November 12, 1999
The growing sport of mountain climbing may seem extreme to the average person, but to the 5,500 members of the American Alpine Club, it is a way of life. Movies such as Everest and K2 personify their weekend adventures, not just special-effects attractions. This weekend, climbers young and old traveled to D.C. for the club’s annual meeting.
As we walked into the registration area, the number and caliber of world-class climbers amazed us. Everyone wanted to share details of their latest adventures. With so much energy flowing among them, it was hard for these two GW students to keep up.
The event was a three-day program of impressive presentations of the expeditions the esteemed climbers completed in the past year. Each presentation included mind-blowing photographs of the remote locations that drew these adventurous souls. The photographs illustrated the power, grace and beauty of areas such as Mt. Everest and the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan – places that average people only dream about visiting.
On Friday night, the event jumped into motion with a presentation by Eric Simonson, leader of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition on Mount Everest. George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were the first climbers believed to have reached the roof of the world in 1924. Unearthing clues as to whether the two men actually achieved the summit was the purpose of the 1999 expedition. Simonson presented images of momentous discoveries, such as the surprisingly well-preserved body of Mallory and a few pieces of their equipment.
Saturday morning opened with a chillingly realistic video, The Bat. The video illustrates the fear of falling on a climbing rope in the early 1960s, before modern advances in climbing equipment, through the eyes of two British climbers. This was followed by a presentation from charismatic Californian Steve Schneider. Schneider’s presentation described his insane, partially solo climb on a 3,000-foot granite wall in the Patagonia range of South America. He sprinkled his talk with witty comments about the greatness of climbing, a view shared by everyone in the room.
The event would not have been complete without commentary on climbing through the eyes of Bobbi Bensman, one of the best female climbers in the world. Bensman stressed the importance of recognizing the equality of male and female climbers in the climbing community.
We were able to speak to many of the climbers, all of whom were full of warmth and encouragement for young people to become a part of the sport. In the words of Dougald MacDonald, editor of Rock and Ice magazine, Climbing is something everyone can do. It’s so easy for young people to get involved with these days.