Where No Man Has Gone Before – In Memoriam Philip C. Ritterbush

Phil Ritterbush on Baffin Island

This post is a memorial to an exceptional gentleman who loved me for a moment long ago.

In late 1976, Phil Ritterbush came to a grand dinner at my Victorian house in DC (see my memoir GAY GEISHA), and proved an endearingly interesting fellow. A Rhodes scholar and Yale grad, he’d been a big shot with the Smithsonian Institution, had authored books on the history of science, and now regaled our dinner guests with his mountaineering explorations on glaciers of Baffin Island and Andean peaks in Colombia. Much impressed, I happily offered adventurous Phil hospitality in my jungle boudoir for the night.

Phil sent a polite note of thanks “for a very civilized evening; it is no mean feat to keep a well-set table going in today’s jungles of individualism and naturalism, and the candlelight and classical music carried it to a plane of distinction!” In a second card, he remarked that he “would like very much to become better acquainted” and asked that I give him a call if my commitments left me “a suitable opportunity.” As a busy geisha, I didn’t normally call my guests afterwards, and so I now regret that we never got better acquainted.

With his first note, Phil enclosed several pages which he advised were “not the kind of account one writes for other climbers, who are given to understatement about difficulties and who do not need explanations about how glaciers work.” He’d written a vivid, intensely personal account of a harrowing expedition most likely in the mid-60s that impressed me enormously. It showed me that Phil was the only gentleman I’ve ever met who boldly went, as they say on Star Trek, where no man has gone before.

In his dear memory, I append herewith a very lightly edited copy of Phil’s un-copyrighted essay “TO FARTHER MOUNTAINS: A Baffin Island Chronicle.”

Phil’s expedition ascended a glacier north from Cumberland Sound to a ridge overlooking what is now Auyuittuq National Park (the view in the photo above). Sadly, in the more than half a century since his trek, climate change has caused that glacier and others on those southern slopes to melt away. Near the end of his essay, Phil remarks on sighting to the west a “throne-like snow peak” which may have been what is now called Mount Asgard.

Mount Asgard on Baffin Island

My recent Google search on Philip Christopher Ritterbush told me that he specialized at Yale in 18th Century biology and wrote several books, including “The Art of Organic Forms” (1968). With no details, the Necrology from Yale University advised that Phil died on January 1, 1987. That ceremonious date suggests to my still-romantic mind that my explorer friend may well have perished on a mountaineering adventure. He is not forgotten by the geisha he once loved.