Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Farewell to the AAC Board

Last weekend I was in New Hampshire for the American Alpine Club's annual Mountain Fest and my final board meeting as secretary of the club. I can't say I'll miss those board meetings, which are all-day affairs that get increasingly tedious as the afternoon wears on. What I will miss is the fact that those meetings guaranteed I'd see some of my favorite people at least three or four times a year.

When I joined the AAC many years ago, it was more out of a sense of obligation than any expectation I'd get much out of it. I was active in the climbing industry, and it seemed important to support the leading national organization devoted to alpine climbing. I knew I'd get the annual American Alpine Journal and Accidents in North American Mountaineering, and I had a vague idea that my membership entitled me to free rescue insurance. What I didn't know was that my $75 dues pays for much, much more. The AAC suffered an image problem then and now (stodgy, elitist old farts, out of touch with modern climbing), and it has failed to get the word out about all the great things it accomplishes, including pioneering waste-removal methods from Denali to Indian Creek, funding a major revegetation project in the Khumbu region, leading the fight against absurd new regulations in Peru, mailing books and videos to members from its 18,000-volume library free of charge, and offering thousands of dollars of annual grants, covering both cutting-edge alpine climbs and first steps into the world's greatest mountains by climbers under 25. The list goes on and on and on. Last week's board meeting was jammed with action items, from proposals for AAC-run climbers' campgrounds just outside the Gunks and Joshua Tree to a planned summit meeting at which the club will determine priorities for a major new committment to conservation of the mountain environment.

All good stuff, but what really keeps me involved with the AAC is what I mentioned earlier: the friendships. "Fellowship" is a musty, old-fashioned word that perhaps is redolent of the AAC's elitist past, but nonetheless it's what I value most in the club. If I hadn't gotten involved, I might never have become friends and climbing partners with such amazing individuals as Mark Richey, Jim Ansara, Charlie Sassara, John Harlin, Doug Chabot, Bob Craig, Ralph Tingey, Steve Swenson, Mike Lewis, Kim Reynolds, Charley Mace, Nick Clinch and many, many others. Now that I'm off the board, I won't be quite as involved in the AAC as I have been these past six years, but the friendships I've made will enrich the rest of my life. I'd say that's worth 75 bucks a year.

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