Walter Abbott Wood III was born in Hoosick Falls, New York on December 23, 1907. He was the son of Walter A. Wood, Jr. and Dorothy Wood Eustis, the founder of the "Seeing Eye" dog program. He was the grandson of Walter A. Wood, the founder of the Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Co. of Hoosick Falls.
He graduated from Fay School in Southboro, Mass., attended St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., and the Institute Bellerive in Switzerland. He was a member of the first graduating class of the American Geographical Society's School of Surveying in New York City in 1932. He studied for four years at the Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, Switzerland. While attending the school he became a world-respected alpinist with many major ascents in the Alps of France and Switzerland. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Alaska in 1955.
Dr. Wood trained at an early age in Arctic survival and mountaineering and took part in more than 100 ascents on four continents, scaling the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes and the Himalayas. He was part of a foursome that conquered Mount Steele in 1935. The peak rises to nearly 16,500 feet and is one of the highest and most inaccessible mountains of the Yukon.
Dr. Wood’s first expedition in 1929 took him on a mapping mission in the Himalayas on the Kashmir Tibet border. Besides his outings to the Yukon, his destinations in the 1930s included Panama, Guatemala, Mexico and Greenland. In 1937, he led ascents of Shiva Temple and Wotans Throne for a scientific survey of those Arizona mesas.
He also led teams in 1939 and 1962 that explored the St. Elias Mountains which straddle the Alaska Yukon border. The first outing mapped the range by aerial photography. The second included a 4,500 mile treks to a base camp 8,500 feet above sea level for long term studies of the immense region's ice, weather and geography.
He was a member of an American expedition that scaled Mount Ararat in Turkey in 1949 to look for Noah's Ark. They spent 12 days climbing over rugged terrain but found nothing.
There were narrow escapes and personal tragedy too. He and his son Peter were marooned on Malaspina Glacier at Mount Hubbard in 1951. This was caused when their supply plane failed to show up and the plane was declared missing. On this plane was Dr. Wood’s first wife, his daughter Valerie and a veteran Alaska bush pilot. After being rescued the father and son joined the search for the missing aircraft, but it was never found. Mrs. Wood had accompanied her husband to Alaska several times as his photographer.
Commissioned as an officer in the Army Specialist Corps in World War lI, he took on various cold weather assignments in Alaska, Canada and the Aleutian chain. He trained mountain troops and a commando unit in winter warfare and was discharged in 1947 at the rank of Colonel.
In his long association with the American Geographical Society, he worked as director of its exploration and field research division and served as President from 1957 to 1967. The society named him a councilor emeritus in 1992. He was president of the Explorers Club in New York from 1967 to 1971.
Walter Wood was married in 1976 to the former Renee Menassa. His son, Peter H. Wood, lived in Cross River, NY. Dr. Walter A. Wood III died in West Palm Beach, FL on May 19, 1993. His funeral with full military honors was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hoosick Falls. The pallbearers and honor guard were provided by the military casualties’ assistance program of Fort Drum. He is buried in the Wood plot in the old section of the Maple Grove Cemetery.
The Walter A. Wood High School Alumni dedicated a monument to his father in 1992 and Dr. Wood and his family attended. The monument was designed by Dr. Carleton Reed and is located in Wood Park near the St. Mark’s Church and Eberle Way.
Compiled for HoosickHistory by Philip Leonard - March 2012