antarctic continent. The climb was part of Expedition Inspiration, a group with a mission to fund breast cancer research and inspire survivors to greatness.
The Expedition Inspiration climbing team, unfortunately, did not reach the summit, so two years later Dana joined a different team and tried again, carrying tribute flags to honor women who’d had breast cancer. This time, Dana reached High Camp at a mere 1200 feet short of the top, but she suffered a back strain from the heavy pack she was carrying, so she handed the flags to another climber who flew them at the summit.
NGO worker in Tibet
In 1997 Dana joined a trip to Tibet organized by a small nonprofit, Kham Aid Foundation, visiting Lhasa and surrounding areas. A year later she joined them again, this time traveling to Tibet’s far east. Along the way, she stopped at a charity school operated by an incarnate Buddhist lama. Reaching a place once known as the Kingdom of Dege, she traveled by horseback between monasteries where she witnessed the contemplative rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. She became good friends with Kham Aid Foundation’s leader, Pam Logan.
This led to another journey, this time with Pam to one of the highest permanent settlements in Tibet, a town called Litang. Pam’s NGO was sponsoring eleven students at the government middle school there. Dana was very taken with the Tibetan teenagers she met, especially the girls. The sponsored students came from ultra-poor backgrounds but had excelled at their village primary schools. Their families could not afford the tuition and boarding fees required to attend Litang County’s one middle school.
With Pam’s enthusiastic endorsement, Dana became the director of KhamAid’s education projects. Running the scholarship program meant twice-yearly trips to the Tibetan plateau to check on students. Each spring and fall, Dana flew to the Chinese city of Chengdu and there boarded a public bus to make an arduous week-long trip across the Tibetan plateau to visit each school where KhamAid had sponsored students. Dana made sure that all of the children were really at school, she photographed each student, and she hand-carried their letters to their sponsors back to the US for mailing. She and Bill sponsored a student themselves, a girl from a distant township. To reach school, that girl had to trek four hours from her family’s home to the nearest bus stop, then ride six hours or more to the county seat.
Regular trips to the Tibetan plateau allowed Dana to do what she loved best: trekking in the mountains. On one trip, she walked with Pam and several others for two days on the sacred path encircling Mount Chenresig—named for the bodhisattva of compassion–in the newly designated Yading Nature Reserve. Another KhamAid volunteer on that trek, Shiyin Siou, who was half Dana’s age, could not keep up with her.
After several trips flying back and forth across the Pacific, Dana decided that she ought to be based in Beijing, and persuaded Bill—who had by this time retired—to move there with her. Long-term business visas were easy to get, allowing them to rent an apartment and take up residence in China. Dana started learning Chinese and was fearless about using it to talk to Chinese she met, taking self-guided trips with Bill around the region.
The couple became good friends with Melinda Liu, an American journalist who ran Newsweek’s bureau in Beijing. “In Beijing, Dana and Bill lived life to the fullest,” Melinda later recalled. “They were constantly planning trips, trying out restaurants, visiting museums, asking questions.”
Immersed in Beijing’s large expatriate community, Dana soon found more sponsors for students in Tibet. Every year, the program added at least a dozen new students. Dana also joined several Kham Aid Foundation field teams distributing wheelchairs to disabled people. “I was twenty-eight at the time,” recalled volunteer Betsy Rogers, “I remember her just sprinting up the mountains. . . I thought, WOW! How amazing at age sixty she takes on that adventure and learns Chinese.”
Dana did not seem outwardly spiritual, but there’s no question that Tibetan Buddhism, which encouraged trekking around sacred mountains, was a good fit for her. She went back to the Yading Reserve to walk a larger path encircling all three of its holy peaks, and she also traveled to the west of Tibet to circumambulate Mount Kailas, a sacred summit to Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and believers in Bon, Tibet’s indigenous animist faith.
Dana was drawn to accomplished women, and one of them was a computer scientist named Frances Allen, whom Dana had met on the Four Maidens trip. Fran Allen was the first woman to become an IBM fellow and the first woman to win a Turing Award. Like the Isherwoods and their good friend Cleo Dymott, Fran also enjoyed skiing. She shared Dana’s interest in Buddhism; the two went on a pilgrimage to India together, guided by Robina Courtin, a noted Buddhist teacher and nun.
In the late 2000s, Dana’s cancer returned, but she attacked it with everything medical science had and once again went into remission. She and Bill left California and moved to Washington State where they bought a handsome two-story log house on the shore of Lake Wenatchee, in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. Healthy or not, Dana was no hermit, she frequently hosted gatherings at the Lake House (as they called it) and at another house they had on Mercer Island, near Seattle.
Bill immediately joined the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Explorer’s Club, of which he had already been a member for many years, but Dana had always refused to join on principal, because they had taken too bloody long to admit female members. Nevertheless, she accompanied Bill to meetings and hosted a few. Dana’s cooking, like everything else she did, was practical and efficient “Chicken breasts,” she once said, when someone asked for her formula. “Most people who eat meat will eat a chicken breast.”
As the years went by, Dana and Bill kept traveling whenever they could. Bill told their friends, “Our trips have gotten tamer as we get older, but we still get out there and have fun.” The pair took a cruise in the Antarctic, another one on the Norwegian coast, and later a third in French Polynesia. They kayaked off the shore of Vancouver Island, traveled to Turkey, Berlin, Egypt, the Panama Canal, and many places in between.
Dana was close to Janet, her daughter from a marriage before Bill, who lived with her husband and children close enough to Dana’s home for frequent visits. Someone Dana saw less frequently was her older daughter Darlene, who lived on the east coast. It was an enormous shock in 2015 when Darlene passed away unexpectedly. The loss of Darlene was followed a year later by a recurrence of Dana’s cancer; Bill was also having health challenges.
They decided to move to a house near Olympia, Washington where they would be closer to Janet and have good access to health care. Dana quickly befriended people in their new neighborhood and became active in the community.
There she met Sherry Walton, a student of brain development and ageing, a topic that keenly interested Dana, not least because doctors said her cancer had spread to her brain. Together with others, they set up a reading group to learn about neuroscience. “[The topics] all involved researchers, and [Dana] would critique them,” Sherry remembered. “She asked good questions and raised points that nobody else did.”
Dana and Bill avidly followed American politics. Although Dana considered herself a moderate, she joined a local group of Democrats and helped organize talks by different candidates. True to form, at these meetings Dana was always opinionated, invariably stubborn, but also relentlessly logical. On the night of the 2016 election, when the group gathered at the Isherwoods was faced with Hilary Clinton’s loss, Dana did her best to console everyone.
As a close friend, Sherry witnessed a few times when Dana was dealing with the discomfort of her cancer and the treatments for it. Sherry said, “When I expressed my respect for the way she handled it, she said, ‘Well, there’s nothing else to do.’ She would be in pain and be distressed, and she would tell me about it, but never in the sense of feeling sorry for herself.”
Dana and Sherry also started a group for people interested generally in meditation, which ended up focusing on Buddhist practice, an interest that the two women shared. In the course of working, traveling, and studying in the Buddhist world, Dana had collected a great many treasures: paintings, statues, even protection yarns personally blessed by the Dalai Lama. In her last years and months, she gave them all away.
Dana’s friends recall some years when her emails were appended with the following quote:
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
That, she certainly did.
Personal communication with Elizabeth White, Arlene Blum, Cleo Dymott, Sherry Walton, and Ron Zuber.
Written contributions from Betsy Rogers, Shiyin Siou, Ron Zuber, Melinda Liu, Cleo Dymott, and Heather Huyck.
Arlene Blum, “Denali Damsels.”
Arlene Blum, Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life, Scribner, 2005.
George H Brown, “Doctoral Degrees Awarded to Women,” National Center for Education Statistics, US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare, Washington, D.C., 1978.
Grace Hoeman, “North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley,” American Alpine Club Publications, 1971
Radionuclide Migration 1984 Progress Report, compiled by Robert W Buddemeier and Dana Isherwood, April 1985.
Dana Joan Isherwood, “Soil Geochemistry and Rock Weathering in an Arctic Environment,” PhD Dissertation, University of Colorado Department of Geological Sciences, 1975.
Dana Isherwood, “Asia, USSR, Pik Kommunizma,” American Alpine Club Publications, 1980.
“Dana J. Isherwood: Congressional Science Fellow,” Eos: Science News by American Geophysical Union, Volume 66, No. 36, Sept 3, 1985, pp. 634-635.
“The View from Capitol Hill: Congressional Science Fellow’s Midyear Report,” Ibid., Volume 67, No. 8, February 25, 1986, pp. 99-100.
“Isherwood Joins Senate Staff,” Ibid., Volume 66, No. 48, Nov 26, 1985, p 1199.
1967-1970 Dana Isherwood climbing records courtesy of American Alpine Club Library, Golden, Colorado
Dana and Bill Isherwood, Personal correspondence.
Pamela Logan, Compassion Mandala: The Odyssey of an American Charity in Contemporary Tibet. Hibiscus Books, 2020.
MountainZone.com Alpine Ascents International 1999 Expedition to Mt Vinson.
Elizabeth White, “Peru 1969.”
Peter Wood, “Asia, China, Ascent of Bok’ra III and Attempt at Circuit of Siguniang,” American Alpine Club Publications, 1984.
Photos, unless otherwise identified, come from Dana Isherwood’s Facebook Page and correspondence, and are used with the family’s permission.